COVID Cases, Hospitalizations Steady
New infections continue to hover around their recent daily average of just under 10,000 per day, with 8,736 cases reported by the state on Friday. This is up slightly from the 8,400 reported one week ago. Hospitalizations are remaining steady as well. The state is reporting 3,490 people hospitalized with COVID illness. That is up very slightly from the 3,467 reported one week ago.
CPAC Meets in Dallas
Over the weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference met in Dallas and featured appearances from Gov. Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and former President Trump. Abbott spoke on Thursday, the first day of the conference and stuck to mostly economic issues. He boasted about the state’s strong economy and how the regulatory environment has led to a record number of business relocations to Texas, mainly from California. Lt. Governor Patrick called on the Republican Party to unify for the November elections. Patrick said that conservatives need to not only turn out to support the Republican ticket in this year’s midterm elections, but also start to focus on the 2024 Presidential election and taking back the White House. And finally, in his Saturday evening featured speech, former President Trump sounded like a 2024 candidate already, touting his continued high polling numbers among Republicans and continuing to claim the 2020 election was rigged and stolen from him.
The conference also conducted a straw poll among the nearly 1,000 attendees regarding their preference for the Republican nominee for President in 2024. Not surprisingly, Trump was the favorite of 69%. The next closest was Florida Governor Ron De Santis at 24%. Senator Ted Cruz was way down the list at 2%, and former Vice-President Mike Pence registered 0.3%. Gov. Abbott was on the ballot, but failed to register any support.
The influx of migrants entering the US along the Texas/Mexico border continues to make headlines. Last week, Gov. Abbott announced on Friday that the state of Texas will continue to send more buses of migrants to Washington DC, and begin sending migrants to New York City, despite the mayors of both cities voicing concerns over the stress the migrants are putting on the cities’ services. Abbott says the state has sent more than 6,500 migrants to DC, while the first bus arrived in New York on Friday morning. New York, unlike DC, has a law in place that requires the city to find shelter for any unhoused person, regardless of immigration status. In June of this year, the most recent numbers are available, there were 207,416 encounters with migrants by law enforcement along the Texas/Mexico border. That is actually a decrease of 14% from May. 26% of the encounters had at least one prior encounter with law enforcement within the last 12 months.
Voting Law Unconstitutional
Last week, a federal judge in Austin struck down a newly passed Texas law that set forth new residency requirements for voters. Latino civil rights and other voting rights groups had sued the state to stop the implementation of Senate Bill 1111, passed last regular session. The bill required people that register to vote using a Post Office Box to also provide a home address as proof of residency. The groups challenging the law said it placed undue harm and unnecessary barriers to registration and voting. Judge Lee Yaekel – appointed by President George W. Bush – ruled that the new law creates a unique burden to anyone who has recently moved, since the law says that a person may not designate a residence unless they are inhabiting the residence at the time of registration and are intending to remain at that residence. In his opinion, Yaekel said that particular provision places a severe burden, especially on college students, who plan to live on campus only while attending school.
As Heat Wave Continues, Agriculture Commissioner Claims Grid is Not Secure
The first week of August picked up right where July left off with many areas in the state experiencing record setting high temperatures and continued drought conditions. In a fundraising email last week, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller blasted Governor Abbott and other state leaders for not making the electric grid more secure and dependable. Miller cited the deaths from the 2021 winter storm as evidence of the failing grid, and claimed that state leadership has not done enough to ensure we will not have rolling blackouts this summer due to the extreme conditions. Abbott and Miller have clashed many times through the years, so the criticism is not surprising coming from Miller. Abbott responded in a statement saying Miller should be more aware of the reforms passed last session that have led to extra generation capacity on the grid.
Here is some good news. Forecasts are calling for the possibility of showers later in the week. The gulf could send some moisture up from the Houston/Galveston area. In addition to the Houston metro area, the Austin area and most of central Texas could see rain starting as early as Tuesday. With the rain would come cooler temperatures, with highs predicted to only be in the mid-90’s.
Uvalde School Shooting
The Robb Elementary School Principal that was briefly suspended after the report from the House Special Committee investigating the shooting has been reassigned to another job within the district. Principal Mandy Gutierrez has accepted a position as Director of Special Education for the district. The vice-principal for Robb Elementary will now be promoted to principal of the school.
The city of Uvalde has taken the first steps to establish a permanent memorial to the students of the school who perished in the tragic event. Last month, the school district announced the school will be razed and all students will be attending other elementary schools in the district. Last week, city leaders began discussions and are exploring all options, including a review of the Sandy Hook Memorial. Suggestions have included a memorial at the sight of the school or having a plaque in the downtown area of Uvalde featuring biographies of each victim. The city will continue to host community meetings to hear ideas, but the final memorial will ultimately be what is wanted by the families of the victims.
The city of Hondo – located only 40 miles from Uvalde – has canceled a planned fundraiser by the National Rifle Association that was to be held there later this month. The NRA was set to host a fundraiser at a city owned facility where the group was planning to raffle off an AR-15 assault rifle. The city council met last week and revoked the agreement with the NRA to have the fundraiser.
Back to the fight over voting laws. Last week the Secretary of State announced that Harris County will be one of four counties in the state that will undergo an audit of their elections procedures and results after the November elections. The county is now set to bring legal action against the state, saying that the process of “randomly” selecting counties for auditing is flawed. Under the omnibus Senate Bill 1 passed during the series of special sessions last fall, the state can audit up to four counties after each even numbered year November election. The state audited Harris County after the 2020 elections, succumbing to political pressure in the wake of President Biden’s win over President Trump. The commissioners court voted to authorize funding for legal action, claiming that since no evidence of fraud was revealed after the 2020 audit, there is no need for an audit after the upcoming elections.
Staying in Harris County, a top aide to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded guilty recently to public corruption charges and abruptly resigned his position with the city last week. William Paul Thomas served as Turner’s liaison to the city council, and has pled guilty to accepting bribes to assist a local bar owner with his relations with the city. According to court documents, Thomas accepted cash payments from the bar owner in exchange for influence over proceedings at the city council. In one instance, Thomas assisted the business with obtaining a certificate of occupancy – granted by the Fire Department – by exerting influence over city officials to grant the certificate. Thomas also assisted the business owner in obtaining a reclassification of his business type during the COVID pandemic shutdown so the business could continue to operate. Thomas faces up to 5 years in prison, and the FBI has now begun an investigation into the depths of Thomas’ role in other alleged actions. Mayor Turner has said he is not able to comment on the allegations, but the investigation will continue.
And let’s end on a very positive note. According to AAA, Texas has the lowest gas prices of any state in the union. The national average for a gallon of gas as of Sunday was $4.07. In Texas, the average was $3.57. AAA also reports some stations in Austin selling regular unleaded for $2.99 a gallon.
The House Special Committee on Youth Safety will meet jointly with the House Homeland Security Committee today to discuss improving communication in disaster and emergency scenarios and the need to improve mental health services for students and all school related professionals. 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 the health care workforce in our state.
The Senate Committee on Border Security will meet on Wednesday in Eagle Pass to discuss the impact that Operation Lone Star is having on communities along the border.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov