I would like to wish everyone a very Happy and Prosperous 2022!!
Omicron Variant Spreading
The state did not update the numbers and statistics from Thursday, December 30th through Sunday. So, there are no new numbers available. Here are some of the headlines and highlights surrounding the Omicron variant. The new variant has led to the highest rate of positive cases so far in the pandemic, with over 26% of the molecular (lab) tests coming back positive. For the few days where there was reporting after Christmas, the state was averaging about 10,000 cases per day. While there has been an increase in hospitalizations, there has not been the enormous surge that we experienced last summer and fall. Hospitalizations stood at 5,500 on Thursday, up from 2,800 at the first of December. But, they remain much lower than the peak of just over 14,000 in September.
Cities like Austin and Dallas have increased their “level” of risk regarding the variant due to the increase in cases. These cities have returned to recommendations that include asking people to wear masks in public, restrict their travel, dining, and shopping, and stay away from public gatherings. However, these are only guidelines that the cities have asked residents to follow, since the state has overruled all local mandates regarding the pandemic.
As more people continue to test positive, Gov. Abbott has asked the federal government to open additional testing sites and send more antibody treatments to areas that are experiencing the highest rates of infections. The areas Abbott specified are for Bexar, Harris, Dallas, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Tarrant counties. Regional fusion centers have exhausted their supply of antibody treatments. Furthermore, at home tests are nonexistent in retail outlets, so people are having to rely on testing centers. But, the state shut down several of the testing centers in June, and is now asking the federal government to help in reopening testing centers.
Most of the state’s 1,200 school districts will reopen this week to in person learning. Despite the increasing spread of the variant, school districts say they are prepared and will have precautions in place as kids return from the holiday break. Some urban school districts such as Dallas and Houston ISD’s will continue to mandate masks for students and staff.
Economy in Mixed Recovery
Even with the spread of Omicron and continued supply chain issues, the Texas economy is continuing to move in a positive direction, although some areas lag behind. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas recently conducted a survey to try and gauge the pace and status of the state economy. Among the findings is that the manufacturing sector saw growth in recent months, while the service sector is slowing. Firms responding to the survey reported a strong increase in both wages and selling prices. Retail activity also continued on a good pace in the last months of the year. But, one overall theme from all areas of the economy continues to be staffing shortages. Especially evident in the service sector, companies continue to struggle to maintain full staffing, which translates to decreased ability to supply their services to the ultimate consumer.
Election Law Challenged Again
As the filing for the 2022 elections has passed, and the March 1primary date looms, several election officials in the state have filed suit in federal court to suspend the new state elections law passed during the special session last fall. The lawsuit, filed by election officials in Harris, Travis, and Williamson counties, focuses on the portion of the law that creates a felony offense for any election official that sends out unsolicited mail ballot applications to qualified registered voters. The plaintiffs in the case argue that this is a violation of free speech and deters the officials’ abilities regarding outreach to the state’s most vulnerable voters.
This lawsuit is one of several that have been filed challenging the law passed last year, led by Republican efforts to clamp down on fraud related to the election process. The other lawsuits, filed by the Biden administration and several civil rights groups, are awaiting a trail this summer. However, when filing this most recent suit, the plaintiffs said that a summer trial cannot wait, due to the fact that the primary elections will take place in less than 60 days. The state has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.
Election Audits Reveal No Issues
Early in December, the Secretary of State (SOS) ordered an audit of the 2020 election in four counties – Harris, Dallas, Collin and Tarrant. The initial results were released on new year’s eve, and turned up very few ballots that were in question. Out of the 11.3 million votes cast statewide, the SOS found only 509 ballots where someone may have voted here and in another state. And another 67 ballots that may have been cast under the name of a deceased person. This process, which the SOS has called a full forensic audit, was part of a process that requires a manual count of ballots, a process that all counties are already required to go through under long standing Texas law. The SOS says it will now move to another phase of the audit process, which will begin to prepare for the 2022 elections. The next phase of the audits will include reviews of voting machines, rosters for early voting, and a review of the chain of custody for sealed ballots.
Texas is Fastest Growing State
Despite an overall population growth in the country being the lowest it has ever been, Texas was the fastest growing state in the union in 2021. Migration from other states accounted for most of the increase in our state’s population, with Texas welcoming 170,307 residents from other states from July 2020 to July 2021. Texas also saw an increase of 27,185 new residents from international destinations during the same time period. The vast majority of new out of state residents came from California, and more specifically from the greater Los Angeles metro area. According to the Texas Real Estate Research Center, roughly 12% of the state’s new residents last year came from California. That continues a familiar trend. Over 19 of the last 20 years, California accounted for the largest number of new residents to our state.
The overall population of the country grew by 392,665, or a 0.1% increase from the previous year. This is the lowest percentage growth rate for the country since its founding in 1776. The US population is currently estimated to be 331,893,745.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced today that he has tested positive for COVID. His office says his symptoms are mild, and that he will isolate for the remainder of the week.
Craig Carter, a candidate for House District 68 in north Texas, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to Denton County jail records, Carter was arrested by Fort Worth police on December 15th, and released on the same day after posting a $20,000 bond. Carter works for a Nocona boot manufacturer, and ran for the state Senate in both 2018 and 2020. Also in 2020, he was in a runoff for this same House seat during a special election, losing to current House member David Spiller.
As the filing deadline has passed, we now have a full picture of the legislative races for 2022. Between the state House and Senate, a total of 41 incumbents have no opponent at all, and another 12 face only minor, 3rd party challenges. All statewide officials – Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, Ag and Land Commissioner – have both primary and general election opponents.
With redistricting, most races will be settled in the primary, due to the fact that the newly drawn districts are drawn in a highly partisan manner. On the state Senate side, 3 incumbents have primary opponents, and there are 5 open Senate seats that are contested in the primary. On the House side, 43 of the 150 incumbent House members have primary opponents, with another 25 open seats that will have contested primaries.
The primary elections – absent court intervention – take place in less than 60 days. Interim study issues for the House and Senate should be issued sometime this month, which will kick start the interim process of committees beginning their preparations for the 2023 regular session.