COVID Cases and Hospitalizations Continue to Rise, but Trends Slowing
New infections may be starting a downward trend, with 8,847 cases reported by the state yesterday. This is actually down slightly from the 10,300 reported one week ago. But the rolling seven day average remains near 10,000 cases being reported each day. Hospitalizations have been on the rise over the last several weeks. The state is reporting 3,200 people hospitalized with COVID illness, but the hospitalizations seem to be slowing as well. The figure reported yesterday is only an increase of 38 patients from one week ago.
State to Have Record Surplus
State Comptroller Glenn Hegar has informed lawmakers that they will have an additional $27 billion at their disposal when they convene to write the state’s biennial budget in January. The surplus is due to record tax collections due to inflation and an unexpected increase in spending coming out of the pandemic, along with increased oil and gas production in the state due to the US and other countries shifting their reliance on Russian oil after the invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the additional $27 billion that can be used for the state budget, the state is also expected to have nearly $14 billion in the Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund.
What will the money be used for? When asked, Hegar recommends to lawmakers that they prioritize funding water and road infrastructure as well as improvements to the networks in rural areas to improve broadband connectivity. Hegar also recommended lawmakers look at reducing property taxes and increasing pay for state employees. Lawmakers will make the ultimate decisions. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick immediately weighed in and said the Senate will prioritize property tax relief and again send retired teachers a 13th check. Patrick also is calling for the suspension of the state gasoline tax for the remainder of the year. Texans currently pay 20 cents per gallon on gasoline, and the tax raises approximately $5 billion/year.
State Continues to Urge Electricity Conservation
With record high temperatures continuing across the state, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) again issued two separate appeals last week to state businesses and residential customers to conserve energy as much as possible in an attempt to maintain the stability of the grid. The all-time record for electricity demand has been reached and broken several times this summer. During this unprecedented heatwave, unexpected outages have occurred at coal and natural gas-powered generation facilities. Solar power has struggled recently as cloud cover in west Texas has settled in over solar farms there. The extreme heat throughout the state is expected to continue for at least the next two weeks. The calls for conservation are voluntary at this time, and customers are complying to the best of their abilities. The next step would be to order customers to cut back on their usage. If after that, conditions do not improve and the grid reaches a point that is not sustainable due to increased demand, rolling blackouts will have to occur. During these rotating power outages, certain areas chosen by ERCOT could lose power for up to 45 minutes at a time.
To follow grid updates, as well as up to the minute supply and demand projections, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
Uvalde School Shooting
Yesterday in Uvalde, the special Texas House committee investigating the Robb Elementary school shooting released its report. The 77 page report was the first to criticize both state and federal law enforcement agencies, in addition to local law enforcement. According to the report, nearly 400 law enforcement officers rushed to the scene that eventually left 19 students and two teachers dead. Of the 400 officers present, 150 were federal border patrol officials and 91 were state police officials. The report cites the chaos of having all the officers present with no coordination of duties, combined with poor decision making that led to complete systematic failures, at all levels. One of the most damning parts of the report, while listing a comprehensive list of mistakes, says that “law enforcement failed to prioritize innocent lives over their own safety”.
The report by the House committee is one of several that looked into the shooting, and was presented to the families of the victims prior to being released publicly. The report followed weeks of interviews – mostly in private – of witnesses at the scene as well as law enforcement officials involved in the response. The full report can be found here: https://house.texas.gov/_media/pdf/committees/reports/87interim/Robb-Elementary-Investigative-Committee-Report.pdf
Roe v. Wade
This issue will continue to be in the news moving forward, and proposed legislation on the subject will be a dominant theme for the upcoming session. Last week, AG Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration after the President signed an executive order aimed at increasing access to abortion. Part of the executive order declared that doctors performing abortions as part of emergency treatment or to stabilize the life of the mother are protected from prosecution under federal law. The order went further to say that hospitals that do not allow these procedures will be subject to a loss in federal funding through Medicaid. Paxton sued, claiming the federal government is infringing on the state’s sovereign interests to enforce their own laws, thus making hospitals choose between violating state law or losing federal funds.
A group of lawmakers from both chambers are now gathering signatures to petition the state Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce the criminal penalties in the 1925 law on the books that completely bans abortion. Under this law, the person performing an abortion can receive up to 10 years in prison. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that the Attorney General can enforce the law through civil litigation – fines and suspensions of licenses. But these lawmakers are looking to the Supreme Court to allow criminal penalties as well.
However, in an interesting turn of events, the main author of the heartbeat bill from last session – that outlawed all abortions after six weeks – said he would not support legislation next session that would block emergency contraceptives or stop patients from traveling out of state to get the procedure. State Senator Bryan Hughes, the Republican chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee said at an appearance over the weekend at an event for Dallas Jewish Conservatives that he is more interested in alternatives to abortion such as pregnancy counseling and more assistance for mothers and their children.
Abbott/O’Rourke Fundraising Totals
July 15th marked the reporting deadline for all candidates regarding fundraising activities for the last four months. This period covers from February 20th to June 30th. During that period, O’Rourke reported raising an amazing $27.6 million. That is the most money any candidate for statewide office in Texas has ever raised in a particular reporting period. The O’Rourke campaign reports that the money comes from over 511,000 individual donors, and 98% of the money was raised through online solicitations. The average contribution was $54.
Abbott started the campaign with a huge campaign cash advantage. The last report earlier this year showed Abbott has nearly $50 million cash on hand. During this reporting period, the Abbott campaign reports he raised $24.9 million during the same period, which is also an amazingly high haul. Abbott maintains a substantial cash advantage, reporting over $45 million cash on hand. The O’Rourke campaign did not yet report total cash on hand. But the huge haul by O’Rourke does signal that his campaign may be gaining some momentum.
A new University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll shows Gov. Abbott maintaining a lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke. In this most recent poll, Abbott holds a 49% to 44% lead among likely voters. Down ballot, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick holds a 48% to 43% lead over Democrat Mike Collier and incumbent AG Ken Paxton holds a 46%
to 41% lead over Democrat Rochelle Garza.
The poll, since it was conducted by the University of Houston, did polling specific to Harris County, which has been solidly Democratic for the last several election cycles. Not surprisingly, O’Rourke led Abbott by a margin of 51% to 42% among likely Harris County voters. What is of interest is that incumbent Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo, seeking reelection to a second term, is basically tied with Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer. Hidalgo has a 48% to 47% lead, within the margin of error. Hidalgo has been the subject of intense scrutiny for her role in the awarding of a COVID vaccine outreach contract last year. Three of her aides have been indicted for misconduct in the matter.
If you would like to see full results of the poll, a link can be found here: https://uh.edu/hobby/txpolicyandpolitics/txelection22.pdf
The state Democrats held their convention in Dallas over the weekend. The party reelected Gilberto Hinojosa as their chair once again, despite serious challengers and a record of not electing a single statewide official during his tenure. No Democrat has been elected statewide since 1994. Hinojosa was elected chair in 2012 and said this four year term would be his last.
We are all wishing state Senator Kelly Hancock (R, Fort Worth) a speedy recovery after undergoing a kidney transplant surgery. Hancock was diagnosed with kidney disease several years ago, and while he was able to manage the disease for a few years, the time finally came for a transplant. The donor was his son-in-law, and both are doing fine after the recent surgery. Hancock was first elected to the Senate in 2012, and his district includes Fort Worth, Arlington, and surrounding areas. He served two terms in the Texas House prior to his election to the Senate.
Later in the month, the House Public Education Committee will meet to discuss issues related to public school finance and to evaluate state policy on curriculum and instructional materials. The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths. The Senate has no committees scheduled at this time.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov