COVID Cases and Hospitalizations Rise Sharply
New infections continue on a sharp upward trend, with 18,761 cases reported by the state on Tuesday. That is an increase in the weekly average of 480 cases with the seven day rolling average now at nearly 7,500 daily cases Hospitalizations are also on the rise. The state is reporting 1,935 people hospitalized with COVID illness, an increase in nearly 300 patients from one week ago.
Uvalde School Shooting
Over the last two days, a special Texas Senate committee met in the Senate chamber to hear more testimony on the Uvalde school shooting. The biggest headline came when the head of the Department of Public Safety called the delayed law enforcement response to the gunman an “abject failure”. DPS Director Steve McCraw told the committee that his agency’s investigation has shown that there were enough armed officers in the school within three minutes after the subject entered the building to neutralize the gunman. McCraw went on to place full blame on the incident commander, Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arrendondo.
State Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio who represents Uvalde, is suing the DPS to try and obtain their records regarding the incident. Gutierrez says that the DPS has refused to release all information related to the investigation, and due to the fact that the changing timelines, misstatements, inaccurate accounts and shifts of blame have been prevalent since the incident, he feels that all records should be made fully accessible to the public. The DPS has 10 days to respond to the request.
While the Senate was holding a public hearing, a similar special committee on the House side was holding a hearing in private where they received testimony from Chief Arrendondo. Arrendondo has declined to comment publicly on the incident. Last night, he was placed on administrative leave by the school district. The district superintendent said that this was necessary due to the lack of consistency in the accounts of the incident and the unknown of when final results of the investigation will be available.
The US Senate has voted to advance a bipartisan gun and school safety proposal in response to the Uvalde shooting. The measure enhances background checks, makes it easier to remove guns from people that have committed acts of domestic violence, and attempts to crack down on illegal gun dealers. The measure had substantial Republican support, with an initial vote of 64-34 in favor. The bill is expected to pass the full Senate later this week, and should easily pass the US House.
Poll Shows Governor Race Tightening
A poll released last week by Quinnipiac showed Gov. Abbott’s lead over Beto O’Rourke shrinking significantly compared to six months ago. Abbott still holds a 5 point lead, with a 48% to 43% lead over O’Rourke in the poll conducted between June 9th and 15th. This is a huge drop-off in support compared to the December poll done by the same group that showed Abbott with a 52% to 37% lead over O’Rourke. O’Rourke says the main reason Abbott’s lead is shrinking is because voters are frustrated with Abbott’s lack of response to the Uvalde school shooting, since he has refused to call a special session on the issue. Abbott’s campaign has not responded to the new poll numbers.
Electric Grid Holding Up, But Will Cost Ratepayers
With the unprecedented heatwave being experienced by most Texans now, state officials in charge of the reliability of the grid are crediting a more cautious oversight in comparison to the oversight failures experienced during the 2021 winter storm. However, the greater oversight and attention paid to the grid will cost nearly $900 million just in the first half of this year. The costs are due to the need to purchase higher levels of reserve power and have the ability to make it available more quickly to the retail customers. ERCOT staff is estimating that the overall cost for the year for the additional power and execution of delivery could cost $1.72 billion. Inevitably, these costs will be passed along to the ratepayers. ERCOT staff have not provided estimates of just how much each household and business will pay each month to absorb the additional costs. Consumer groups have been urging ERCOT officials to begin to inform ratepayers of the additional costs for which they should be prepared, but there is nothing in the new laws that requires the state or ERCOT to do so.
Republican Mayra Flores has become the first Mexican born woman to be sworn into the US House of Representatives. Flores last week won a special election in Texas Congressional District 34, based in the Rio Grande Valley. The seat was vacated by Democrat Filemon Vela who resigned to take a lobby job. Flores bested a field of six candidates, outspending the field 20-1. She is also the Republican nominee for the seat for the 2022 election, and will face Democrat Vicente Gonzalez in November.
In other news relative to the Texas Congressional delegation, incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo was declared the winner of his hard fought primary runoff election over challenger Jessica Cisneros. After the final count was done on Tuesday, Cuellar won by 289 votes. This is the second election cycle in a row that Cuellar has narrowly defeated Cisneros, and he returns to his very powerful position on the House Appropriations committee, which has been seen as very advantageous for the state and his south Texas district.
The Texas Republican Party held its convention in Houston over the weekend. The party boasts at being the largest party convention in the nation. But, the number of attendees has decreased significantly over the past decade. With enthusiasm to oust President Obama at its peak 10 years ago, the same convention has roughly 20,000 attendees. This year’s event drew 6,000. Platform issues were discussed and adopted, including the declaration that President Biden was not legitimately elected, a resolution asking the legislature to send a referendum to the voters on seceding from the United States, declaring homosexuality as an abnormal lifestyle choice, and a rebuke of Senator Cornyn for his efforts on gun safety legislation.
With the primary election season over for now, numerous committee hearings are taking place, and many are scheduled in the coming weeks.
The House Homeland Security Committee meets jointly today with the House Special Committee on Youth Safety to further discuss school safety measures in response to the Uvalde school shooting. On Monday, the Senate Special Committee on Border Issues meets to receive updates from the DPS and Attorney General regarding migration and border issues. Also next week, the House State Affairs Committee meets to discuss the reliability of the electric grid, and the Senate Finance Committee will meet to discuss Medicaid and long term health care funding.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov