COVID Cases Continue an Upward Trend, Hospitalizations Also Rise Slightly
New infections continue on an upward trend, with 4,349 new cases reported by the state yesterday. The number of new infections have continued a slow but steady rise over the past two weeks. These cases are apparently mild in nature. While hospitalizations are on the rise, they continue to remain low relative to the peak numbers during the height of the pandemic. As of yesterday, there were 1,233 people hospitalized with COVID related illness, which is roughly 100 more than one week ago. This is still far below the 14,128 hospitalized in January of 2021, the highest number of hospitalizations recorded during the pandemic.
Uvalde School Shooting
In response to calls from mostly Democrats to call a special session to consider topics that could help mitigate future tragedies like the one that occurred in Uvalde, Gov. Abbott last week passed the responsibility to the legislature by asking the House and Senate to form special committees to make recommendations in response to the Uvalde school shooting. In a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Abbott asked both chambers to “reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence.” He outlined five topics he would like to see the legislative committees to consider, which are school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety.
Lt. Governor Patrick immediately named the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, which will consist of 8 Republicans and three Democrats and will be chaired by Republican state Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville. Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde in the Texas Senate, was not named to the committee.
Speaker Phelan responded with a statement saying that conversations on these relevant topics are already underway in the House and will continue to be a top priority leading up to next session. He then appointed the Special Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary School Shooting that is chaired by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R, Lubbock). The other two members on the committee are Rep. Joe Moody (D, El Paso) and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who recently made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for Attorney General. This committee will hold its first meeting this Thursday at the Capitol.
In addition, Phelan issued a new set of issues for the already established Interim Committee on Youth Health and Safety to include issues such as how to prevent acts of mass violence, establish better coordination with state and local law enforcement authorities in times of crisis, and what the state can do to better assist local entities with mental health services, especially as it relates to activities with children. These topics will now be studied jointly with the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Phelan also added House members to the Youth Safety committee whose communities have been affected by mass shootings in recent years, and the membership will now include House members that represent areas such as Santa Fe, El Paso, Uvalde, Sutherland Springs, and White Settlement.
Students, teachers, and staff will not return to Robb Elementary School next fall at the start of the new school year. The school district, according to the superintendent, is working on plans to move students and teachers to other campuses within the district. President Biden has suggested that the school be demolished and replaced with a new school, paid for by a federal grant.
A lot of attention has been given to the Uvalde school district chief during the investigation. State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, revealed on Friday that Chief Pete Arrendondo arrived at the scene the day of the incident with no radio or communications equipment of any kind. As part of the investigation being done by DPS, the determination is trying to be made as to how Arrendondo was receiving information at the scene and if this impaired his ability to coordinate a response. Furthermore, Arrendondo apparently did not receive information about the 911 calls from the children in the school that were desperately pleading for help. All of this is part of the questions that have not been answered as to why law enforcement waited 79 minutes to finally decide to take on the gunman, eventually shooting and killing him.
Supreme Court Blocks Social Media Law
During the series of special sessions last summer and fall, the legislature passed a bill that allows social media users to sue any social media platform that blocks them for espousing a particular political view. The law applied to platforms with at least 50 million users, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. The law was passed in response to Twitter banning former President Trump. The trade association representing social media platforms had sued to stop the law from being in effect, claiming that the new law violates the companies’ first amendment rights, and that no online platform should be subjected to government officials regarding free speech. The case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the Justices agreed, and placed a block on the law until all of the parameters of the law can be considered through the legal process.
Congressman Pat Fallon, Republican from Frisco in north Texas, is under investigation by the US House Ethics Committee. At issue are several stock trades Fallon failed to report during his first months in office. Fallon failed to report a total of 122 transactions valued at $21 million. Fallon is serving his first full year in Congress after being elected in a special election in 2021, succeeding then Congressman John Ratcliffe, who resigned to work for the Trump administration in late 2020. Fallon, through his attorney, claims that he was unaware that he had to disclose the trades, which he is required to do within 45 days of taking office. Fallon served three terms in the Texas House and two years in the Texas Senate before being elected to Congress. Fallon claims he thought the disclosure rules for state level and federal offices were the same. State law requires annual disclosure of stock transactions. What is the biggest problem facing Fallon however, is that the Office of Congressional Ethics has recommended the matter be taken up by the House committee since Fallon has refused to provide requested information and has not cooperated with the Office’s review.
There is apparently growing acceptance among rank and file Republicans in the US House to impeach President Biden. In a radio interview on Friday, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a Republican representing areas of north and west Harris County, said that more and more of his colleagues are committed to impeaching Biden if the Republicans regain control of the House and Senate in the November elections. One of the main reasons given, according to Crenshaw, is the lack of enforcement of immigration laws by the administration that is resulting in record numbers of border crossings. Regarding taking control of Congress, many political experts feel the Republicans will gain much more than the needed numbers to regain a majority.
With the primary election season over for now, numerous committee hearings are taking place, and many are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Upcoming meetings include the House Special Committee on the Robb Elementary School Shooting, the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee to discuss illegal 8-liner gaming machines and the Senate Finance Committee 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