Case Counts/Testing in Texas – Tuesday, March 16th (7:00 PM data)
Total Tests Performed – 20,456,710
Confirmed Cases – 2,351,382 (4,279 new cases)
Active Cases – 111,691
Hospitalizations – 3,999 (13,222 available beds, 1,132 available ICU beds)
Fatalities – 45,700 (130 new deaths)
Recovered Cases – 2,565,639
Vaccine Data – Tuesday, March 16th (2:55 PM data)
Doses Shipped by state – 10,069,000
People with one dose received – 5,554,924
People fully vaccinated – 2,902,050
Total doses administered – 8,288,894
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Tuesday, March 16th was 7.6%. One month ago, there were 3,300 new cases reported, one week ago there were 3,000 new cases reported, compared to the 4,279 reported yesterday. The 3,999 COVID patients in hospitals now are 703 fewer than one week ago, and COVID patients make up 6.1% of total hospital beds in the state.
Over the last week, an average of 145,376 doses have been administered each day in the state. As of March 15th, 10% of Texans have been fully vaccinated.
Abbott Introduces Voting Restrictions
Gov. Greg Abbott has joined the nationwide movement by Republicans to enact new voting restrictions. On Monday, Abbott indicated that he will back legislation to outlaw election measures like those used in Harris County during the 2020 election which aimed to expand safe access to the ballot box during the coronavirus pandemic.
At a press conference in Houston, Abbott led Texas GOP’s legislative response to the 2020 election and its push to further restrict voting by taking aim at local election officials in the state’s most populous and Democratically controlled county. The governor took the time to criticize officials in Harris County for attempting to send applications to vote by mail to every registered voter and their bid to set up widespread drive-thru voting, staging his support for legislation that would prohibit both initiatives in future elections.
“Whether it’s the unauthorized expansion of mail-in ballots or the unauthorized expansion of drive-thru voting, we must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said on Monday. Harris County planned to send out applications to request a mail-in ballot, not the actual ballots.
Harris County officials quickly fired back at Republicans’ proposals in their own press conference.
“These kinds of attempts to confuse, to intimidate, to suppress are a continuation of policies we’ve seen in this state since Reconstruction,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “It is a continuation as well of the big lie that’s being peddled by some far-right elements that the election in 2020 was somehow not true and should be overturned.”
Senate Passes Electric Pricing Bill to House
The Texas Senate passed a bill on Monday that could pave the way for electricity providers to recoup billions in potentially erroneous overcharges during last month’s series of winter storms that crippled the Texas power grid. Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, filed Senate Bill 2142 on Monday morning — and roughly four hours later, the Senate passed it. The Senate took the unusual step of reconvening a session that technically was adjourned Thursday solely to consider Hughes’ bill after receiving notification from Gov. Greg Abbott that it was an emergency legislative item. The bill would reverse $4.2 billion in charges that were found to be artificially inflated during the winter storm, thus overbilling energy companies. The bill passed the Senate 27-3 with one member absent.
In response, House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a statement yesterday saying that the House would not consider the legislation passed by the Senate. Phelan said the bill is “an extraordinary government intervention into the free market” and expressed a great deal of skepticism of reversing the charges that were set during the storm. The situation of how much the billing dispute will impact the electric bills of Texans still remains unclear, and Phelan says the House will take a more deliberate approach to the crisis.
This particular situation arose from ERCOT setting the price of electricity at $9,000 per megawatt hour during the storm, which is the maximum amount allowed by law. The price remained at that level because state regulators felt the highest price was necessary to incentivize regulators to send power to the grid. The Senate took the position that the prices should be retroactively brought down. In testimony before a Senate committee last week, the chair of the Public Utility Commission said to retroactively change the rates would be “improper and illegal”.
This disagreement on a major issue represents the first major rift between the two chambers, which have remained largely conflict free up until now.
New Public Utility Commission Member Resigns
The last remaining member of the three-seat board that regulates Texas utilities, Arthur D’Andrea, is resigning from his post after public requests from Gov. Greg Abbott. D’Andrea was the only member of the three member commission. Therefore, the three member board that is charged with utility regulation in Texas is now completely vacant. D’Andrea had apparently spoken to out of state investors recently, assuring them that he would “throw the weight of the commission” behind stopping any efforts to reverse the overcharges, in an attempt to ensure those investors that the already realized profits would not be in jeopardy.
In response, Abbott said in a statement that after accepting D’Andrea’s resignation he plans to name “a replacement in the coming days who will have the responsibility of charting a new and fresh course for the agency.” The resignation is effective immediately upon the appointment of a successor. D’Andrea’s resignation is the last in a long line for the PUC and Electric Reliability Council of Texas since last month’s deadly winter storm dropped millions of Texans into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. At least 57 people died in Texas as a result of the storm — most of them from hypothermia.
Illegal Border Crossings Nearing a 2-Decade High
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday that the U.S. is on track to see the largest number of migrants crossing its southern border illegally in two decades.
“The situation at the southwest border is difficult. We are working around the clock to manage it and we will continue to do so,” Mr. Mayorkas said in the statement. “It will take time and we will not waver in our commitment to succeed.”
Mr. Mayorkas is scheduled to appear before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. He is expected to face tough questioning from lawmakers about the Biden administration’s border policies and the treatment of migrant children in the government’s care. Republicans criticize Biden’s administration’s rollbacks of several of the Trump administration’s strict border policies, saying the moves have enticed migrants to cross the border illegally. Democrats have express concerns surrounding the children who have remained in Border Patrol custody longer than the 72 hours permitted under law. Governor Abbott will be on the border at noon today to address the state’s response to the crisis at the border.
There are 76 days remaining in the regular session. The House is adjourned until 2:00PM today , and the Senate is adjourned until 3:00PM today.