COVID Cases Rise, but Hospitalizations Remain Low
New infections are on an upward trend, with 2,061 new cases reported by the state yesterday. There was a small spike of cases last week, with several days in a row recording over 1,000 cases. These cases are apparently mild in nature because, hospitalizations continue to decline. As of Monday, May 2nd, there were 693 people hospitalized with COVID related illness. This is over 100 patients fewer than a week ago, and continues to be the lowest rate since the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020.
State Transfers an Additional $500 Million for Border Enforcement
The state is transferring an additional $500 million to fund Operation Lone Star, the Governor’s border initiative taking place along the state’s border with Mexico. The money will be taken from several other agencies, including $210 from the Department of Health and Human Services and $160 million from the Department of Public Safety The Department of State Health Services and the Department of Criminal Justice will also see funds transferred out of their budgets to fund the operation. The price tag for the operation so far is slightly more than $2 billion, and the claim by state leaders is this additional $500 million is needed to keep the operation going through the end of the year.
Migrants Sue Abbott
A group of migrants that were apprehended under the state Operation Lone Star have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Abbott claiming the entire mission is unconstitutional. The migrants were arrested and charged with criminal trespass in Kinney County, and they claim they were held in custody even after they had posted bond or had their charges dismissed. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 15 individual migrants, was filed in federal court in Austin, claiming the migrants were treated differently and prosecuted in a different manner than others accused of state-level crimes. The lawsuit seeks to stop Operation Lone Star and have it declared unconstitutional, claiming that the state is not following its own laws and procedures when processing the migrants through the criminal justice system. The lawsuit also asks the state to pay $18,000 to each migrant for each day they were illegally detained, which would bring the cost to $5.4 million. The plaintiff’s attorneys claim that amount is what is typically awarded by courts in cases of detention.
Abortion Law Challenge Ended
The Texas Supreme Court dealt another blow to a federal challenge of the state’s recently passed abortion law last week when it ruled that state medical licensing officials do not have the authority to enforce the law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. A federal challenge to the law had sought to declare that the law is enforceable by state officials such as the state medical licensing board, court officials who docket the lawsuits, and the attorney general. If successful in that argument, then that would have given the opposition to the law a group of individuals to sue and bring an eventual federal constitutional challenge to the law. But, the Texas Supreme Court disagreed with that argument, leaving in place the basic tenet of the law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” in an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Other appeals are still alive, and the US Supreme Court is considering a similar law passed in Mississippi that outlaws abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“Trigger” Law Passed Last Session
None of the above will matter if the US Supreme Court follows through on the reports leaked last night that the court was set to strike down Roe v. Wade. During the last regular session in 2021, lawmakers passed a “trigger” law that takes effect 30 days after the court strikes down the 1972 decision, and bans all abortions in Texas. The ban applies to abortions beginning at the time of contraception and makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, nor does it make exceptions for fetal abnormality. The only exceptions are for risk of death or severe health complications for the mother if the pregnancy is not ended. The final US Supreme Court decision is expected in June.
The last day of early voting is today for the May 7th constitutional amendment elections, as well as elections for local school board and municipal races. As of yesterday, about 4% of registered voters have cast a ballot during the early voting period.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke has hired Cecile Richards to be the national finance chair for his campaign. Richards is the daughter of the late Ann Richards, who served as Governor of Texas from 1991-1994. She is also the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In the hottest Congressional runoff in the state, incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo will feature US House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina at a rally this week. Clyburn is the third ranking House Democrat, and will headline a fundraiser for Cuellar in San Antonio on Wednesday. Cuellar is being challenged from the left by Laredo attorney Jessica Cisneros, who has the backing of Bronx Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez.
In a very closely watched runoff for the state House, Republican incumbent Kyle Kacal of College Station is in the fight of his political life against Huntsville businessman Ben Bius. Bius was endorsed by three of Kacal’s House colleagues last week. The most notable was Mayes Middleton of Galveston, who also serves as chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
With the runoff date of May 24th approaching, several candidates are making their way to Austin for fundraisers. In addition, numerous committee hearings are taking place, and many are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Several committees such as House Homeland Security, Public Education, and Human Services, as well as the Senate Finance and Business and Commerce committees have all posted hearings.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov