Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
Special Session Announced
Earlier this afternoon, Governor Abbott announced that the third special session will begin this Monday, October 9th at 1PM. The issues that he announced as part of the call are school vouchers, four issues related to immigration, and the banning of COVID vaccine mandates by employers.
The letter sent to the Secretary of State and proclamation regarding the special session can be found here: https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/PROC_third_called_session_88th_legislature_FINAL_10-05-23.pdf
Now that the formal proclamation has been issued, filing of legislation related to these issues can begin.
The first House member to announce the intention to file school choice related legislation is Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Republican from Richmond. Jetton – who also filed similar legislation during the regular session – announced his legislation will set up state funded education savings accounts that will allow parents to participate and have access to the funds to be used for private school tuition. Jetton’s legislation gives priority to students who participate in special education services and qualify for free and reduced lunch. The Speaker’s office has not endorsed any particular proposal, and other proposals will be filed now that the word on the special session is official.
Among the four issues related to immigration reform – state offense for illegal entry into the country, increasing penalties for human smuggling, and the appropriation of more funds for the construction of the border wall — the Colony Ridge development was singled out specifically and will be the subject of scrutiny and possibly legislation during the upcoming special session. Abbott has publicly said he has serious concerns about the development and has directed lawmakers to investigate when they convene next week. For weeks, several news outlets and Republican party activists have pushed claims that the development has become a magnet for immigrants in the US illegally to settle, and that cartels are controlling some or all of the neighborhoods in the development. The claims have only recently gained traction, even though the development broke ground 20 years ago. Land there is very affordable, and most residents have not gone through the typical loan process to obtain land and housing. One thing for certain is the area has explosive growth, which has caused issues for the local school district and law enforcement says they are understaffed to patrol the area. However, local law enforcement is on record with the Associated Press saying that crimes rates are no higher in Colony Ridge than any other part of Liberty County, where the development is located. No specific legislation was suggested in the special session proclamation, so it remains to be seen what lawmakers will come up with to address the concerns with Colony Ridge.
Aftermath of Paxton Acquittal
Texas House impeachment managers published evidence earlier this week that had originally been presented to the Senate in August but was not presented during the trial due to time constraints. In a letter accompanying the evidence, the House managers said the presentation of the evidence was “necessary to provide full transparency to the people of Texas” and reiterates the House’s claim that Paxton used his office to benefit a campaign donor. The evidence released built further on the claim that Paxton used the campaign donor – Austin real estate developer Nate Paul — to pay for a remodel of his Austin home. The documents attempt to make a close connection between the contractor and Paul. The Paxton legal team accused the House managers of malicious intent, but Paxton has not responded to the document dump.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Texas Supreme Court last Friday ruled that the lawsuit brought forth by the whistleblowers from the AG’s office against Paxton can move forward. The case – filed in 2020 by a group of employees that say they were fired in retaliation for accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and abuse of power and then reporting Paxton to law enforcement — was basically the origin of the impeachment trial. After months of depositions, Paxton and the whistleblowers agreed to a $3.3 million settlement that amounted to back pay for the employees. When the legislature refused to pay the $3.3 million settlement, the House began their investigation into Paxton and subsequently impeached him for the allegations.
The court case was on hold during the impeachment trial, but the whistleblowers asked the court to resume the case after Paxton was acquitted. Paxton has argued that since he is a statewide elected official, he is not subject to the rules of the state’s whistleblower laws. After the trial level judge and a court of appeals ruled the case could proceed, the Texas Supreme Court followed suit and is allowing the case to move forward. This could cause more issues for Paxton. He and his wife were not required to testify in the impeachment trial, but the trial court judge could indeed compel him to testify. Nate Paul – the Austin real estate developer that is the subject of Paxton’s alleged wrongdoings – could also be compelled to take the stand. Paul has been indicted by a federal grand jury on eight felony counts related to false statement he made on financial documents. No timeline has been given on when the trial court will resume the case.
It is not news that the summer heatwave took a toll on every aspect of our lives. Here are some staggering statistics. According to the US Drought Monitor, 24.1 million people in the state of Texas are now affected by some level of drought. 40% of the state is in either extreme or exceptional drought. The reservoirs in central Texas are at record lows. Lake Travis is at 36% full, measuring 629 feet, which is well below the 681-foot capacity. Similar relative readings are found in reservoirs throughout the state.
We are seeing some relief. Late Wednesday night, a cold front blew through the state bringing much needed rain and lower temperatures. Much of the eastern half of the state received several inches of rain. On Wednesday night into Thursday morning, areas of east Texas reported three inches of rain, while Bush Intercontinental Airport reported a full inch. Austin reported over 2 inches of rain throughout the city, and the Dallas area was hit hard with hail and several inches of rain. Temperatures in the Austin area dropped into the low 60’s last night and highs throughout much of the state will stay in the 70’s for the next few days with much lower humidity.
So, as we head not only to cooler temperatures, we also eventually head to cold temperatures. On Tuesday, ERCOT sent out a request for proposal to industry stakeholders looking to increase operating reserves in preparation for the winter months. ERCOT has already said they will comfortably have enough power to meet demand in the mild months of October and November. But December through February will test the load on the grid. ERCOT is looking for an additional 3,000 megawatts for the winter’s peak demand times, saying they want to be fully prepared. That additional capacity would be enough to power an additional 600,000 homes during peak demand, and allow the agency to better respond to sudden changes such as an unexpected outage at a power generation facility. An internal report has determined that if winter temperatures are comparable to last year, the times of peak demand could increase the probability of entering a grid emergency, which is the last resort before instituting rolling blackouts to conserve energy. Peak demand in the winter months are the early morning hours from midnight to sunup, when temperatures are the lowest. The RFP seeks both increased generation for energy sources and response solutions in the event of an emergency due to lack of supply.
If you are interested in monitoring grid conditions, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
US immigrations agents processed more than 210,000 migrants that unlawfully crossed the border from Mexico in the month of September alone which is the highest monthly level recorded in 2023. That is an increase from the 181,000 apprehensions recorded in the month of August. The September tally is also the highest since December of 2022 when Border Patrol apprehended 222,000 migrants. The all-time high remains 224,000 migrant apprehensions in May of 2022. This year is on pace to at least match the annual high of total number of apprehensions that was set in 2022, which was 2.2 million.
In a report by CBS news citing a report by the Department of Homeland Security, the government’s own figures show most migrants in the last few months have been released into cities in the US and instructed to start the legal process of seeking asylum through court proceedings. That process can take years to complete. The immigration court system currently has a backlog of over 2 million cases. The increased border crossings continue to be fueled by arrivals from Venezuela who are fleeing their home country due to a severe economic and political crisis there. Border Patrol estimates at least one-fourth of all apprehensions are from Venezuela. An estimated 7 million Venezuelans have fled country in recent years journeying first to other South American countries, but more recently have begun to trek all the way to the US.
These numbers have finally gotten the attention of the Biden administration. Yesterday, the administration announced it would waive 26 federal laws to expedite the construction of the border wall in south Texas. The announcement was made through the Department of Homeland Security and cited the need for an “immediate need to construct physical barriers to prevent unlawful entries into the US.” The announcement comes after several members of Biden’s own party have called on the President to take more aggressive action to stop the migrant crisis, including Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Democratic Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. Chicago is one of the cities to which Texas has bused immigrants to relieve the strain on our state’s border towns that have become overwhelmed trying to process all of the migrants. More than 15,000 migrants have been bused to Chicago over the last year causing a strain on the resources there. The mayors of New York and Washington, DC have voiced similar concerns over the strain migrants have caused their cities as well.
El Paso and Eagle Pass continue to be the center of the controversy due to the raw numbers that are crossing into those cities on a daily basis. As many as 2,000 migrants per day are still entering through each city every day. In one incident yesterday in Juarez, near El Paso, hundreds of migrants rushed past a human chain established by officers from various state and federal agencies to try and slow down the group. They now wait on the banks of the river and will eventually be allowed to enter the country and request asylum.
El Paso has set up a Migrant Situational Awareness Dashboard to keep track of and raiser awareness of the issues they are facing regarding the situation at the border. The website can be found here: https://app.powerbigov.us/view?r=eyJrIjoiNTlmOTY0ZDQtY2M0OS00OTY3LTk4MWQtMTVhYTJmZWIwMzQxIiwidCI6IjY2YThkY2Y5LWVkNzUtNGE2Zi04OGUwLTUxMGRmOWJkZjJhOSJ9
Houston/Harris County Notes
The state’s largest city and county never has a shortage of news making events. The election for mayor is only a month away, and the race is getting hotter. This week, two of state Senator John Whitmire’s opponents took aim at his $10 million war chest. Whitmire – largely considered the front runner – has amassed a huge campaign balance mainly due to his years in the state Senate. A Houston city ordinance prevents contributions of more than $5000 per individual and $10,000 per PAC. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and former Metro board chair Gilbert Garcia have joined forces and requested that the city attorney investigate whether or not Whitmire is violating the city’s donation limits. The two claim that past campaign finance reports indicate a substantial number of contributions to Whitmire would violate the city ordinance.
Whitmire has assured the public that everything is in compliance and has had conversations with the city attorney and the Texas Ethics Commission to ensure compliance. In the latest campaign finance reports for the mayoral election, Whitmire reports maintaining $9.9 million cash on hand, compared to $2,9 million for Garcia and $1.4 million for Jackson Lee. Garcia and Jackson Lee say if the city attorney does not take proper action, then they will file a lawsuit to force the city to act.
Also this week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo returned to work after an extended leave of absence to receive treatment for mental health issues. Hidalgo issued a statement saying she was “thrilled” to be back and work. Hidalgo announced in early August that she had entered a mental health inpatient treatment facility to deal with clinical depression. Her return comes only days after five Harris County residents filed suit to have her permanently removed from office due to her health issues.
Former President Trump announced this week he will be in Texas for fundraisers in Dallas and Houston during the first week of November. The events are headlined by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and AG Ken Paxton, as well as several members of Congress who have formally endorsed Trump.
Texas House District 113 will be open in the 2024 election due to incumbent Rep. Rhetta Bowers running for the Congressional seat being vacated by Congressman Colin Allred, who is mounting a challenge to incumbent US Senator Ted Cruz. The first announced candidate was Dawn Freeman, who currently serves as chief of staff to Rep. Carl Sherman of Dallas. The northeast Dallas County district is solidly Democratic, based in Rowlett and Garland. Rep. Sherman’s seat will also be open in 2024, as he is also challenging Senator Cruz in the 2024 election.
Freeman will be joined in the Democratic primary for HD 113 by Tsion Amare, a social worker and former Capitol staffer from Rowlett. Amare is an immigrant from Ethiopia and at 24 years old, would be the youngest member of the House if elected in 2024.
Amarillo realtor Cindi Bulla joins a crowded Republican field in the race for state House District 87 to replace outgoing Rep. Four Price. Randall County Commissioner Craig Gualtiere and Potter County Republican Party chair Dan Rogers are already in the race. Bulla owns a real estate agency in Amarillo and also serves on Amarillo’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The seat is safely Republican and contains seven rural counties surrounding the Amarillo area.
Wayne Richard, the owner of a web-based consulting firm in Plano has announced he will challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Matt Shaheen in next year’s Republican primary. Richard is a grass roots activist for the Trump campaign and is challenging Shaheen based on his vote to impeach AG Ken Paxton. Shaheen is one of three other Collin County based House members who voted to impeach Paxton, and this challenge is considered to be the first of many Republican party primary fights against incumbents that voted to impeach Paxton.
Austin state Rep. Vicki Goodwin confirmed this week to the Texas Tribune that she is considering a run for Lt. Governor in 2026. Goodwin, a Democrat, was first elected in 2018, flipping a Travis County seat by defeating Republican Paul Workman. Goodwin’s western Travis County district runs from the Anderson Mill area in north Austin down to Lakeway in far southwest Travis County. She currently serves on the Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, Democrat from Laredo, was carjacked in Washington, DC on Monday night. Cuellar was parking his car in the Navy Yard neighborhood, about a mile from the Capitol when three assailants approached him and stole his vehicle. Cuellar was not harmed, and immediately called Capitol Police. Washington Metro Police worked with US Capitol Police and recovered his vehicle later in the evening. The congressman was not harmed in the event.
With the special session beginning on Monday, lawmakers will begin to file bills as early as tomorrow morning. I will keep everyone updated on all relevant developments related to the special session. As a reminder, special sessions can last no more than 30 days, and are limited in scope only to what the Governor deems can be considered.