OVID Cases Fall, Hospitalizations Steady

New infections continue a slow and steady decline with 4,973  cases reported by the state yesterday.   This is down from the 6,000 reported one week ago.  Hospitalizations are remaining steady, but falling slightly as well. The state is reporting 2,674 people hospitalized with COVID illness.  That down slightly from the 2,733 reported one week ago.

Companies Told to Prepare for Extreme Weather

The Texas Railroad Commission – the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas – adopted rules this week requiring all natural gas companies to upgrade and weatherize their facilities to withstand extreme weather.  During the 2021 regular session, in response to the deadly storm that caused massive power outages while the state was experiencing several days of below freezing temperatures, the legislature mandated that the agency create an infrastructure map showing the details of the supply chain for the state’s natural gas providers.  According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, nearly a third of all power outages were caused by fuel shortage issues, mostly due to the inability to get natural gas to the electric providers.

The rules adopted this week apply only to the supply chain operators such as the pipeline and natural gas facilities.  The rules require the affected companies to submit annual reports to the agency to demonstrate what they have done to prepare for extreme weather.  Companies face fines of up to $1 million for non-compliance.  These rules are similar to those adopted by the Public Utility Commission in October of 2021 aimed at upgrading the facilities operated by electric generators and providers.

Revision of Social Studies Curriculum Delayed

One of the hottest topics from last session, that continues during the interim, is the content of history and social studies curriculum in the state’s public schools.  The State Board of Education considered a proposal this week that attempted to comply with the state’s new directives on critical race theory, which examines the impact of racism on our institutions and system of lawmaking.  Critical race theory (CRT) as a method or theory of teaching was banned by the legislature last session.  Many social conservatives felt that the newly proposed curriculum did not go far enough in banning CRT and urged the board to delay implementation of the new curriculum.  Under that pressure, the board agreed to delay any changes in the public school curriculum for history and social studies until 2025.  The board stated that they will need the time to conduct more research to properly adhere to the directives set forth by the legislature regarding CRT.

Redistricting Trial Delayed

In 2021, the legislature passed new maps outlining the districts in which all members are elected for the Texas House and Senate, as well as the US House of Representatives.  All states are required to go through this exercise in response to the new census numbers released every decade.  The maps passed in 2021 are already in effect for the 2022 elections, but are also under challenge by several interested parties that are claiming discrimination and dilution of voting strength for minorities.  Every time new maps are passed, no matter which party is in charge, they are always challenged in court by the alternate party.  The first major challenge to these maps was due to begin in federal court in El Paso on September 28 before a three-judge panel.  Due to disputes over items to be used in discovery, both sides in the case have asked for more time to prepare for trial.  The judicial panel announced this week that more time will be granted to both sides.  No timetable was given on when the trial would begin.  However, if the judges require changes to be made to any of the districts, the timetable for the 2024 elections could be in jeopardy due to the time required for all appeals to be exhausted. Most legal experts feel the trial must begin by summer of 2023 to allow for all deadlines to be met regarding appeals.

Chicago Now Receiving Migrants from Texas

Gov. Abbott announced yesterday that the state of Texas has begun busing migrants to a third city.  Chicago has been added to the list of drop off cities, with the first bus dropping off a group of migrants Wednesday night at Union Station in Chicago.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed this morning that the city had received approximately 60 migrants, and she said that all relevant city departments would welcome the migrants and provide all necessities and safety for the group.  Texas has already been sending buses to Washington, DC and New York City for several weeks.  In his announcement yesterday, Gov. Abbott said the state will continue to send migrants to sanctuary cities until the federal government secures the southern border.

Battleship Texas Docks in Galveston

Battleship Texas is a 110-year-old ship that fought in and survived both World War I and World War II.  It is the last in its class of dreadnought battleships and the first ever retired by the US Navy as a memorial.  On Wednesday, the ship left its home of 70 years at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and was towed to Galveston where it will undergo an estimated $35 million worth of repairs to its hull followed by a full restoration to its former glory.  The tow began at 6AM, with the historic ship arriving and docking in Galveston at 4PM.  After the completion of the repairs and restoration, the ship will eventually be resettled at a location in the state that has yet to be determined to once again receive visitors.  The money for the restoration was approved by the legislature in 2019.

Uvalde School News

The Associated Press and several other news outlets have sued the city, school district, and sheriff’s department in Uvalde to release records related to the May 24th shooting.  The suit asks for release of 911 tapes, as well as personnel records and any other documents related to the incident. The lawsuit is the latest attempt to obtain these documents, since these organizations have filed open records requests in an attempt to obtain these documents, but have not been granted access.  The police in Uvalde have argued that they cannot release the documents due to the ongoing investigation.  The lawsuit was filed Monday in state district court in Uvalde County, and neither the city, school district, nor sheriff’s department have commented on the lawsuit.

At a campaign event yesterday, Gov. Abbott declared that the main issue that the families of the victims are calling for – raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy an assault rifle – was not possible because that would be unconstitutional.  Abbott has been under intense pressure from the families to call a special session of the legislature in response to the shooting.  Abbott has refused.  He defended his stance by referencing a recent court ruling by a federal judge in Fort Worth that declared a Texas law limiting the carrying of handguns to those over the age of 21 is unconstitutional.

Political Notes

One of the most closely watched races in the Texas Senate is to replace the retiring Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.  Senate District 27, anchored in the Rio Grande Valley, was redrawn last year to include areas stretching north to Corpus Christi.  Democrat Morgan Lamantia faces Republican Adam Hinojosa in the November election.  The new configuration of the district still favors electing a Democrat, but it is substantially more competitive for Republicans.   This week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick endorsed Hinojosa. And yesterday, the Hinojosa campaign released a poll showing the Republican with a slight lead.  The survey showed Hinojosa with 43%, and Lamantia with 38%, and 19% undecided.

The O’Rourke campaign announced yesterday that the candidate would return to the campaign trail on Friday.  O’Rourke will appear at an event in Laredo, which will be his first appearance since being hospitalized last week with an infection.  The campaign said O’Rourke will campaign along the Texas/Mexico border this weekend, with stops in Eagle Pass, Del Rio, and Alpine.

What’s Next??

The House Appropriations Committee meets next week to begin their preparations for the upcoming session.  Topics to be discussed over their two days of scheduled meetings include public education funding, state Medicaid funding, and use of state funds for employee retention.  Later in the month, The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths and the House Public Education Committee will meet to discuss the teacher shortage faced by most school districts. The Senate has no committee hearings scheduled at this time.

The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here:  https://capitol.texas.gov