Capital Highlights: 7 state news bits Katy area residents should know

By Gary Borders | Texas Press Association
Posted 5/26/21

Special session coming this fall

Texas lawmakers will adjourn the regular session on Monday — Memorial Day — but Gov. Greg Abbott has already indicated he will call a special session …

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Capital Highlights: 7 state news bits Katy area residents should know

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Special session coming this fall

Texas lawmakers will adjourn the regular session on Monday — Memorial Day — but Gov. Greg Abbott has already indicated he will call a special session in the fall to grapple with redistricting after detailed census results are finally released.

Last week, Abbott told lawmakers he would put them in charge of deciding how to spend nearly $16 billion in federal money the state received for COVID-19 recovery efforts. During the first two rounds of stimulus funding, Abbott decided how the money would be spent, which angered some legislators.

The special session comes just months before the 2022 primaries, with Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar all planning to seek re-election.

That raises the possibility of other topics being added the special session that could appeal to the governor’s base, according to the San Antonio Express-News.  Abbott has drawn one primary opponent, former state Sen. Don Huffines.

Mask mandates largely a thing of the past in Texas

Abbott last week issued an executive order banning all government and public entities from mandating the wearing of masks. The order went into effect May 21, except for public schools, which can require masks until June 4.

Local governments or officials can be fined up to $1,000 for requiring the wearing of masks, although businesses can still require them. Most large retailers, such as Walmart, Costco and Target, announced they were ending mask requirements.

However, state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, state prison juvenile justice facilities and county and municipal jails are exempt from Abbott’s order and can still require masks be worn.

A day in Texas with no COVID-19 deaths
For the first time since March 21, 2020, the state’s Department of State Health Services on Sunday, May 16, said no deaths related to COVID-19 were reported.

The milestone was noted by Abbott and others, though celebrations were tempered at least among some, the Houston Chronicle reported. The hiatus was short-lived, however, as DSHS reported 23 new deaths the following day.

The number of Texans hospitalized who are COVID-19 patients is at its lowest level since last June, according to DSHS, with 2,070 cases that were lab-confirmed as of Sunday.

The number of new cases in the past week in Texas, as reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, stood at 12,290, down 17.5 percent from the previous week and continuing the steady decline statewide. A total of 269 deaths were recorded statewide for the same time frame.
Meanwhile, the number of Texans who are fully vaccinated reached nearly 9.8 million.

Drought conditions easing under widespread storms

Much of the state has experienced a soggy May thus far, with widespread precipitation blanketing much of the eastern and central regions. As a result, drought conditions have eased except in the Panhandle and West Texas and the counties around Laredo on the border.

The Texas Water Development Board reports a total of 44% of the state’s area is now under moderate or worse drought conditions. By comparison, we reported on April 4 that drought conditions existed in more than two-thirds of the state. 

Texas opts out of federal jobless assistance plan
Abbott last week announced the state will no longer accept federal jobless assistance funds after June 26, including the extra $300-per-week approved earlier this year by Congress.

The state is also leaving a federal assistance program that provides aid to self-employed and gig workers not normally covered by unemployment insurance. The move is intended to encourage people to return to work, as restaurants and other businesses say it is difficult to attract workers.

“The Texas economy is booming, and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs.”

The state’s jobless rate was 6.7% in April, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. down from the record high of 12.9% in April 2020.

Secretary of State Hughs to step down

Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs will step down at the end of May, she announced last week. Hughs was appointed by Abbott in August 2019. However, the Texas Senate never formally confirmed her nomination. Abbott will now be free to appoint a new secretary of state, who could be confirmed during the upcoming special session.

Learn more about college savings plans offered by state

The state of Texas offers three tax-advantaged plans for higher education —the Texas College Savings Plan, the Lone Star 529 plan and the Texas Tuition Promise Fund. Parents can learn more about the plans by watching a webinar at 1 p.m. on May 26 and four additional dates in June and July. Register for the webinar here: https://www.texastuitionpromisefund.com/events/.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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