Capital Highlights: Absent lawmakers stymie special session and 4 other Texas issues Katy Times readers should know about

By Gary Borders, Texas Press Association
Posted 7/20/21

Nearly 60 Texas House Democrats left the state last Monday for Washington, D.C. in an effort to stop passage of a Republican-led elections bill. This in effect blocks all legislation since the House …

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Capital Highlights: Absent lawmakers stymie special session and 4 other Texas issues Katy Times readers should know about

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Nearly 60 Texas House Democrats left the state last Monday for Washington, D.C. in an effort to stop passage of a Republican-led elections bill. This in effect blocks all legislation since the House doesn’t have a quorum present. As the Austin American Statesman and other media outlets reported, Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to arrest the absent lawmakers upon their return. While in Washington, the legislators have met with Vice President Kamala Harris and several Democratic senators to push passage of a federal elections bill that is currently stalemated.

The House Democrats have vowed to stay in Washington until the special session ends on Aug. 7.  They are using private funds as well as campaign accounts to finance their decampment to the nation’s capital and are mounting fundraising campaigns. San Antonio lawmaker Trey Martinez Fischer, one of the leaders of breaking the quorum, said Democrats are spending $10,000 a day for hotel rooms and meals.

Abbott has blasted the Democrats’ absences as a “taxpayer-funded junket.”

Abbott orders investigation of juvenile justice department

Abbott last week directed the Texas Rangers to investigate “multiple allegations” of potentially illegal behavior among certain staff members of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The department operates five secure facilities and six halfway houses across the state for youthful offenders. The move comes after numerous complaints that children in state lockups are subject to widespread sexual assault and other violations.

In late 2020, Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming “grievous violations of children’s constitutional rights.” TJJD has been under criticism for more than a decade for what critics term chronic understaffing, abuse and scandal, according to previous published reports.

Invasive silver carp found in Texas waters

Invasive silver carp has been found in Texas waters, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The invasive species was found in last month in Choctaw Creek, a tributary of the Red River, about 15 miles downstream from Lake Texoma.

“These are the first reports of silver carp from Texas waters, although they have previously been found in other areas of the Red River including just downstream from Lake Texoma in Oklahoma waters in 2019,” said Dan Bennett, TPWD fisheries management biologist. “Invasive carp pose a significant risk to Lake Texoma’s ecosystem and boaters and there is adequate flow and upstream river area for them to become established and reproduce in the lake if introduced.”

The carp are not native to the United States but have become prolific primarily in the Mississippi River Basin. They compete with other species, such as shad and buffalo, and can even pose a risk to humans. They can jump up to 10 feet out of water when startled by boat engines, sometimes injuring boaters. Some can reach more than 4 feet in length and weigh nearly 90 pounds.

Anyone who catches either silver or bighead carp in Texas waters is asked to report the sighting with location information and photos to AquaticInvasives@tpwd.texas.gov. Silver and bighead carp are prohibited exotic species in Texas and must be killed upon possession by beheading, gutting, gill-cutting or other means or placed on ice. Neither species can be possessed live.

Federal funding for behavioral health services

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is receiving more than $210 million in federal emergency funding for mental health and substance abuse prevention services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has created much higher demand for mental health and substance use disorder services across Texas,” said Sonja Gaines, HHS deputy executive commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services. “The federal emergency funding will allow us to address challenges associated with the impact of COVID-19 and help get Texans who need behavioral support on the road to recovery.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdose deaths set a record in 2020, driven primarily by opioids. HHSC is using the emergency funding to create and implement a number of initiatives, including expanded access to treatment and recovery programs and diversion services that keep folks with mental health or substance abuse issues out of jails and emergency rooms.

New COVID-19 cases rising sharply

Largely because of the delta variant of COVID-19 and a large percentage of unvaccinated Texans, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas rose sharply in the past week, with 22,773 new cases reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That’s close to double the number of cases the week before, and deaths reported also increased to 192. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 99% of deaths attributed to the virus are people who have not been vaccinated.

Hospitalizations of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients also rose sharply, to 2,834 currently in Texas hospitals as of Sunday. That’s up nearly 50% from the previous week. The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated rose slightly to 12.353 million — 42.3% of all the total state population.

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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