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Early runoff voting ends Friday

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State Capital HighlightsEarly voting in the May 24 primary runoff elections ends Friday, May 20. Under state law, voters who cast ballots in either party’s primary election must vote only in the same party’s runoff election. Voters who did not cast ballots in the primary may vote in either party’s runoff election.

Topping the runoff ballots are runoff elections for attorney general. Incumbent Republican Ken Paxton faces George P. Bush, the current land commissioner. On the Democratic side, former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski faces Rochelle Garza, a Brownsville civil rights attorney. 

There are also statewide runoff races for lieutenant governor, land commissioner, comptroller and railroad commissioner, as well as several congressional seats and spots on the state board of education. See the full list of runoff races at: https://tinyurl.com/43bzf9v6.

 ERCOT urges Texans to conserve power

After six power generation plants went offline Friday during the start to an unseasonably hot weekend, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas urged Texans to conserve power, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

As temperatures soared into the 90s and even 100s in some parts of the state, residents were urged to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher and avoid using large appliances such as dishwashers, washers and dryers between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The hot weather is sparking record electricity demand across the state.

And it’s only May.

Abbott’s use of COVID funds on border mission probed

The inspector general for the U.S. Treasury Department has opened a review into how the state spent federal COVID-19 aid funds, with approximately $1 billion in relief funds shifted to the crackdown on the Texas-Mexico border, the Washington Post reported. The aid was intended to help local governments pay front-line COVID-19 workers, purchase protective equipment and for other public health costs.

Richard K. Delmar, the deputy inspector general, issued a statement citing his office’s mandate “for monitoring and oversight of the distribution” of the stimulus spending, which Texas received under a federal initiative known as the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Post reported. 

“In exercise of that responsibility,” Delmar said, “we are currently conducting a review of Texas’s uses of CRF monies.” A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott defended how Texas used federal funds received under the Cares Act. 

More than 900 migrants sent to D.C.

Under Abbott’s direction, the state has sent 35 chartered buses with 922 migrants to Washington, D.C. since mid-April, The Dallas Morning News reported. The governor has called it a “fun” way to get President Joe Biden’s attention, harshly criticizing the president for the administration’s border policies. However, The Morning News reported the impact on the nation’s capital has been minimal, with the migrants being processed and sent to live in different cities until their cases can be heard in court.

“He’s [Abbott] no longer even making a big deal about it. You’re not seeing it on the nightly news. It’s a dud,” said Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, one of the groups helping migrants who arrive from Texas. “It’s happening in silence now. This is not giving him the political win that he wanted.”

The state of Arizona has also begun busing migrants to Washington, D.C.

Drought conditions persist across state

As a hydrologist for the Texas Water Development Board put it, “April wasn’t great” in terms of rainfall. However, about a sixth of the state did get abundant rainfall, in parts of Central Texas, North Texas and South Texas. Dr. Mark Wentzel wrote that rainfall received in May could be key to getting through the summer without widespread severe drought. 

“May, historically, has been the wettest month for Texas,” Wentzel wrote. “We get an average of 3 1/3 inches of rainfall in that month, making it the wettest month of the year for us. We want to be cautiously optimistic.”

The most severe drought conditions are found in the Panhandle and High Plains and in the Big Bend area. April showers in much of East Texas brought both May flowers but an easing of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

COVID-19 cases again rise slightly

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the state during the past week rose slightly to 24,092, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, with 73 new deaths reported — also a slight increase. Once again, the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas stayed steady, with 772 reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated now stands at 17.641 million, or 60.5 percent of the state’s population; 6.821 million Texans have received a booster dose, according to DSHS.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Early voting underway for May 7 election

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Capitol HighlightsBy Gary Borders
Texas Press Association

Early voting began Monday for local elections and two proposed constitutional amendments relating to property tax reductions. Early voting continues through Tuesday, May 3, with election day on Saturday, May 7.

One proposed amendment would authorize the Legislature to limit property taxes on homesteads of elderly or disabled residents, while the other would increase the homestead exemption for school taxes from $25,000 to $40,000. 

Voters return to the polls later in May for runoff elections in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Voters cannot switch parties if they voted in the March 1 primary, but voters who didn’t vote in the primary can participate in either party’s runoff. A full list of runoff races can be found on the secretary of state’s website: sos.texas.gov. Early voting for the May 24 runoff begins on May 16.

“With multiple opportunities to vote in the upcoming May elections, I strongly encourage all Texas voters to get informed about what’s on the ballot and make a plan to cast one,” Secretary of State John Scott said. To find out what is on local ballots, contact your county’s local election office.

Material shortage
bedevils TxDOT projects

Shortages of steel and concrete are slowing down road projects and driving up costs, according to an internal memo from the Texas Department of Transportation’s construction division director, reported last week by the Quorum Report and kut.org.

“Due to recent circumstances affected by world events, there has been significant volatility in the market for various construction materials. We have seen the availability of some materials become very limited or the material lead time has increased significantly. We have also seen significant increases (over 100% in some cases) in some material prices,” Duane S. Milligan wrote.

TxDOT has more than 15,000 projects in the pipeline across the state. The jobs total $156 billion, with about half either underway or set to start soon. Milligan’s memo to district engineers and construction managers suggested substituting construction materials when feasible or removing work or materials from a road project  “when the deletion will not affect the safety of the completed project.”

Go-kit urged for wildfires, other disasters

As wildfires and tornadoes sweep the state with hurricane season just around the corner, the Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans to assemble a go-kit that can be easily transported and includes supplies for several days. The kit should include:

• Supplies for both people and pets.

• Prescription medications or other necessary medical equipment.

• Important documents such as insurance and identification documents.

• Food, water, clothing, money and a first-aid kit.

• Priceless items, such as family photos and heirlooms.

“When disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms and tornados arise requiring you to leave your home, being prepared ahead of time can save precious time and help keep your family safe during an emergency,” said Karen Stafford with the forest service.

Concert safety task force releases report

A task force has issued its findings after investigating the tragedy at the Astroworld Festival last November, when a crowd stampede resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

The task force formed by Gov. Greg Abbott called for unified command and control, requiring permits even in unincorporated areas, crowd safety training, planning with risk assessment, and centralized resources. Details are available in an event production guide available from the Texas Music Office.

“The recommendations, findings, and solutions detailed in this report will help the state of Texas prevent another tragedy like that at Astroworld Festival from happening again,” Abbott said.

Distracted driving spurs fatality increase

Distracted driving deaths increased 17% in 2021 compared to the previous year, taking the lives of 431 people and seriously injuring nearly 3,000. In the wake of that, TxDOT is stepping up its “Talk. Text. Crash.” campaign. The initiative urges drivers to “keep their heads up, put their phones down and just drive.”

“Texans are killed each year simply because someone was distracted by their phone, radio, navigation system, eating or drinking, or even by others in the car,” Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director, said. “When your focus isn’t on driving, you’re putting yourself, your passengers and everyone else on the road at risk.”

The agency reminds drivers that any distraction is dangerous. It urges drivers to pull off the road entirely before talking or texting and turning off the phone while driving.

COVID-19 cases, deaths rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the past week in the state rose to 23,363, and deaths more than doubled to 209, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.  The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped slightly, with 755 reported across the state by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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State’s workforce surpasses pre-pandemic high

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Capitol HighlightsThe Texas labor market exceeded the previous pre-pandemic high in February 2020 by hitting just under 13 million nonagricultural jobs in November, the Texas Workforce Commission reported last Friday. The adjusted jobless rate was 5.2% last month, down slightly from the previous month.

“Reaching this milestone for job creation in Texas shows the strength of our economy,” TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel said. 

The Amarillo area had the lowest unemployment rate among Texas Metropolitan Statistical Areas at 3.1%, followed by the Austin-Round Rock MSA at 3.2% and College Station-Bryan at 3.5%.

“Texas continues to reach unprecedented milestones thanks to our unwavering commitment to economic freedom and our young, skilled, growing, and diverse workforce,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

PUC approves electric grid reliability measures

The state Public Utility Commission last week voted unanimously to enhance both short-term and long-term reliability of the state’s electric grid through what it termed “major reforms” to the state’s wholesale electricity market.

“In prior years, any single one of these changes would have been considered significant. Taken together, they are a generational shift in the Texas electricity market,” said Peter Lake, PUC chairman. “This (is) a move away from the crisis-based business model we have operated under for the past two decades. This new model centers on reliability.”

Some of the major changes:

• Changes in the mathematical formula used to price electricity when reserves become scarce. The change will provide earlier price signals to add additional generation of power and for large consumers to reduce demand.

• Increasing incentives for large consumers to cut usage when the grid needs additional power.

• New or revamped ancillary services that increase the capacity for generators to react to sudden swings in electricity supply and demand.

Phase two of the process will provide “long-term incentives for investment in reliable power generation infrastructure to ensure Texas will have the power the state’s needs for decades,” according to the news release.

Count of fatal job injuries for 2020 released

A total of 469 people working in Texas died in work-related incidents in 2020, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. That is a 23% decrease from 2019. The state’s incident rate for fatalities was 3.9 per 100,000 full-time employees in 2020, while the national incident rate stood at 3.4. 

The construction industry accounted for 27% of the fatalities, with 127 incidents, according to TDI. Fatalities in the transportation and warehousing industries had the second highest, accounting for 20.4% with 96 people killed. Natural resources and mining recorded the third-highest number with 54 fatalities, or 11.5%.

Raising the bar for

 higher education

The Commissioner of Higher Education said last week the state is raising the bar for higher education. In an address before nearly 200 higher education leaders, Harrison Keller released “an ambitious vision for higher education,” according to a news release from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The updated strategic plan for the state’s higher education system includes:

• Adding a new goal for 35- to 64-year-olds who need new skills to compete in today’s economy.

• A broader range of postsecondary credentials of value to fit workforce needs.

• The goal of students having no college debt or at least a low, manageable debt.

• A greater focus on research and development to drive innovation.

• Renewing the state’s commitment to advancing equity for all Texans to complete post-secondary degrees and certificates.

Keller called the present time “the greatest opportunity since the end of World War II to make an impact in higher education.”

“As we emerge from the global pandemic, we arrive at another defining moment in history,” he said. “In Texas, the window of opportunity is open for us to work together to advance and enhance this vision for higher education and enrich the lives of generations to come.”

Vaccine battle mandate likely headed to

 Supreme Court

The fight over a federal COVID-19 mandate for companies with more than 100 employees is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a lower-court decision that had paused the mandate nationwide. The mandate from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now scheduled to take effect Jan. 4. 

Republican state attorneys general in 27 states, including Texas, are suing OSHA over the mandate, joined by conservative groups, business associations and individual businesses, The Dallas Morning News reported. 

The Biden administration issued a statement after the appeals court ruling: “Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it’s critical we move forward with vaccination requirements and protections for workers with the urgency needed in this moment.”

Meanwhile, Abbott announced last week that he had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirming the state would not enforce the mandate on members of the Texas National Guard. 

“The state of Texas will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its guardsmen,” Abbott said. “If the federal government keeps threatening to defund the Texas National Guard, I will deploy every legal tool available to me as governor in defense of these American heroes.”

The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported last week stood at 36,508, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, down slightly from the previous week, while deaths rose to 478. 

The number of law-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations totaled 3,117 on Sunday, virtually unchanged from the previous week, according to the Texas State Department of Health Services.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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State lowers price cap for power providers

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GaryBorders LowRes 2018 ORufusLovett 200x300The state’s Public Utility Commission last week lowered the maximum allowable wholesale price for electricity by almost half, from $9,000 per megawatt hour to $5,000.

The move came after prices soared to the maximum during last February’s deadly freeze, causing financial havoc along with the widespread power outages. A number of electric providers declared bankruptcy after being faced with enormous bills, including Brazos Electric Power Cooperative and Griddy Energy.

As the Austin American-Statesman reported, the state’s largely deregulated electricity market provides financial incentives to prompt power generators to deliver more electricity to the grid during peak demand. But those incentives came with steep prices, and some Griddy customers received electric bills of nearly $10,000. Those bills were ultimately forgiven under an agreement negotiated by the attorney general’s office.

Peter Lake, chairman of the PUC, said lowering the price ceiling will “make sure the people of Texas are not exposed to those extraordinary high prices” again, the Statesman reported.

However, the CEO of the state’s largest power generator worries the state has not done enough to insulate itself against another deadly freeze. Curt Morgan of Vistra Corp. said that while his company has spent $50 million this year weatherizing more than a dozen plants, the state still hasn’t ensured a reliable supply of natural gas. 

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the natural gas industry, is still working to finalize rules that would set weatherization mandates. However, those rules would not go into effect until early 2023, the Texas Tribune reported.

Morgan told legislators that Vistra’s plants couldn’t get enough natural gas to run anywhere near full capacity during the freeze. 

“Why couldn’t we get it?” Morgan said. “Because the gas system was not weatherized. And so we had natural gas producers that weren’t producing.”

State to get $35 billion in infrastructure funds

In the next five years Texas will get more than $35 billion in federal funding for roads, public transportation and water system improvements, The Dallas Morning News reported. The funding is part of the massive infrastructure bill Congress passed in November to provide $548 billion in new investments across the country over five years.

The state’s road system got a “D+” in a 2021 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“Current funding levels and resources from the state’s gas tax are inadequate to keep up with Texas’ projected growth, leaving a $15 billion annual gap through 2040,” the engineering report said.

The federal funding also includes $1.2 billion for Texas airports, $537 million to replace and repair bridges and at least $100 million for broadband expansion, according to The Morning News.

Webinars explain tuition fund

The Texas Tuition Promise Fund is offering a series of webinars to provide an overview of the state’s prepaid college tuition plan. In addition, the webinars will explain scholarship opportunities that are available.

“Upcoming webinars provide an overview of the Texas Tuition Promise Fund and information on different tuition unit types, tuition redemption values and payment options,” according to a press release. “The webinars also offer information about matching scholarships and tuition unit grants available through the Texas Match the Promise Foundation.”

Anyone interested can sign up for a webinar at www.texastuitionpromisefund.com/events/.

New COVID-19 cases, deaths increase

While the appearance of the omicron variant of COVID-19 dominates the news, no cases of the variant had been reported in Texas as of Sunday. Health officials say it’s a matter of time, but they don’t yet know how severe and how contagious it will be.

What is known is that the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Texas in the past week rose to 30,201, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University — the highest level since late October. A total of 564 deaths were reported. The delta variant continues to be the dominant strain, infecting mostly unvaccinated Texans.

Lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state was largely unchanged, with 2,886 reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services as of Sunday. The state crossed the 16 million mark of fully vaccinated people, with 3.175 million people also receiving an additional dose, according to DSHS. To date, 55% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.

Judge blocks social media censorship law

A federal judge in Austin last week blocked the state’s social media censorship law before it took effect, the Houston Chronicle reported. House Bill 20, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Sept. 9, prohibited social media sites like Facebook and Twitter from censoring users “based on their political viewpoints.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman wrote in his ruling that the bill violates the sites’ First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms. Abbott had pushed for the bill, saying in a Twitter video, “Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas. There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values.”

The state is expected to appeal Pitman’s ruling.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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COVID-19 cases drop, as do deaths in Texas

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GaryBorders LowRes 2018 ORufusLovett 200x300By Gary Borders
Texas Press Association

While new cases of COVID-19 are spiking again in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, the number in Texas dropped during the past week to 14,745 — down 36% from the previous week. The number of new deaths reported in Texas by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University in the past week totaled 254, down 57% from the previous week.

However, the number of hospitalizations of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in the state was virtually unchanged at 2,681, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texas who are fully vaccinated continues to inch upward, with 15.838 million reported by DSHS as of Sunday. That is 54.3% of the state’s total population.

Still, while noting hospitalizations are at their lowest levels in many months, officials are still cautious. “We’re certainly in a better place right now than we have been in quite a while,” Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the Texas Tribune. “But we are sort of starting to see things change again. And you know, if there’s one thing we know about this pandemic, it’s that it’s going to keep changing.”

Meanwhile, another variant of COVID-19 named “Omicron” has been discovered in South Africa and several other countries. Experts are concerned that the new variant may spread more aggressively than previous versions and could prove to be resistant to current vaccines.

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