Capital Highlights: Deaths of unbuckled Texans spike
The number of traffic accidents decreased in 2020, but the number of Texans killed while not wearing a seat belt increased by 16%, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
In 2020, 1,073 fatalities were attributed to not wearing seat belts, up from 926 fatalities in 2019. Buckling up reduces the risk of dying in a traffic accident by 45% for people in the front seat of passenger cars and 60% for people in pickups, according to TxDOT.
“This past year we have all been reminded of the simple acts we can take to protect our lives and those of our loved ones,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass.
“Wearing a seat belt is the most important step we can take to protect ourselves from serious injury or even death in a traffic crash. Instead of putting yourself and others in danger, remember: buckle up day and night, every rider, every ride.”
Texas officers will step up enforcement of the state’s seat belt and child car seat laws May 24 through June 6. Fines for not having everyone properly secured range up to $250.
Over half of eligible Texans vaccinated
More than 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Texas as of last week, fully covering more than half of eligible Texans 12 and older. Gov. Gregg Abbott hailed the effort.
“Vaccines are the most effective defense against the spread of COVID-19, and I continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine,” Abbott said. “The COVID-19 vaccine will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas, but it is up to all of us to ensure that we defeat this virus — which is why it is so important for Texans to seek out these safe and effective shots.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services announced last week that the Pfizer vaccine is now authorized for anyone 12 years and older. Also last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control announced that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.
Local businesses still have the option of requiring employees and patrons to wear masks while inside their establishments.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas last week dropped to 14,909, down 17% from the previous week and down 90% from the record high in mid-January, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalization of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas stood at 2,199 last week, down slightly from the previous week.
Wholesale electricity plans to be banned
With time running out in the legislative session, which ends May 31, just one bill addressing the blackouts during February’s winter storm has made it to the governor’s desk thus far.
House Bill 16 bans residents or small businesses from signing up for the type of electricity plans that allow wholesale electricity prices to be passed to customers. Those plans resulted in huge electric bills for some customers after the power outage, in some cases more than $15,000.
Griddy, the main company offering such service to about 29,000 Texas customers, has filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations.
Meanwhile, the interim CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas testified before a Texas Senate committee that ERCOT overrode its protocols in deciding to set prices for wholesale electricity at the highest level, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Brad Jones said that “market rules were not followed.” The maximum price of $9,000 per megawatt hour was held for 32 hours, far longer than normal intervals of 15 minutes or so. The move cost Texas utilities billions of dollars.
Brazos Electric Power Cooperative filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being billed $1.8 billion by ERCOT. The cooperative’s 16 members serve 68 counties from the Panhandle to Houston.
Bill to install AC in prisons passes House
The Texas House on Friday voted to require the state prison system to install air conditioning in state-operated prisons and jails, according to The Dallas Morning News. The measure now heads to the Texas Senate.
If the measure passes and is signed into law, its implementation would be dependent on the state providing funding.
“This is the right thing to do. It’s the humane thing to do,” bill sponsor Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said. “The reality is in Texas, we are cooking people in prison.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative website, only 30 of the state’s 109 prisons have air conditioning in all inmate housing areas.
Nominees sought for Heroes for Children Award
Do you know an outstanding volunteer spending time in one of the state’s more than 8,000 schools? The State Board of Education is seeking nominees for its annual Heroes for Children Award for each of the 15 SBOE districts in Texas.
Examples of the volunteer services provided by past recipients include mentoring students, providing meals and spearheading fundraisers. Award recipients are honored with a plaque at the September SBOE meeting. The nomination form can be found at this link: https://tinyurl.com/a22mw34f.
Last week’s Capital Highlights column contained a mathematical error, stating that almost two-thirds of Texans of all ages had been vaccinated as of that time. The actual number of all Texans who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday account for about 40% of residents. We regret the error.
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: email@example.com.