OPINION

Capital highlights: Gov. Abbott calls third special session

GARY BORDERS

Gov. Greg Abbott has called a third special legislative session to deal with redistricting, to decide how to spend billions of dollars in pandemic funding from the federal government and to determine whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines, as well as some pet issues of the governor that failed to pass recent sessions.

Gary Borders

The third session begins Sept. 20 and by law can last no longer than 30 days. The second special session resulted in passage of hotly contested voting restrictions and what are considered the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, both of which are under legal attack. In the case of the latter, the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state, saying the abortion law banning the procedure at roughly six weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional.

“The (Texas) act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday, as reported widely by media outlets.

Several groups have filed suit against the elections bill signed by Abbott last week, including Voto Latino, LULAC Texas, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

The law limits early voting hours, ends drive-in voting, and restricts mail-in voting. GOP leaders maintain that other provisions in the measure make it easier to cast a vote than before. 

August cooler, wetter than normal for most of Texas

August is in the books and the first day of autumn beckons. Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board, reports the month was cooler than normal for most of the state, and wetter than normal for about half of Texas. The U.S. Drought Monitor map for Texas shows just 1% of the state in drought.

 “Over the last 22 years, we've averaged about 40% of the state in drought by the end of August, Wentzel wrote in his monthly report. “Since 2000, we've only had two other Augusts that ended with less drought area: 2004 and 2007.”

Emergency SNAP benefits extended again

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is extending emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food benefits once more in September, meaning SNAP recipients will again get an additional $95 in emergency allotments. The funding comes from the United States Department of Agriculture. 

“As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, we are pleased to provide this additional support to ensure Texans will be able to keep food on their table for themselves and their families,” said Wayne Salter of the HHSC.

Duck hunters can expect another good season

The early teal hunting season began Saturday, and officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say habitat conditions point to another productive season for hunters. 

“Teal numbers are already impressive in many areas of Texas, especially the rice prairies of the Texas Gulf Coast and the playa wetlands of the Panhandle,” Kevin Kraai of TPWD said.

The 16-day statewide early teal season runs through Sept. 26, with a daily bag limit of six. Blue-winged teal are by far the most prevalent duck found in Texas this time of year, according to TPWD.

Tuition program open enrollment underway

Open enrollment in the state’s Texas Tuition Promise Fund began Sept. 1 and runs through the end of February. The plan allows parents and others to lock in today’s tuition and fees at state public colleges and universities. The accumulated funds can also be transferred to private colleges and other institutions such as vocational schools, though the tuition is not locked in.

The TTPF program offers webinars throughout the enrollment period. More information can be found at TuitionPromise.org or by calling Monday through Friday at 800-445-GRAD (4723). Press Option 5. 

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations drop slightly

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas decreased slightly in the past week, with the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University reporting 120,494 new cases, down 4.6% from the previous week. Total deaths statewide increased slightly to 1,789.

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-10 hospitalizations dropped slightly, with 13,285 reported in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Available intensive-care unit beds remain scarce, with just 330 open in the entire state, the least since the pandemic began early last year. Even more concerning are the few pediatric ICU beds open, with just 80 available, according to DSHS.

At least 45 school districts across the state have shut down in-person classes because of COVID-19 outbreaks affecting more than 40,000 students, according to the Texas Tribune.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated crossed the 14-million mark, which is 48.5% of the total population, DSHS reported.

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.