OPINION

Capital highlights: Abbott wants to increase illegal voting penalties

GARY BORDERS

Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Legislature to increase the penalty for illegal voting, adding the item to the third special session now underway. However, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, quickly rejected the proposal, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Gary Borders

During the second special session, Senate Bill 1 was amended to decrease the penalty. House Democrats twice broke quorum in failed attempts to stop the elections bill from passing.

“Now is not the time to relitigate,” Phelan said. “Instead, the House will remain focused on its constitutional obligation to pass redistricting maps, and members look forward to fulfilling this critical task.”

The measure has moved forward in the Senate. It would make the penalty for voting illegally a second-degree felony, with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. SB 1 reduced the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor, with up to one year in jail. However, Phelan’s opposition means it is unlikely to move forward.

More antibody infusion centers open in state

The Texas Division of Emergency Management continues to open new COVID-19 therapeutic centers across the state, providing monoclonal antibodies to treat outpatient cases with a doctor’s referral. The treatment is provided at no cost. Antibody infusion treatment can prevent patients from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization.

Infusion centers are now operating in Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont, Burnet, College Station, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, Fort Worth, Harlingen, Houston, Laredo, Livingston, Lubbock, McKinney, Nacogdoches, Nash, Odessa, San Antonio, Seguin, Tyler, The Woodlands, Victoria and Waco. Visit meds.tdem.texas.gov for more information.

TCEQ pushes recycling with marketing plan

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has released its recycling market development plan, which found the recycling industry adds $4.8 billion to the Texas economy. In 2019, 12.9 million tons of solid waste were recycled, up 40% compared to four years earlier. However, nearly 44% of the total solid waste in Texas landfills could have been recycled, according to TCEQ.

The full marketing plan can be found at tceq.texas.gov.

TxDOT launches pedestrian safety campaign

Despite a drop in traffic accidents last year, the state saw a marked increase in the number of people killed walking or biking in the state. In 2020, 731 people died in pedestrian-related crashes, an increase of 9% from the previous year. One fourth of those crashes involved alcohol. The Texas Department of Transportation is kicking off a public awareness campaign in an attempt to reduce accidents.

“Whether you’re behind the wheel, on foot or riding a bicycle, we’re reminding all Texans that they need to be safe and smart, and that starts with obeying traffic laws,” said Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director.

Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, yield the right of way to pedestrian and bicyclists when turning, and to pass bicyclists at a safe distance. In turn, bicyclists are required to obey all traffic signs and signals. Pedestrians must cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks and use sidewalks if available. If there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.

Texas is approaching 21 years without a day in which no traffic-related death occurred. TxDOT has launched #EndTheStreakTX to encourage drivers to obey traffic laws and end the streak of daily deaths.

COVID-19 cases continue to decline

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas continue to decline, as do deaths and hospitalizations. The Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University reported 67,124 new cases in the state in the past week, and 1,851 deaths. The number of new cases, largely due to the delta variant, has dropped by nearly half in the past month, although total deaths remain relatively high. Since the pandemic began, the state has reported more than 4 million cases with nearly 66,000 deaths.

Lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas also continue to drop, with 8,218 reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Sunday, down 20% from the previous week. A total of 14.88 million Texans are now fully vaccinated, or 51% of the total population.

Texans urged to get their flu shots now

Flu season is approaching, and with COVID-19 still spreading in the state, DSHS is urging Texans to protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine as soon as possible. 

“We have good reason to believe this flu season may be worse than last year’s,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner. “For most of last flu season, we didn’t have the COVID vaccine yet, and many Texans were practicing the same basic health protections and good hygiene that have proven to help stop any respiratory virus like COVID-19 and flu. For this upcoming flu season, we expect fewer people to be wearing masks and physically distancing now that we have effective vaccines for COVID-19.”

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.