OPINION

Capital highlights: Young appointed to Texas Supreme Court

GARY BORDERS

Evan Young, a former clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has been appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Greg Abbott. He will replace Justice Eva Guzman, who resigned in June to run for Texas attorney general.

Gary Borders

“Evan Young is a proven legal scholar and public servant, making him an ideal pick for the Supreme Court of Texas,” Abbott said. “Evan's extensive background in private practice and public service will be a fantastic addition to the bench, and I am confident that he will faithfully defend the Constitution and uphold the rule of law for the people of Texas.”

Young is a partner at the Baker Botts law firm in Austin and previously served as counsel to the U.S. attorney general, where he spent a year on detail to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. He earned his law degree from Yale.

State lost 616,600 jobs during pandemic

The annual cash report from the state comptroller outlines the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. From August 2019 to August 2020, the state’s economy lost 616,600 non-farm jobs, largely from the economic aftershocks of the pandemic and a drop in energy prices. However, sales tax collections, a major part of the state’s revenue, increased two-tenths of a percent in 2020 because of increases in retail spending that offset declines in oil and gas-related sectors.

Sales tax collections comprise nearly 60% of the state’s total revenues, according to the comptroller’s office.

Workplace injuries, illnesses decline in Texas

The incidence rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported in Texas for 2020 dropped to its lowest rate in a decade, at 2.0 per 100 full-time workers. That compares favorably to the national rate of 2.7 incidence rates per 100 workers.

The report was compiled by the Texas Department of Insurance. In 2020, a total of 178,600 cases of workplace injury or illness were reported by Texas employers. The highest incident rates were reported in the health-care sector, followed by agriculture and other outdoor-related occupations.

Preventing wildfires during hunting season

Dry weather and increasing drought conditions have prompted Texas A&M Forest Service officials to urge Texans to be mindful of activities that may cause a wildfire during the major hunting seasons now underway 

“Drought or freeze-cured grasses provide a very receptive medium for an accidental wildfire ignition and dead grass will readily ignite under a wide range of weather conditions,” said Brad Smith of the forest service. “An additional factor that will contribute to the difficulty of extinguishing a fire burning in dead grass this year is that there is a lot of grass on the landscape due to above-normal rainfall observed over much of the state during this year's growing season.”

Nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans. The TFS reports that nearly two-thirds of wildfires that occur during hunting season are caused by debris burning and equipment use, such as parking in dry grass and dragging trailer chains.

SNAP benefits again extended

Once again, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowing the state to extend the maximum allowable amount of emergency food benefits in November. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is providing more than $310 million to the state, allowing all SNAP households to receive a minimum of $95 in emergency allotments in addition to their regular amount.

SNAP is administered in Texas by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Texans in need of such benefits, including SNAP and Medicaid, can apply at Your Texas Benefits.com.

Community colleges receive state grants

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently awarded $26 million in grants to 46 community colleges across Texas to support students affected by COVID-19. The grants, a result of a bill passed during the legislative session, can be used to create or expand workforce training programs in occupational areas with high demand.

“The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated how quickly specific jobs and necessary skills can change. We need to get our Texas students and displaced workers onto a fast track to lasting careers that equip them for greater economic mobility,” said Harrison Keller, higher education commissioner.

More than 80% of the state’s qualified two-year institutions received funding.

State gets 1.3 million pediatric doses of vaccine

The state is receiving more than 1.3 million doses of Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine this week, which is being shipped to more than 900 providers across the state. The doses, which come in a different formulation than the vaccine approved for adults, are intended for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The federal Food and Drug Administration recently approved the emergency use of the pediatric vaccine.

New cases of COVID-19 continue to drop statewide, with 22,023 reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University in the past week. New deaths stood at 775, also a marked decrease.

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped to 2,949, down by more than half from a month ago, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Meanwhile, 15.54 million Texans are fully vaccinated, which is 53.3% of the state’s population. In addition, 1.76 million Texans have received an additional dose of the vaccine.

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.