Texas Press Association
Capital Highlights — Secretary of state announces election audits
In a two-sentence press release, the secretary of state’s office announced an audit of four Texas counties — Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin — for the 2020 election.
The announcement came hours after former President Donald Trump called on Gov. Greg Abbott to add an election audit bill to the current special session of the Texas Legislature. Abbott has not responded thus far. A similar audit in Arizona’s Maricopa County recently ended and concluded Biden won that state’s most populous county, which provided him the winning margin there.
Trump won Texas by 5.6 percentage points in the 2020 election, although three of the four counties to be audited — Dallas, Tarrant and Harris — went for Biden. Officials from those counties told the Texas Tribune that “the development is an unnecessary partisan move aimed at sowing doubt in the results.”
The position of secretary of state has been vacant since the end of May, when Ruth Hughs resigned after the Texas Senate declined to take up her nomination.
Abbott adds items to third special session
Abbott last week added two agenda items to the special legislative session which began Sept. 20. Legislators will consider additional property tax relief, as well as a constitutional amendment that would allow courts to deny bail to people accused of violent or sexual crimes.
The bail bill has failed in previous sessions. Because it would calls for a constitutional amendment election, the bill requires two-thirds approval from both chambers to go forward.
In the current special session, legislators already are considering redrawing the state’s political maps as required every decade. Also under consideration is legislation restricting participation by transgender students in school athletics, plus legislation outlining how to spend $16 billion in federal COVID-19 pandemic funding.
Additionally, legislators are considering a bill that protects dogs from being chained without adequate shelter or space. Abbott vetoed a similar bill during the regular session.
Search firm named for ERCOT board
The Public Utility Commission has hired Heidrick & Struggles to conduct a statewide search for eight new directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose board was decimated after the mid-February winter storm knocked out power across the state and nearly took down the electric grid, which ERCOT oversees. More than half of ERCOT’s board, as well as its CEO, resigned after the storm.
The PUC oversees ERCOT. During the regular legislative session, Senate Bill 2 was passed. It established a selection committee to fill the vacant spots on ERCOT’s board. The Legislature directed the committee to retain an outside consulting firm to select eight new directors “who are Texas residents with executive-level experience in any of the following professions: finance, business, engineering (including electrical engineering), trading, risk management, law, or electric market design,” according to the press release.
McConaughey mulls bid for governor
Actor Matthew McConaughey said in a podcast recently that he is “measuring” a bid to unseat Abbott in next year’s governor’s race, though he has not indicated if he would run as a Republican, Democrat or independent.
The Houston Chronicle reported the Oscar-winning actor made the comments on the “Set it Straight: Myths and Legends” podcast, which is hosted by a band called Midland.
A recent poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed McConaughey leading Abbott by 9 percentage points. Former congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’ Rourke is also considering a run.
TPWD launches new hunting, fishing initiative
A new campaign by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department aims to attract more Texans into the outdoors.
Hunters and anglers fund the bulk of the state’s wildlife management programs through buying hunting and fishing licenses and through sales taxes paid on hunting and fishing equipment, boat fuel, firearms and ammunition.
The Texas Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) Plan hopes to connect more Texans to outdoor recreation in order to continue funding of conservation programs and “create a better-informed public with more interest in conserving wild things and wild places in Texas and beyond.”
COVID-19 cases drop in state, but deaths increase
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas dropped again last week to 83,098, down 34% from the previous week. New deaths reported in the same time frame rose to 2,073, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, up 15% from the previous week. At 280 deaths a day, the state has one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 death rates, the Houston Chronicle reported. In the past month, more than 5,000 Texans have died of the virus.
Hospitalizations of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients continue to drop, with 10,349 reported statewide by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Sunday. That’s a decrease of 15.4% from the previous week. The number of staffed pediatric intensive-care unit beds continues to drop, however, with just 77 available statewide, according to DSHS.
The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated hit 14.72 million on Sunday, which is 50.5% of the state’s population. The Chronicle reported last week that the state has the lowest vaccination rate of the country’s four most populous states — New York, California, Florida and Texas.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.