Gov. Greg Abbott, in a State of the State address last Thursday, outlined his seven top priorities for the ongoing legislative session before an invitation-only audience at a manufacturing facility in San Marcos, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Those priorities include $4 billion for border security, property tax relief and more school choice for parents, which he called “education freedom.” He avoided use of the word “vouchers.’
The governor, beginning his third term, announced that school safety would also be a legislative priority, while avoiding any mention on curtailing the availability of guns, something Democrats hammered on in their 10-minute rebuttal.
Abbott is proposing that $15 billion of the state’s hefty surplus go toward cutting property taxes.
Patrick also announces priorities
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick a few days earlier released 30 legislative priorities, which also includes property tax relief. Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, also wants to increase the punishment for illegal voting, protect children “from obscene books in libraries” and eliminate tenure at public colleges and universities.
The Houston Chronicle reported other items on Patrick’s list include banning critical race theory in higher education and prohibiting COVID-19 mandates.
“Just because a bill does not make the priority list does not mean it is not a priority for me or the Senate,” Patrick said in a statement. “We will pass over 600 bills this session. As I like to say, every bill is a priority to someone, otherwise, we would not pass it.”
Patrick is also pushing for teacher pay raises, expanding mental health services in rural areas and strengthening the state’s power grid.
Black lawmakers blast Abbott’s hiring directive
A directive from Abbott to state agencies ordering them to end the use of diversity, equity and inclusion practices in hiring employees has drawn the ire of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Texas NAACP. Both groups met last week to urge major national sports groups to refuse to hold championship games in Texas if the governor does not reverse his ruling.
The Statesman reported that the groups called on the NBA and MLB to not host All-Star games in the state, the NFL not to hold Super Bowl games, and the NCAA to decline to host championship games in Texas, unless the ruling is reversed.
“I am proud to say that the NAACP urges all citizens of goodwill to join us and our partners in fighting to stop our state from continuing to move back to Jim Crow,” NAACP President Gary Bledsoe said. Some employment law experts have said the governor’s interpretation of DEI practices is misguided.
The governor’s office has said that hiring on factors other than merit violates state and federal law.
State park to become gated community
A popular Texas state park located 90 miles southeast of Dallas will close at the end of the month, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced. After more than 50 years of public use, Fairfield State Park was notified by Vistra, the power company that leased the property to the state, that it is terminating the lease and selling the property to a private developer.
Vistra closed the coal power plant located on the lake in 2018. Despite months of negotiation, the company would not consider selling just the parkland to the state. The new owner, Todd Interests, plans to develop a high-end gated community with a private golf course, according to The Dallas Morning News.
“This loss is especially unfathomable at a time when we are celebrating 100 years of state parks, yet absent any cooperation or interest in working with us from the developer, we have no other options,” said Arch “Beaver” Aplin, TPWD chairman, said.
A number of state legislators have expressed outrage over the park’s closing. State Rep. Angelia Orr, R-Hillsboro, whose district includes Freestone County where Fairfield State Park is located, has filed a bill that would allow the state to acquire the parkland through eminent domain. TPWD, however, will remove equipment and relocate staff members after Feb. 28.
Sabine Pass Battleground site reopens
A Civil War battleground and memorial site closed after damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 has reopened after repairs were made to the seawall. The Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site in Port Arthur is now open to the public seven days a week, according to the Texas Historical Commission.
In the battle, Confederate Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling and 46 men fought back against a Union assault on Sabine Pass, which was the main port for Confederate shipments during the war. The battle lasted less than an hour. Two Union gunboats were destroyed, along with significant casualties and the capture of about 350 prisoners. It kept Union forces from entering the Texas interior in the Civil War, according to THC.
Final COVID-19 report released
With this edition of Capital Highlights, we are ending our weekly report on the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalization, since reporting agencies, such as the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, are doing the same. The center reported 18,407 new cases in the past week in Texas, along with 133 deaths. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,782 lab-confirmed hospitalizations in the state.
Since reporting began, 8.417 million confirmed cases were reported in Texas, along with 93,041 deaths.