The state’s 10-day early voting period ran from Oct. 21 to Nov. 1 with Election Day on Nov. 5.

On the ballot are 10 proposed constitutional amendments, special elections and local political subdivision elections, including those for mayor, city council, school board, municipal utility districts and other local entities.

Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, the state’s chief election officer, encouraged all eligible voters to fulfill their civic duty by voting. During the early voting period, Hughs said, “It is critical that all eligible Texans have the opportunity to help shape the direction of the Lone Star State.”

For information on voting in Texas and a list of the proposed constitutional amendments, visit www.votetexas.gov.

Feds set hemp rules

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Oct. 29 announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s release of interim final rules for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Program.

The rules, part of the 2018 Farm Bill, serve as a framework for states like Texas that are planning to build an industrial hemp growing program. With federal guidelines in place, the Texas Department of Agriculture can now submit a state hemp plan to USDA for approval, Miller said. The rules can be found online at usda.gov.

“This is the big leap forward we’ve all been waiting for,” said Miller. “I want to make it clear — it is still not yet legal to grow industrial hemp in Texas. But we are one step closer to allowing farmers to get this exciting new crop in the ground.”

Miller said he expects to submit the Texas plan for an industrial hemp program in 30 days or less.

Harvey disaster continues

Gov. Greg Abbott on Oct. 28 extended the disaster proclamation he originally issued on Aug. 23, 2017, for counties affected by Hurricane Harvey that brought loss of life and damages estimated at more than $125 billion.

In the proclamation, the governor authorized the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster. Original counties named in the proclamation were: Aransas, Austin, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller, Wharton and Wilson.

Abbott later expanded the list to include the counties of: Angelina, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Cameron, Comal, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Jasper, Kerr, Lee, Leon, Madison, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Walker, Washington and Willacy.

Update: ‘Vaping’ cases

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Oct. 29 reported that 165 Texas cases of severe lung disease have been identified so far in people who report “vaping” before developing symptoms.

One case was reported to have resulted in death. State health officials are gathering more information on about 13 other possible cases to determine whether they are consistent with the symptoms and substance use seen in cases in Texas and 48 other states.

Patients range in age from 13 to 75 years old, with a median age of 22 years. About one-quarter of the people affected in Texas are minors.

TEA reports test results

The Texas Education Agency on Oct. 30 reported that Texas fourth graders taking the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics improved from two years ago, outpacing the national average.

However, for eighth-grade students, mathematics scores declined slightly, dropping below the national average for the first time since 2003. Furthermore, eighth-grade reading scores showed the largest decline, mirroring a large decline across the nation.

NAEP is a random sample test of reading and mathematics in fourth and eighth grades, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted every two years in every state.

Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association.