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Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Lucio, Sen. Zaffirini named to Senate working groups to study challenges to face 87th Texas Legislature regarding COVID-19 - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, seated from left: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent, Brownsville Independent School District; and Minerva Peña, President, Board of Trustees, Brownsville Independent School District. This image was taken on Monday, April 13, 2020, in the BISD Boardroom, as part of a virtual conference call with state and local education leaders, including from Austin, Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education, and area residents.

Photograph Courtesy BROWNSVILLE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

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Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Lucio, Sen. Zaffirini named to Senate working groups to study challenges to face 87th Texas Legislature regarding COVID-19

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected] 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday, April 24, 2020, announced that he has established six Senate working groups to discuss challenges the state will face in the 87th Texas Legislature as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed our lives in Texas and in America in ways that will continue to impact us going forward as we re-open our state,” said Patrick, R-Houston. “I have asked every senator to work together in small discussion groups – using a think tank model – to discuss the challenges Texas will face in the next legislative session as a result of the pandemic. The Texas Senate is committed to making sure our state continues to lead, not only in combating this awful disease but also in making sure our economy can move forward.

The 87th Texas Legislature, which meets every two years for its 140-day regular session, will begin work on Tuesday, January 12, 2021, and finish on Monday, May 31, 2021.

“As with all Senate workgroups, the purpose of these workgroups is to discuss challenges and options, not to craft legislation,” Patrick explained. “Every senator is participating, and I am in regular contact with them on these discussions and I will continue to discuss these issues with them as we move forward.”

The list of the discussion groups, along with the respective members, follows:

Economic Impact & Budgeting

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound
Sen. Juan Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston
Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown

Senate Pandemic Preparedness

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston
Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston

Public Schools & Higher Ed

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe
Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney
Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson

Health, Hospitals & COVID-19 Issues

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham
Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway
Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels
Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown
Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston

Jobs & Re-Opening the Economy

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville
Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas
Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock

Food Supply Chain, Food Banks & Agriculture

Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo
Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio
Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood
Sen. Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville

“I appreciate Lt. Governor Patrick appointing me to the Economic Impact & Budgeting workgroup. We have telephone conferences several times a week as we discuss the state’s revenue and economic impact by both Coronavirus and the record low oil prices,” Hinojosa said. 

The McAllen lawmaker serves as Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which draws up the proposed, two-year state budget for the Senate.

Oil prices remain historically low for a prolonged period of time and supply gluts continue to strain storage capacity.

“The Texas budget is based on the average price of oil in each year of the biennium, thus daily market activity doesn’t significantly affect revenues, which are forecast based on average prices rather than spot prices or prices for specific futures contracts,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said on Monday, April 20, 2020. “We are carefully monitoring trading as June contracts come into focus. Should prices remain depressed over a long period of time, we anticipate the impact will be reflected in a reduction in the revenue forecast we’ll be releasing in July.”

Severance tax reductions would primarily affect the state’s Rainy Day Fund and State Highway Fund, and to a lesser extent general revenue available to meet budget needs. A contraction in the energy industry also will affect other sources of tax revenue, including sales and franchise taxes, according to Hegar.

“This double hit will have a large impact on our next legislative session’s budget. While the health and safety of our fellow Texans is a priority, just as important is to safely and strategically open the Texas economy,” Hinojosa continued. “Much of our work will focus on workforce issues, our small businesses, job creation, health care services, education and ways to mitigate the economic damage.”

In his analysis of Abbott’s latest executive order, Hinojosa said, “This announcement is just the beginning of multiple phases to open up businesses that help drive the Texas economy. The goal is to open businesses in three phases as safely as possible and as long as there is no flare-up of COVID-19 cases.”

Hinojosa said it is imperative that Texans “must continue taking this virus seriously, and to be successful will require discipline, goodwill, continued social distancing, washing our hands, and more testing and tracking of those who contract COVID-19.”

Lucio, who is third in seniority in the Senate and serves as Chair, Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations,  said his legislative expertise that spans decades will be effectively used on behalf of all Texans.

“I am thankful that my experience addressing the agricultural needs in our state, as well as meeting the needs of our students have allowed me to be appointed to two critical workgroups studying the impact of COVID-19 on our state,” said Lucio, who represents District 27, which includes all of Cameron County, Willacy County, Kenedy County, and eastern Hidalgo County.

Lucio’s tenure has featured his roles as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education. 

In 2011, Lucio spearheaded the summer meals program with the passage of his Senate Bill 89, and, in 2013, as Education Vice Chair, Lucio established the free school breakfast program in Texas school districts by passing into law Senate Bill 376. In 1999, Lucio helped Texas farmers and the Agriculture Industry by establishing the Go-Texan Program (sponsoring HB 2719).

“In the numerous conference calls I have had in the last several weeks with concerned constituents, educators, parents, students, and community leaders, I have heard of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on our communities,” said Lucio. “I look forward to continuing to put the needs of my constituents first and voice their concerns with my Senate colleagues so that together we can work on a clear path to overcome the challenges the coronavirus public health threat has created in our region.”

Regarding the upcoming 87th Texas Legislature, Lucio explained, “For Texas to successfully rebound, our discussions of the challenges that COVID-19 has created must be guided by the needs of our constituents,” I look forward to echoing the concerns of our South Texas and border communities so that together – like a policy think tank – we can be properly prepared and ensure South Texas is an integral part of the solution to revitalize our communities and create a robust Texas economy in the upcoming legislative session.”

Zaffirini, whose Senate District 27, which is anchored in Laredo/Webb County, includes Starr County, said, “We will make informal recommendations related to the economic difficulties brought on by COVID-19, assess the effectiveness of our response to this crisis, and consider means by which we can re-open Texas safely. It truly is my pleasure to collaborate with colleagues to address the challenges faced by Texas families, businesses, and communities during the coronavirus outbreak.”

She encouraged constituents to participate in the legislative discussions. 

“Your ideas would be welcomed,” Zaffirini promised. “If you have questions about this or any other issue, simply call my Capitol or Laredo office via 512/463-0121 or 956/722-2293.”

GOV. ABBOTT EXPANDS BUSINESS OPENINGS IN TEXAS, ANNOUNCES SURGE RESPONSE TEAMS TO COMBAT COVID-19

The governor on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, held a press conference were announced that he will be issuing an Executive Order to expand openings of certain businesses and activities. The governor also announced new guidance from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on graduation ceremonies and the creation of Surge Response Teams to combat any COVID-19 flare-ups in Texas. 

“Texas is in a position to continue opening parts of our economy because of the efforts and determination of the people of Texas,” said Abbott. “Over the past month, Texans have worked together to contain the spread of COVID-19 by following social distancing practices and staying at home whenever possible. As we move forward, I urge all Texans to continue following these social distancing guidelines and the health standards we have provided. With every Texan doing their part, we will contain COVID-19, we will unleash our entrepreneurs, and we will make it through this challenge together.”

The governor was joined for the Tuesday, May 5, 2020 press conference by Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) Acting Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, and Adjutant General of Texas Maj. Gen. Tracey Norris.

Per Abbott’s announcement, wedding venues and services required to conduct weddings may immediately open. Weddings held indoors other than at a church, congregation, or house of worship must limit occupancy to 25 percent. Wedding reception services may also resume, but facilities must limit their occupancy to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy. These occupancy limits do not apply to the outdoor areas of a wedding reception or to outdoor wedding receptions.

Beginning Friday, May 8, 2020, cosmetology salons, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and shops, and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practice their trade, may open, but all such salons, shops, and establishments must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations. 

Tanning salons may also reopen under the same limitation. 

Also starting Friday, May 8, 2020, swimming pools may open subject to certain limitations, including on their occupancy or operating levels.

Beginning Monday, May 18, 2020, office buildings may open with the greater of five or fewer individuals or 25 percent of the total office workforce. These individuals must maintain appropriate social distancing. 

Gyms, exercise facilities, and exercise classes may also open on Friday, May 18, 2020, but must operate at 25 percent occupancy. Locker rooms and shower facilities will remain closed, but restrooms may open. 

Non-essential manufacturing services may also open on Friday, May 18, 2020, but facilities must limit their occupancy to 25 percent.

These newly opened services are subject to recommended minimum standard health protocols outlined by DSHS. These protocols will be available on the Open Texas webpage

During the press conference, Kidd and Wilson provided details on the newly formed Surge Response Teams. These teams are led by TDEM and HHSC and include representatives from the Texas Military Department, DSHS, the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force, and BCFS Health and Human Services. 

Surge Response Teams will serve nursing homes, prisons, packing pants, and other facilities that experience flare-ups of COVID-19 by providing personal protective equipment, testing supplies, onsite staffing, and assessment assistance. These teams will also work with local officials to establish health and social distancing standards to contain these flare-ups. 

Several Surge Response Teams have already been deployed to locations across the state. Chief Kidd and Commissioner Wilson’s presentation is available here

Morath also provided new guidance on the class of 2020 graduation ceremonies for Texas school districts. 

The TEA is providing four different pathways for schools to celebrate their graduating seniors, and each district is at liberty to determine if any of these options best serve the needs and desires of their community:

Completely virtual ceremonies that take place entirely online, with the use of videoconference or other technologies.

Hybrid ceremonies, which consist of a compilation of videos of students being recognized in person as they celebrate graduation in small groups.

Vehicle ceremonies, in which students and their families wait in their cars while other graduates are recognized one at a time with their families alongside them.

Outdoor in-person ceremonies, which are currently permitted for counties as follows: 

• Between Friday, May 15, 2020, and Sunday, May 31, 2020, an outdoor ceremony may take place in a rural county that has an attestation as described in the Governor’s Report to Open Texas that remains in effect seven days prior to the ceremony. 

An outdoor ceremony may take place in any Texas county on or after Monday, June 1, 2020. 

Full details of the TEA’s graduation ceremony guidance can be found on the TEA website

STEVE AHLENIUS, CEO OF MCALLEN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, HELPED SHAPE “GLOBAL TRADE AND SUPPLY CHAINS” PORTION OF TEXANS  BACK TO WORK TASK FORCE REPORT DELIVERED ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 6, 2020, TO LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK

The Texans Back to Work Task Force presented its final report, which included the perspectives of Steve Ahlenius, CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.

Brint Ryan, Chair of the Back to Work Task Force, said, “Using the knowledge gained since the pandemic began, the Task Force strongly believes that business owners can use their creativity and ingenuity not only to formulate safe and effective protocols for their businesses to stay open but also to rebuild the economy that has been devastated by the pandemic.”

Ryan currently chairs Patrick’s Advisory Board on Tax Policy.

In response to the report, Patrick, a Republican for Houston,  said:

“I want to thank Brint Ryan and the members of the Texans Back to Work Task Force for their outstanding work producing a blueprint for re-opening Texas 100 percent. The governor has us off to a great start with the Open Texas Strike Force. This report will help leadership and business return to Texas once again to be the number one job creator in the nation. It is a “bottom-up” guide of best practices for businesses to follow as we re-open the Texas economy and prepare to rebuild after the severe damage from the long shutdown.

Ahlenius has been President and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce since 1998. He has been in the chamber profession for 33 years. Ahlenius has an undergraduate degree in History/Political Science from Wayland Baptist University and has served on their board of trustees. He earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration from Texas Tech University. Ahlenius is a certified economic developer (CEcD) recognized by the International Economic Development Council and is chair-elect for the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives (TCCE).

“During these enormously difficult times, businesses across Texas are looking for answers on how to rebuild and the Task Force has provided them. This report will help get Texans back to work and make our economy stronger than ever. I am very proud of what they have done.”

The Texans Back to Work Task Force final report is a 113-page document that includes more than 400 recommendations for employers, employees, state and local government and the public. The report includes immediate recommendations, recommendations for the next 100 days, and long-term strategies for the future. 

To view the report, log on to:

https://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/2020/05/06/lt-gov-dan-patrick-statement-on-texans-back-to-work-task-force-report/

It was on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, April 7, 2020,  that Patrick announced he had established the Texans Back to Work Task Force from his Business Advisory Council to begin to work on a set of recommendations for re-starting the economy, once Trump and Abbott announced that businesses can begin the re-opening process and Texans can go back to work.

“We know it will take us much longer to start the economy back up than it did to shut it down for the coronavirus pandemic emergency. I have spoken to hundreds of business leaders across the state since the pandemic began, and I know they are already thinking about steps that will need to be taken to put the economy back together when the time comes,” Patrick said on Tuesday, April 17, 2020. “I am confident Texas can lead a strong economic recovery both in our state and nationwide and I want to make sure we are ready to go as soon as possible.”

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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