AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott set the date for the special session, telling lawmakers to be back on the job on July 8. It comes as he prepares for a high-profile border visit with former President Donald Trump.
The announcement came just days after the governor vetoed Article X of the budget, cutting funding for the legislature. The move leaves many Capitol staff members at risk of losing their jobs at the end of the summer.
There has been no official information on what will be included in the session, but there are questions about whether Democrats will be in attendance after they walked out of the House on the last day of the regular session to block Senate Bill 7 from passing.
Two news reporters, John Moritz of the USA Today Network and James Barragán from the Texas Tribune, discussed the upcoming session during a roundtable interview for the State of Texas politics program.
Barragán believes it is possible the Democrats will walk out, but it may not be likely.
“Because then, if they [Democrats] walk out, and then their staff isn’t paid and a bunch of other legislative staffers aren’t paid, then it’s on them. So, I think it makes it a little bit more difficult,” said Barragán in the roundtable.
Moritz says that there are few options for Democrats.
“There are very few tools left for the Democrat. One is in Washington where federal legislation seems stalled… There might be a court remedy that says, ‘hey, the separation of powers does not let the governor just veto another constitutionally authorized branch of government,’” explained Moritz. “That would give them a tool that’s still an outside shot.”
Both reporters pointed out that if the governor can veto the legislature, then it would create a slippery slope.
“If he [Abbott] could veto the legislative branch, he could veto the judiciary’s branch, and conceivably the legislature could zero out the executive branch,” said Moritz.
Also, if Abbott does not reverse the veto of Article X, then this special session would be fully funded, but the special session later this year for redistricting could potentially be conducted without any staff.
“How are we supposed to redistrict without the legislative staff that does this? And there are specific legislative agencies that provide a lot of the information for redistricting. So that is up in the air,” explained Barragán.
Poll finds Abbott, O’Rourke and McConaughey have similar levels of approval in race for Texas Governor
On Wednesday, Quinnipiac University released a poll addressing the question of who holds the early advantage in the next campaign for governor of Texas.
As of this moment, only Gov. Greg Abbott and former State Sen. Don Huffines have announced their gubernatorial campaigns. However, the poll focused on the governor, Democrat Beto O’Rourke and actor Matthew McConaughey.
When it came to the governor’s chances at another term, 46% of Texans say that he deserves to be re-elected, while 48% say he does not. This polling was conducted from June 15 to June 21 and surveyed 1,099 registered Texas voters.
When these statistics are broken down into party affiliations, Quinnipiac found that an 82% of Republicans support Abbott’s reelection, while 88% of Democrats and 50% of independents say he should not serve another term.
While Abbott might have the overwhelming support of Republicans, he is not the guaranteed victor, according to a Quinnipiac University polling analyst.
“He might have an uphill fight, at least the early numbers all say,” said polling analyst Tim Malloy.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s overall numbers are slightly more separated than Abbott’s, with 41% of voters saying they would like to see him run. But 52% in the poll said they would not like to see O’Rourke run for governor.
O’Rourke has not yet announced whether he will run for governor.
Another potential candidate who is receiving attention is Matthew McConaughey. While his political party affiliation is unknown, Malloy believes that McConaughey is a “very tantalizing candidate,” and the poll reflects this sentiment.
According to the data, 41% of voters polled would like to see McConaughey run. But 47% said they would not like to see him run for governor.
The poll found a big difference when it came to negative opinions about the governor and potential candidates. Gov. Abbott had an unfavorable rating of 43% in the poll. O’Rourke had a 42% unfavorable score. McConaughey’s negative numbers were down at 20%.
When questioned why McConaughey could be an attractive candidate, Malloy said that he “has star power… and is a breath of fresh air.”
The poll asked the favorability ratings for elected officials, candidates and potential candidates for the gubernatorial race. The findings are listed below:
- Gov. Greg Abbott: 49% favorable, 43% unfavorable, 7% haven’t heard enough
- Matthew McConaughey: 42% favorable, 20% unfavorable, 36% haven’t heard enough
- Beto O’Rourke: 34% favorable, 42% unfavorable, 23% haven’t heard enough
- Allen West, former Texas GOP chairman: 25% favorable, 10% unfavorable, 65% haven’t heard enough
- Don Huffines, Republican candidate for governor: 8% favorable, 8% unfavorable, 83% haven’t heard enough
The primaries for the gubernatorial election are scheduled for March and the general election is in November.
Vanessa Guillén Act gains support
It’s been more than a year since the murder of 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén. Now, lawmakers in Congress are making progress on legislation named for her, with the goal of protecting members of the military who report crimes.
The Vanessa Guillén Act aims to remove decisions on prosecuting sexual assault cases from military commanders.
“Someone had to suffer in order for us to all realize what was happening,” Lupe Guillén said, referring to her older sister Vanessa during a news conference in Washington.
“The system we have now failed my sister,” she added.
Vanessa Guillén was killed by a fellow soldier while she was stationed at Fort Hood. An Army investigation later revealed that she had been sexually harassed on post, but her command did nothing about it.
“The message and culture in the military has been clear: shut up, suck it up and don’t rock the boat,” Congresswoman Jackie Speier told reporters. The California Democrat is leading a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to introduce the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.
The bill would take decisions about how to handle sexual assault outside the chain of command and give them to independent military prosecutors.
“It is essential, because it avoids the perception and the reality of a conflict of interest. Especially when the victim and the perpetrator report up the same chain of command,” Rep. Speier said.
“I can tell you that as a lawyer and a former judge, it really just never made sense to me that there was a separate system for the military personnel,” Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia said. The Texas Democrat represents Guillén’s Houston-area district.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin threw his support behind the bill on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will bring the bill to the floor for a vote soon.
Attacks on workers spike with more foster care children sleeping in Texas CPS offices
Inside a state office building one day in late May, a child threatened to get a gun and hold it to a worker’s head, according to state incident records.
Another report obtained by KXAN investigators reveals a few weeks before that, a young person at a Child Protective Services office in Austin “grabbed a worker’s bottom.” Just a few weeks ago, at a CPS office in Bastrop, a child “repeatedly punched a worker in the face, head and stomach and pulled the worker’s hair.”
One incident report details what happened when caseworkers took a child in their care to a park outside of Dallas: the child tried walking toward a busy highway, before hitting a worker with a tree limb and slapping them in the face.
These are just some of the dozens of physical altercations or sexual advances made on Department of Family and Protective Services workers by children living in state offices, hotels and other temporary locations.
DFPS has acknowledged the increase in children living in these types of locations — a result of what’s become known as Texas’ foster care “capacity crisis.” On Thursday, a spokesperson for the agency said the situation had “worsened dramatically” this year, with the loss of more than 1,000 available beds for children.
“Because there are so many more children and youth without placements, these locations are becoming more crowded. None of these facilities – especially of course CPS offices – are designed as sleeping quarters for young people, most of whom need treatment of various types,” the spokesperson said. “Obviously, our workers are in harm’s way and we are very focused on making these locations safer.”
The incident records obtained by KXAN detail just one incident in 2018 across the whole state. Then, there were eight incidents recorded in 2019 and nine in 2020. So far in 2021, DFPS has already recorded 59 incidents between workers and these children.
Six of those incidents involved kids staying in Central Texas CPS offices.
Carrie Ward, a child welfare attorney, reached out to KXAN after connecting with five different workers who said they were distraught and concerned about the number of these Children Without Placement (also known as CWOP).
“Having to respond to a crisis here and there is one thing, but having to do a four-hour shift on a Saturday night?” she said. “It’s a huge toll on these caseworkers. If we are not losing them already, we will.”
However, DFPS data revealed a 17% percent turnover rate for their workforce — lower than last year when the turnover rate was more than 20%.
The spokesperson for the agency said, “What’s most important is the safety of these children and young people in the State’s care, and that they get the treatment they need. We are also extremely focused on our staff, who selflessly provide care for these children 24 hours a day.”
Seanna Crosbie, Chief Strategy and Program Officer at Austin Child Guidance Center, emphasized the importance of personal mental-health support and specialized training for these workers.
“Child welfare workers are human beings, too,” she said.
Experts at the Center offer mental health services, particularly for young people. Some of their staff work with children in the foster care system who have experienced abuse, neglect or the trauma of being removed from their home.
Crosbie said it’s important for any adult to approach these children with “curiosity,” and not from a place of “compliance.” She also explained the importance of maintaining consistency and building relationships of trust for these children.
“At the core of a child is their sense of safety. Having a sense of routine, knowing where they are going to be living and who they are going to be living with is really, really, really important,” she said. “The brain is functioning from a place of fear and protection. Sometimes kids will be acting out from a place of genuinely trying to protect themselves.”
In 2013, leaders at the Austin Child Guidance Center established the Trauma Informed Care Consortium of Central Texas, bringing together more than 100 professional organizations and agencies. The consortium of mental health clinicians and medical personnel to school personnel, law enforcement and juvenile justice professionals meets several times a year. They also offer trauma-informed care training.
“That being said, this work is ever evolving,” Crosbie said.
Kate Murphy, Senior Policy Associate with Texans Care for Children, told KXAN the state legislature passed several measures to help ease the capacity crisis. One piece of legislation signed by Go. Greg Abbott actually prohibits kids from sleeping in CPS offices, but Murphy said they will be watching closely to see how that’s implemented.
Her group was concerned about two proposed amendments: one to increase punishments for assaulting CPS caseworkers and another to penalize kids for refusing a placement. Both of those efforts ultimately failed.
“It really makes children bear the brunt of the systems’ failures,” she said. “The focus should be on, how do we change the system to support these kids rather than, how do we punish these kids for what may very well have been a trauma response.”
In a meeting last month, the Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner, Jamie Masters, told members of the DFPS council they recognized the effect these physical altercations had on other kids in CWOP.
“It’s a heavy thing to try to figure out the right answer and the right approach,” Masters said.
A spokesperson for DFPS echoed the sentiment, when KXAN asked about the physical altercations and incidents.
“There is no one-size fits all approach, and DFPS is just one part of a large and complex child welfare system. We must work closely with our private providers to innovate and find new, creative solutions to this problem. We are quickly working with our partner providers and other child welfare stakeholders to meet this very difficult challenge. We have already identified alternatives, and work will not stop until we have real solutions.”
Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise in Texas
The Delta variant of COVID-19 is on track to take over as the dominant variant in Texas by the end of summer.
It’s more dangerous and more contagious than the current dominant variant, Dr. Rodney Young with Texas Tech Physicians explained Wednesday.
“It appears to be something like 60% more transmissible than the UK variant we were talking about, which was already more transmissible than the original COVID variant,” Dr. Young said.
He said the variant is accelerating across the country. The new variant only accounts for about 6% of active COVID-19 cases right now in Texas, but that’s expected to change in the coming weeks.
“20% of new cases in the U.S. are this Delta variant. It’s not going to be long, it’s going to be measured in weeks to a month or two before we’re talking about Delta as the predominant strain,” Dr. Young said, adding that people shouldn’t be letting their guards down just yet, even though life is beginning to return to normal.
Austinite Lisa Harris heeds that warning after her fully-vaccinated dad, Ken, got COVID-19 this week.
“He’s been fully vaccinated since mid March. So it was a bit of a surprise to all of us,” Harris explained her dad went to the doctor, thinking he just had a bad cold, “Sure enough, his COVID test results came back positive.”
“It’s been a really big lesson to our family that there is still a risk, and we still need to be careful,” Harris said.
Doctors say the vaccine is the best tool we have to fight it, but right now, only 48% of Texans 12-years-old and up are fully vaccinated. That could lead to major problems when kids head back to school this fall.
“It will take over as the dominant circulating strain for the COVID infection. And that will coincide with this period of time when we’re starting to get kids back in schools. When you pair that with the fact that kids don’t appear to have an inherent age-related protection from the ability to acquire and transmit this virus, that could pose a significant threat to all of us, because every year when kids get back in schools, things start to spread,” Dr. Young explained.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said it’s closely tracking the variant.
“We will continue to see more of those Delta variant cases in Texas, because it’s spread so much more easily,” DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen explained. He said the variant is another reason Texans should get the vaccine.
“The vaccines still seem to be very, very effective against it,” Van Deusen said.