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February 6th, 2021:

How Greg Abbott wants to restrict voting

More from that Trib story following the State of the State address.

As part of his State of the State speech, Abbott designated five emergency items, or items that lawmakers can vote on within the first 60 days of session. One of them is “election integrity,” though Abbott did not provide any details in his address. He elaborated in the interview, saying a “starting point” would be wide-ranging legislation from last session that would have made over two dozen changes to election practices, including making it a felony for Texans to vote when they’re ineligible or provide false information on a voter application, even if they do those things unknowingly.

Senate Bill 9, which passed the Senate but never made it to Abbott’s desk in 2019, faced stiff opposition from voting rights groups and some county elections officials, who called it voter suppression masked as a security measure and worried that it would carry stiff criminal penalties for common, innocent mistakes.

When it came to elections, Abbott also said there is a “keen focus on mail-in ballots” and how elections were conducted last year in Harris County. Ahead of the November election, Abbott and other state GOP leaders clashed with the county’s clerk at the time, Chris Hollins, over his plan to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voters in the county, among other proposals.

In recent months, many Republicans have called for “election integrity” measures after former President Donald Trump and many of his allies falsely alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that widespread fraud occurred, culminating with Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the certification of the election’s results. There is no credible evidence of fraud on a level that would have affected the presidential election results.

Election security is the No. 1 legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas, whose chairman, Allen West, plans to be an aggressive voice at the Capitol this session when it comes to the party’s eight priorities. He has also been a critic of some of Abbott’s pandemic decisions, fueling speculation that he could challenge the governor in the 2022 primary.

See here for the discussion of emergency powers. I just want to remind everybody that back in 2011 when the Republicans passed the existing voter ID bill, which remains one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, they specifically exempted absentee ballots from voter ID requirements. Why did they do that? The simple answer to that question is that voting by mail used to be an area of Republican dominance, and the Republican legislators did not want to make it any harder for their preferred voters to cast a ballot. But now that Democrats have started voting by mail in larger numbers, all bets are off. That is the reason they’re doing this, all claims of “election integrity” aside, and it annoys me that I never see any mention of that in news stories about this. Voting by mail used to advantage Republicans. Now it doesn’t, and so Republicans want to make it harder. It’s as simple as that, and the same crap is happening all across the country. All of us, the media very much included, need to be clear-eyed about that.

In case that doesn’t set your teeth on edge enough, there’s this.

With Texas’ Republican leadership cataloguing “election integrity” as a top priority this legislative session, House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday named state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, as the chair of the House Elections Committee. The panel, which has a Republican majority, typically considers legislation related to voting rules and election law.

Cain, who previously served on the committee, traveled to Pennsylvania in the days after Election Day to work with the Trump campaign. The campaign eventually filed a lawsuit alleging widespread issues with mail-in ballots in the state; a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, finding the president’s team provided “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” that were not supported by evidence.

Republican claims of election fraud in swing states have been discredited by the federal courts, and election officials and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have swayed the results of the presidential election.

[…]

“I’m looking forward to getting input from Texans, members, and policy experts in order to better gauge what needs to be done,” Cain said on Thursday when asked about his priorities for the committee. “I believe SB 9 is great starting point though and I’m glad the Governor made election integrity an emergency item.”

Voting rights advocates on Thursday decried Cain’s appointment given his involvement with the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election and the role it played in fueling the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Cain was so invested in undermining our free and fair elections that he took his conspiracy theories on the road to fight against the will of Pennsylvania voters,” said H. Drew Galloway, the executive director of the MOVE Texas Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for young voters. “This appointment is a slap in the face to every Texas voter who braved a pandemic to make their voices heard last November and the generations of Black and Brown activists who have fought for the right to vote.”

Democrats are not going to be able to stop any of this on their own, and the courts are hardly allies in this fight. Either Congress acts to pass that massive voting rights bill and we get some relief, or we better get used to ever-ratcheting restrictions on who can vote and how. There’s no time to waste. The DMN has more.

Getting the kids caught up at school

Gonna be a big job, and hopefully we can do it in earnest beginning in August.

With students finally settling into a pandemic-altered routine and widespread vaccine access on the horizon, Texas education leaders are turning to their next great challenge: catching up potentially millions of children falling behind in school.

Faced with the possibility of devastating student learning loss, educators across the state are in the early stages of planning for the 2021-22 school year and beyond, starting to devise significant — and likely disruptive — changes to their calendars, curricula and staffing.

Several of Texas’ largest districts already have restructured their upcoming school year, adding multiple weeks of instruction or moving up their start dates to stem the so-called “summer slide.”

The adjustments will impact many of the state’s more than 5 million students, whose academic, behavioral and emotional development have been stunted by the pandemic.

The effort also will test the state’s dedication to equity, the oft-cited-but-frequently-unfulfilled principle that children with the greatest needs should receive the most resources and support. While conclusive data on the pandemic’s impact remains elusive, educators widely agree that Black and Latino children, as well as students from lower-income families and those with disabilities, are more likely to fall behind than their peers.

“We need to use this opportunity to really step back and think about what students need, and then build a system and schedule and structure that helps them get that,” said Bridget Worley, executive director of the education nonprofit Texas Impact Network. “If we start back where we left off, we’re doing them a disservice.”

[…]

In Dallas ISD, the state’s second-largest district, school board members voted Thursday to give staff and families at each school the option to add 10 weeks of in-person instruction spread across 2021-22 and 2022-23. District administrators are gathering feedback to determine which campuses want to adopt the revised calendar. Attendance will not be mandatory for students and staff at schools making the change.

The idea, which could cost up to $90 million to implement, marks the most ambitious proposal to date among Texas’ largest school districts.

Derek Little, Dallas’ deputy chief of academics, said administrators still are crafting plans for the 10 weeks of support, but they envision smaller classes in a lower-stress environment for children.

“We knew we had to do something really bold to help our students recover from their learning loss and pandemic challenges,” Little said. “The research here is really compelling, that when students have more time in a high-quality learning environment, that extra time makes a difference.”

The Dallas plan mirrors an initiative launched this school year in neighboring Garland ISD, home to about 54,100 students. The district added 17 days of optional instruction into its 2020-21 calendar — eight weekdays spread throughout the normal school year, plus nine weekdays tacked on in June — and plans to offer 21 more optional class days in 2021-22.

[…]

In a statement this week, Houston ISD officials said they are “in the initial stages of planning our summer program and strategic planning for the 2021-22 school year.”

“Normally, this process typically occurs during the first few months of a calendar year,” the administrators said. “Like other districts, HISD is prioritizing students who are struggling academically and socially/emotionally, beginning with making district-wide credit recovery available to our 11th and 12th graders in February 2021.”

Clearly, everyone wants students back in school, in a much lower-risk environment. When that happens, a lot of students are going to need a lot of remedial work, because distance learning has its problems, and many students had technology and Internet issues on top of that. There are lots of options for this kind of remedial work, but they all boil down to more time in the classroom and more instruction. Both of those things, along with tutors and materials and who knows what else, will cost money. Ideally, there will be federal funding to pay for this, but the Legislature will have a role as well, even if it’s just to appropriate the federal money. What the actual on-the-ground plans are will be done locally. Whoever is in charge of HISD when this all comes around will have their hands full.

Bringing vaccines to your local pharmacy

Makes a lot of sense.

Retail pharmacies will bring more COVID-19 vaccines to Houston and across the country following a boost by the Biden administration to increase distribution to the public.

CVS Health will roll out 38,000 COVID-19 vaccines to 70 Texas locations starting Feb. 11; a CVS spokesperson said they are still determining how many Houston locations will be part of the initial distribution. People who fall under the state’s 1A and 1B eligibility criteria will be able to make an appointment.

The pharmacy giant is setting up online and phone systems to book a time slot for the first dose. To register, eligible people can visit CVS.com or call 800-746-7287.

“Vaccinations will be by appointment-only and we want to encourage eligible patients to use our online scheduling tool to find a location that is convenient for them to access,” said Monica Prinzing, a CVS spokesperson.

People can book appointments starting Feb. 9, Prinzing said.

[…]

Pharmacies could be key to speeding up vaccine rollout. Patients already rely on them to pick up prescription drugs and receive flu and shingles vaccines, and may keep their local pharmacy in mind when it comes to obtaining a COVID-19 shot.

As of 2015, there are approximately 67,000 pharmacies in the U.S., according to the science journal PLOS One.

“You have pharmacies on every corner in the country,” said Dr. Asim Abu-Baker, associate dean for clinical and professional affairs at Texas A&M’s College of Pharmacy. “They’re used to handling the public’s questions and giving flu vaccines, while it’s a bottleneck to try and get into a hospital.”

I’ll skip the number crunching this time; suffice it to say we will continue to need a lot more of the vaccines. Other pharmacies are also involved, with HEB and Kroger also getting into the act. This should greatly help with access to the vaccine, especially for the significant number of people in Texas who lack health insurance, though even with this more is needed, as many neighborhoods don’t have a CVS or HEB or Kroger, either.

Still, this is great progress, and should help relieve bottlenecks in addition to making it easier overall for people to get the shots. It’s also a screamingly obvious move, which makes one wonder why neither the state of Texas nor the Trump administration had thought of it. I’ve said before that a key to Democrats having a fighting chance in the 2022 midterms is for Team Biden to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible. Given Greg Abbott’s determination to fight the Biden administration in any way he can, you’d think he’d have tried a little harder to make this harder for them.