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August 5th, 2022:

State ordered to turn over voter purge data

Very good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge ruled this week that the state is violating U.S. law by refusing to release its list of more than 11,000 registered voters that it identified as potential noncitizens, and ordered the release of the data within 14 days.

A coalition of civil rights groups sued the Secretary of State’s Office in February for withholding the data concerning a voter purge program targeting immigrants that was mandated by a new Republican-backed election law.

The new elections law, passed after a heated partisan battle last summer, requires that the office conduct regular sweeps of the voter rolls to verify citizenship status by cross-checking data provided by the Texas Department of Public of Safety.

The groups are concerned that thousands of immigrants could have their voter registrations canceled based on outdated or incorrect records, a potential repeat of a botched voter purge in 2019 that ended with a court settlement restricting who could be targeted in future purges.

The state had attempted to cancel registrations of almost 100,000 registered voters, but many were later found to be naturalized citizens or others who had been flagged in error. About 70,000 immigrants are naturalized in Texas each year on average and become eligible to vote.

Without the data on the purge initiated earlier this year, the groups say they can’t confirm that the state is complying with the 2019 settlement agreement. Within months of the new program’s launch, county officials warned the state that the lists included people who registered to vote at their naturalization ceremonies.

“We’ve kind of seen this movie before in 2019,” said Danielle Lang, senior director for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the civil rights groups. “Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests the same thing is happening despite Texas’ claims that it’s following 2019 settlement agreement. We’re glad to finally be able to get access to the data, so the public can better understand what this process looks like and why eligible citizens are being caught up in the system.”

See here for the background. The Secretary of State has amply demonstrated that it cannot be trusted in matters like this. They need to be watched like a hawk, and that means they need to be completely transparent about every step they take. As with the other voter registration case we heard about this week (*), the Fifth Circuit is a threat, but maybe not as bog a threat in this one. The state could accept the ruling and provide the data – surely they want to show they have nothing to hide, right? – but I’m not that naive. We’ll see what they do next.

(*) As it happens, the judge for both of these cases is Lee Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee. He has had himself a busy week.

Commissioners Court plans to put a bond issue on the ballot

First one in seven years.

Harris County voters will have more on their November ballot, after a divided commissioners court Tuesday took the first step toward a $1.2 billion bond package for police, parks, drainage and roads.

Common with many votes, the court was split 3-2 on the matter, with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia in favor and Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle opposed.

Tuesday’s debate reiterated much of what divided county officials leading up to the vote, including the ability to put a robust plan in front of voters by November, concerns about future needs such as flood control and how exactly officials would split the windfall of money should voters approve.

The plan would likely lead to three bond votes on the ballot — $100 million for public safety, $200 million for parks and $900 million for transportation and drainage projects ranging from street maintenance to sidewalks and safety-related road repairs.

“People want to see that money spent yesterday,” Garcia said, noting the litany of improvements county residents are demanding.

Tuesday’s vote moved the county closer to a bond referendum, but did not finalize it. To call the election and set it for the November election, commissioners court must meet and call for the election between Aug. 12 and Aug. 22, per state law. They must also approve ballot language, which will guide the terms of the bond.

[…]

Though split on the plan, no one disputed Harris County has massive needs across a host of categories.

“I think people are clamoring for more capital investments,” Ellis said.

Local roads are in disrepair, drainage worries dot unincorporated communities who remember rising waters from Tropical Storm Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda all too well and sheriffs operate out of outdated and crumbling buildings.

Voters “don’t need to be sold on flood control, roads and public safety,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, who spoke Tuesday in favor of the bonds.

Commissioners, however, struggled to find common ground on how they would share the money. Ellis and Garcia pressed for a “worst-first” approach that would focus funding in areas they said were previously neglected in their Precinct One and Precinct Two areas, and away from doling the money based on population and lane miles of road. Ramsey and Cagle, concerned about the inequity of that plan, said some equal divisions were needed so Precinct Three and Precinct Four could make needed repairs.

To satisfy her own concerns that funds needed to address problem areas but fairly include projects in each commissioners’ area, Hidalgo proposed the $100 million in public safety remain countywide, but that the road and parks money be divided in a way by the county that assured each precinct at least $220 million — leaving another $220 million to be spent where needs are greatest.

“Everybody has a base level of revenue from this bond,” she said.

Despite that compromise, other doubts remain, Ramsey said, citing the lack of project specifics provided by county staff.

Here’s the Tuesday morning version of the story, which in turn references that 2015 bond package. A total of four propositions that year passed easily, with percentages ranging from 61 to 74. I don’t have a strong opinion at this time about how the funds should be divvied up – I don’t recall that particular debate coming up in the past, for what it’s worth, but Commissioners Court was a lot clubbier in those days – nor am I particularly worried about a detailed project list at this time. We should have one, to be sure, but I think most people don’t get too far into those details when casting their vote. It’s for law enforcement/roads/bridges/parks/flood control/etc etc etc? That’s likely enough info for most voters. We’ll see what details we get when the final ballot language is proposed.

The latest COVID wave may be peaking in Houston

Hopefully

Texas Medical Center data released Tuesday suggests the latest wave of COVID-19 might have reached its peak in the Houston area, though several key metrics used to track the virus remain high.

The medical center’s weekly data report shows that COVID-19 hospitalizations, the positivity rate of coronaviruus tests and the amount of virus detected at the city of Houston’s wastewater treatment plants all trended downward for the second straight week. Those trends indicate the Houston area has likely crested the peak of a recent surge caused by the extremely contagious BA.5 subvariant, said Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine.

“All the numbers are pointing to the fact that we’ve peaked maybe a week, a week and a half ago,” McDeavitt said. “I fully expect we will continue to trend down over the next several weeks.”

The line graphs from the TMC show a mountain range of peaks from prior waves of COVID-19, such as those caused by the delta and omicron variants. The latest BA.5 wave shows that after several weeks of steady climbing, the line is finally on the descent.

During previous waves, the virus did not pick up steam again after the numbers started to trend downward, McDeavitt said. He expects the same trajectory from BA.5.

It appears the current wave has at least reached a plateau, said Dr. Ashley Drews, an infectious disease specialist at Houston Methodist. The fact that the key metrics have stabilized is an encouraging sign, she said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that things are turning in the right direction, and we’re going down,” Drews said.

[…]

During the week of July 25, TMC hospitals admitted an average of 219 patients with COVID-19 per day. That’s down from an average of 226 during the week of July 18, and 240 during the week of July 11.

However, the numbers remain much higher than they were before the emergence of BA.5. Three months ago, TMC hospitals admitted an average of 80 patients per day.

The good news is that the percentage of patients who need to be treated in an ICU remains lower than prior surges of COVID-19.

Last week, less than 14 percent of the 912 patients admitted with COVID-19 were treated in an ICU, according to TMC data. That’s lower than the percentage of patients treated in an ICU at the peaks of the omicron wave (17 percent) and the delta wave (22 percent).

[…]

The amount of virus detected at the city of Houston’s wastewater treatment plants, which has been a reliable indicator of community spread, also fell for the second straight week.

Wastewater loads reached an all-time high during the week of July 11, at 927 percent higher than a baseline established in June 2020. That fell to 774 percent during the week of July 18, and to 725 percent over the past week.

The amount of virus in the wastewater is still much higher than before the recent surge. Three months ago, it was less than 100 percent higher than the June 2020 baseline.

So, the data is starting to go in the right direction, which is good. But there’s still a lot of COVID out there, and all of the levels are still a lot higher than they were before the wave began, even if they never approached the heights of the previous peaks, and that’s bad. You should still be exercising caution, which is to say wearing your mask and avoiding indoor crowds if you can. And of course, get vaxxed and boosted as needed. We may be back on the downswing, but there’s no reason to believe we won’t trend up again at some point, and we’ve still got a ways to go to get to the lower levels we want.

Yes, it’s been an especially hot summer

Record-breaking, in fact.

Average high temperatures in Houston so far this summer have outpaced previous historically hot summers on record, according to the National Weather Service.

In the months of May, June and July, temperatures in the city averaged 95.1 degrees, ranking first in average high temperature at this point of the year, NWS meteorologist Josh Lichter said.

Houston’s hottest summer on record — the summer of 2011 — registered an average temperature of 94.4 degrees in the same months, Lichter added. The data sets go back to 1889.

Weather experts predicted an above normal July and August after a historically hot June saw temperatures reach an average of 86.7 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Those temperatures surpassed the previous record average of 86.2 degrees set in June 2011.

Although some thunderstorms have come to the region within the past week, the weather pattern right now above Houston is one which “suppresses” rain and exasperates droughts, he said.

“Once once you get that pattern going where we have, you know, a week of 100-plus degree temperatures and you only have a couple days where you get rain but then you go back another week or two of 90 to 100-degree temperatures with little rain again, you’re going to increase the risk of droughts.”

It’s not just Houston, it’s all over Texas. And there’s a lot of drought, with some Texas cities beginning to experience real water problems. Like 2011, only hotter. Anyone feel like defending the position that climate change isn’t real today?

UPDATE: San Antonio, too.