Capitol Highlights: Proclamation allows more services, activities to resume

Gov. Greg Abbott on May 26 issued a proclamation giving the green light to more services and activities in a second phase of the state’s plan to reopen from mandatory pandemic closures. 

The Phase II proclamation allowed water parks to open beginning May 29 on condition that the venues limit occupancy to no more than 25% of normal capacity. However, components of water parks that have video arcades must remain closed. Also, starting May 31, recreational sports programs for adults were allowed to resume but games and similar competitions must wait until June 15 to resume. Driver education programs can resume operations immediately. 

Food-court dining areas in shopping malls were allowed to resume operations immediately, but malls are encouraged to designate one or more individuals responsible for health and safety practices on premises, including: 

• Limiting tables to six individuals; maintaining a six-feet distance between individuals sitting at different tables; 

• Cleaning and disinfecting tables between uses; and 

• Ensuring no condiments or other items are left on tables between customer uses. 

In other news, cumulative figures posted on May 31 by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that some 64,287 people in Texas had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 1,672 deaths resulting from the virus pandemic had been confirmed.

Protests erupt in cities

Crowds gathered in many cities across the nation in recent days to protest the May 25 death of former Houston resident George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis.

A white Minneapolis police officer, assisted by three fellow officers, arrested and handcuffed Floyd, an African-American, then pinned him face down on a paved city street. Floyd, who was heard saying he could not breathe while he was pinned down, lost consciousness and was later pronounced dead. Video of the incident was captured by a bystander and posted on social media.

Gov. Abbott reacted on May 30, saying, “Texas and America mourn the senseless loss of George Floyd, and the actions that led to his death are reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. As Texans exercise their First Amendment rights, it is imperative that order is maintained and private property is protected.”

Some of the protests turned violent. Abbott activated the National Guard and ordered state resources to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, he said, to maintain public safety. The Texas Department of Public Safety deployed more than 1,500 officers to assist local police departments and more resources will be provided as needed, Abbott said.

Unemployment hits high

In April, all major industries in Texas were hit with job losses related to the pandemic.

The Texas economy lost 1,298,900 non-farm positions in the month, the Texas Workforce Commission reported on May 22, causing the Lone Star State’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to rise to 12.8%.

The Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area recorded April’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 8.8% followed by the Abilene MSA and the College Station-Bryan MSA, which both recorded 8.9% for the second-lowest rate. The Lubbock MSA recorded the third-lowest rate of 9.9%.

Paxton applauds court

The Texas Supreme Court on May 27 ruled against a petition by the Texas Democratic Party in an ongoing effort to enable all Texans to vote by mail, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the ruling written by Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. Hecht concluded that a lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not itself a “physical condition” for being eligible to vote by mail under the state election law.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa reacted to the ruling, saying, “Now, it is up to the federal court to ensure basic Constitutional rights still exist in Texas and ensure that Texans have a right to vote safely and not put their health at-risk.”

Paxton said a voter ill with COVID-19 and who meets legal requirements may apply for a ballot by mail, “but fear of contracting COVID-19 is a normal emotional reaction to the current pandemic and does not amount to an actual disability that qualifies a voter to receive a ballot by mail.”

Plaintiffs have a separate mail-in-ballot case pending in the federal court system.

SOS: Voting guidance

The Office of the Texas Secretary of State in consultation with the Texas Department of State Health Services on May 26 released health protocol guidance for Texas election officials and voters in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughs, Texas’ chief election officer, said the guidance, available at sos.texas.gov, reflects the minimum recommended health protocols to help ensure the health and safety of voters, election office personnel, polling place workers and poll watchers.

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