Capital Highlights: Twenty-nine new laws in effect in January

By Gary Borders

More than 20 new state laws went into effect as Texans rang in the New Year, with another half-dozen to go on the books on Jan. 18, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Those laws include a ban on transgender athletes competing on sports teams that reflect their gender identity, and penalties for illegally restraining dogs.

Other new laws:

• Require landlords to disclose to potential renters if a property has ever flooded or is in a flood plain. Texas becomes only the second state in the nation with such a requirement, joining Georgia.

• Allow homeowners to take a homestead exemption in the same year they buy their home, instead of having to wait until the following year, potentially saving on property taxes.

• Require people accused in Texas of a violent crime to post a cash bond. Before, a judge could agree to release the accused on a personal bond that does not require a cash payment.

• Provide a slate of new benefits for Texas veterans and their families, including exempting new veteran-owned businesses from paying the franchise tax. 

A full listing of new laws can be found at the Legislative Reference Library’s website.

Abbott seeks more testing sites, antibodies

Texas is seeking more federally funded COVID-19 testing locations and additional federal allocations of monoclonal antibodies used to treat the virus in six counties facing increased cases because of the omicron variant: Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo and Tarrant. 

“Testing sites, additional medical staff and continued shipments of therapeutics from the federal government will help us continue to save lives and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in making the request. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services has also requested additional allocations of an antibody therapeutic proven effective in fighting the omicron variant, as well as other treatments used to reduce hospitalizations. DSHS also requested three teams of medical personnel to support urban hospitals that don’t have DSHS-contracted health-care staff.

COVID-19 cases double in state from previous week.

The number of new Texas cases of COVID-19 has more than doubled in the past week to 108,719, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. A total of 422 new deaths were recorded, up 58% from the previous week’s total of 266.

DSHS reported as of Sunday there were 5,523 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, up nearly 64% from the previous week. 

The total number of Texans who are fully vaccinated now stands at 16.45 million, according to DSHS, which is 56.7% of the total population. In addition, 4.678 million of the state’s residents have been vaccinated with a booster dose.

First phase of election audit completed

The initial review of the 2020 general election results in four Texas counties showed relatively few discrepancies between electronic and hand counts of ballots. The Dallas Morning News reported that out of the 11.3 million votes cast statewide, Secretary of State John Scott found potentially 509 cases where people may have cast ballots both in Texas and another state, and 67 possible cases of votes cast in the name of dead people.

The audits are being performed in Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin counties. During the next phase, officials will conduct “a comprehensive records review to ensure election procedures were properly followed in 2020.”

Former president Donald Trump called for the audit in September, despite having handily won the state. Trump has pressured the governor to add an election audit to a special legislative session, but Abbot thus far has not done so.

It rained fish in Texarkana last week

Instead of cats and dogs, it rained fish in Texarkana last Wednesday. The Texarkana Gazette reported that as strong thunderstorms moved through, residents in at least four locations reported fish falling from the sky. In a Facebook post, city officials explained the rare phenomenon.

“Animal rain is a phenomenon that occurs when small water animals like frogs, crabs, and small fish are swept up in waterspouts or drafts that occur on the surface of the earth,” officials wrote in the post. “They are then rained down at the same time as the rain. While it’s uncommon, it happens, as evidenced in several places in Texarkana today.”

At a used-car dealership, fish up to 5 inches long were scattered throughout the parking lot and at a tire shop next door. A Gazette reporter counted several dozen fish in a small section of the dealership’s parking lot. 

Now that’s some fish story.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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