Early voting underway across state

Brownwood Bulletin
Gary Borders

Early voting began Monday for May 1 elections in county, city and school district elections.

Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughs encourages all eligible voters to take advantage of the early voting period, which runs through Tuesday, April 27. Texas voters can contact their respective county elections office to view a sample ballot, locate their appropriate polling place, and plan their trip to the polls. Additional information is available at VoteTexas.gov.

New PUC commissioner confirmed 

Will McAdams, nominated by Gov. Greg Abbott to a slot on the Public Utilities Commission, was unanimously confirmed by the Texas Senate last week.

McAdams formerly served as president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas and worked for legislators for more than a decade in various senior staff positions.

Abbott has also nominated Peter Lake to be the new chair of the PUC, which regulates the state’s power grid operations.  Lake now serves as chair of the Texas Water Development Board. 

All three previous PUC members resigned after February’s winter storm led to massive power outages across the state.

House passes bill to allow handgun carry without a license

The Texas House voted 87-58 last week to allow handguns to be carried without a permit. Under current law, a permit is required to carry handguns either concealed or openly.

If the bill becomes law, any Texas resident not already prohibited by state or federal law from owning a gun could legally carry a handgun.

 According to the Texas Tribune, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, previously expressed qualms about easing handgun laws. Numerous law enforcement officials and concealed handgun license instructors opposed the measure, citing concerns over safety. A number of El Paso-area lawmakers opposed the measure, recalling the mass shooting that left 23 dead at a Walmart there in August 2019.

State halts distribution of J&J vaccines

Use of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines has been temporarily halted in Texas following a recommendation last week from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued the notice following extremely isolated reports of blood clots in a half-dozen recipients of the J&J vaccine — all in women between the ages of 18 and 48, according to the CDC.

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States. There is no word of when the vaccine might be used again.

Number of Texans vaccinated edging toward 50 percent; cases steady

Even with the halt in distribution of the J&J vaccine, the number of Texans who have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna two-shot vaccines hit 44.5 percent as of Sunday, according to DSHS.

A total of 6.37 million Texans are fully vaccinated — roughly 20% of the state’s population. Texas is receiving more than 1.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas last week dropped slightly from the previous week at 23,521, while deaths dropped to 374, a decrease of 27%, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients currently in Texas hospitals increased slightly to 2,929. That number is down nearly 80% from the high mark in mid-January, when more than 14,000 Texans were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Jobless rate unchanged at 6.9%

The state’s unemployment in March remained steady at 6.9%, with the state adding 99,000 total nonagricultural jobs, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. 

“Positive job numbers for March continue to show Texas is on track for continued growth,” TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel said. “TWC will continue to provide flexible and innovative training programs to help provide all Texans with skills they can use for workforce success.”

The 6.9% rate is more than double the state’s record low of 3.4% in May 2019. Jobless claims have risen since the mid-February storm, and the state has lost more than 400,000 jobs since the pandemic began early last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

FEMA extends registration for storm damage claims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the registration period for individuals whose property was damaged in the winter storm until May 20 in the 126 qualifying Texas counties. The state’s emergency management agency made the extension request.

Individuals can apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. The toll-free line is operated from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. 

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.