Jul 13

July 13, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #83

Posted on July 13, 2020 at 5:08 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates

 

Did the governor take any virus-related action heading into last weekend?

 

Yes. He issued the following press release last Friday (July 10):

 

“Governor Greg Abbott has been working with Vice President Mike Pence and members of the Trump Administration to ensure the medical needs of Texans will be met as the State responds to COVID-19. He announced tonight that additional federal resources have been activated and are being sent to the Houston region to combat COVID-19.

 

The additional resources include an Urban Area Medical Task Force from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that will arrive in the region on Monday and a Disaster Medical Assistance Team from U.S. Health and Human Services that has just been deployed. These resources add to a DOD Urban Area Medical Task Force that just began operating in Bexar County as well as seven federal assessment teams operating in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, McAllen, Laredo, and El Paso this past week. The Governor continues daily collaboration with Texas' federal partners to expand resources for any regions to respond to COVID-19. 

 

‘Texas is grateful to the federal government as well as the President and Vice President for working swiftly to provide additional resources to the state as we work to mitigate COVID-19 and care for our fellow Texans,’ said Governor Abbott. ‘We will continue to work with our local and federal partners to ensure all resources and needs are met throughout the state.’”

 

What can mayors do right now to support congressional efforts for a next round of federal stimulus to all Texas cities?

 

The Senate Finance Committee is currently preparing the next federal stimulus package for workers, businesses, states, and local governments, and the U.S. Senate is expected to consider the measure after Congress returns from break on July 20. Please join mayors from across Texas in signing this letter urging our congressional delegation to provide direct and flexible assistance to Texas cities. Mayors interested in signing onto the letter, please email your name, city, and electronic signature to jj@tml.org by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow (July 14) to be included. 

 

Cities are facing major public health and public safety challenges at the same time we are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Simply put, demand and need for core local government services has increased significantly at the same time we are all projecting unprecedented levels of revenue loss. As metropolitan area economies generate over 91 percent of the nation's GDP, direct flexible fiscal assistance to local governments is how to spur an economic comeback.

 

We encourage city officials to continue visiting with your members of Congress, as well as Senators Cornyn and Cruz, to communicate the needs of your city. ?Now, while the Senate is in recess, call your senators and representatives. We also urge city officials to engage with your business community leaders to call on members of Congress and senators in support of additional direct flexible funding. 

 

We are thankful for your voice during these trying times and we appreciate all that you are doing on behalf your communities.

 

 

What happened today with regard to the Republican Party of Texas state convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston and why does it matter to city officials?

 

Citing concerns over the spread of Coronavirus in the Houston area, Mayor Sylvester Turner relied on a force majeure clause to cancel the contract with the Republican Party of Texas and refuse the use of the city’s convention center. The Party sued the City in district court and lost, and then sought an opinion from the Texas Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court issued a short opinion denying the Party’s request that it order the mayor and City to allow the convention.

 

The case is obviously highly-politicized, and the League doesn’t weigh in on such political issues. But the Court’s opinion does provide some guidance with regard to municipal facilities. The governor’s current executive order allows local government “operations, including county and municipal governmental operations relating to licensing (including marriage licenses), permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, as determined by the local government.” And there is no occupancy limit on those operations. 

 

So what happened with the lawsuit? The Party essentially claimed that the governor’s orders and the U.S. and Texas Constitutions allowed them, by right, to use the City’s facility. The Court’s opinion rebuked those claims, and it would seem to solidify the notion that city officials maintain control over their facilities. The logic applies to any city facility: a sports field complex, a park, a library, etc.  

 

Whether that means opening them up or keeping them closed, it’s another good opinion from the Court for city discretion. The governor’s order also provides that “Nothing in this executive order or the DSHS minimum standards precludes requiring a customer to follow additional hygiene measures when obtaining services.” That means a city can open its facilities with whichever protocols are deemed appropriate. 

 

Further Updates

 

Are there ongoing efforts to ease state-issued restrictions on the use of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) revenue by cities in counties under 500,000 population?

 

Yes. The City of Waco drafted a letter asking the governor to consider eliminating the so-called “75 percent limitation” on the use of CRF funds for cities located in counties under 500,000 population. As of today, almost 30 mayors have signed the letter. Other mayors interested in signing on to Waco’s letter are encouraged to email their name, city, and electronic signature to Ashley Nystrom with the City of Waco at AshleyN@wacotx.gov by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow (July 14). Note that this a deadline extension.  

 

The League sent a letter to Governor Abbott last month asking him to eliminate the 75 percent limitation in order to free up federal dollars for use on economic support for local businesses, among other things. No action has yet been taken on the spending limitations, which prompted Waco to take the lead on this new request.

 

Where can I go to see exactly what business and activities are allowed by the governor’s orders as of now?

 

Check out www.open.texas.gov. This is the governor’s Open Texas web page. On it, you’ll find a list of each allowable business or activity, along with a link to the Department of State Health Services guidance on allowable occupancy limits, the most recent statewide mask order, and more.

 

Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?

 

TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.


Jul 10

July 10, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #82

Posted on July 10, 2020 at 2:15 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates

 

What can mayors do right now to support congressional efforts for a next round of federal stimulus to all Texas cities?

 

The Senate Finance Committee is currently preparing the next federal stimulus package for workers, businesses, states, and local governments, and the U.S. Senate is expected to consider the measure after Congress returns from break on July 20. Please join mayors from across Texas in signing this letter urging our congressional delegation to provide direct and flexible assistance to Texas cities. Mayors interested in signing onto the letter, please email your name, city, and electronic signature to jj@tml.org by 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 14 to be included. 

 

Cities are facing major public health and public safety challenges at the same time we are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Simply put, demand and need for core local government services has increased significantly at the same time we are all projecting unprecedented levels of revenue loss. As metropolitan area economies generate over 91 percent of the nation's GDP, direct flexible fiscal assistance to local governments is how to spur an economic comeback.

 

We encourage city officials to continue visiting with your members of Congress, as well as Senators Cornyn and Cruz, to communicate the needs of your city. ?Now, while the Senate is in recess, call your senators and representatives. We also urge city officials to engage with your business community leaders to call on members of Congress and senators in support of additional direct flexible funding. 

 

We are thankful for your voice during these trying times and we appreciate all that you are doing on behalf your communities.

 

What is the status of the suspended Open Meetings Act provisions?

 

Today (7/10), the governor’s office extended the Open Meetings Act suspensions. Previously, on March 16, the governor granted the office of the attorney general’s request for suspension of certain open meeting statutes. The temporary suspension allows, among other things, for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies that are accessible to the public in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that assemble large groups of people. The guidance associated with the suspension provides that:

 

“These suspensions are in effect until terminated by the office of the governor, or until the March 13, 2020, disaster declaration is lifted or expires.”

 

The March 13 declaration has been extended for successive 30-day periods, including today’s extension for 30 days. That means the relevant open meetings laws remain suspended for at least another 30 days (or until affirmatively rescinded). 

  

We can’t be certain, but it is highly likely that the governor will continue to repeatedly extend his declarations. We’ve heard from his staff that they have no immediate plans to rescind the suspensions, which are sensible and seem to be working well, but that can’t be guaranteed.

 

Are there ongoing efforts to ease state-issued restrictions on the use of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) revenue by cities in counties under 500,000 population?

 

Yes. The City of Waco has drafted a letter asking the governor to consider eliminating the so-called “75 percent limitation” on the use of CRF funds for cities located in counties under 500,000 population.

 

As background, the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s (TDEM) CRF Terms and Conditions document contains the following statement regarding the use of grant money allocated from TDEM to cities:

 

“The subrecipient agrees that a minimum of 75% of its allotment will be spent in the categories of medical expenses, public health expenses and payroll expenses for employees substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the public emergency. The remainder of the allotment may be spent in any of the categories provided within the Treasury guidance.”

 

The other general categories of expenses for which only 25% percent of a city’s allotment can be spent are: (1) expenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures; (2) expenses associated with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency; and (3) any other COVID-19-related expenses reasonably necessary to the function of government that satisfy the Fund’s eligibility criteria.

 

The League sent a letter to Governor Abbott last month asking him to eliminate the 75 percent limitation in order to free up federal dollars for use on economic support for local businesses, among other things. No action has yet been taken on the spending limitations, which has prompted Waco to take the lead on this new request.

 

Mayors interested in signing on to Waco’s letter are encouraged to email their name, city, and electronic signature to Ashley Nystrom with the City of Waco at AshleyN@wacotx.gov by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, July 13.

 

 

Further Updates

 

Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?

 

TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.


Jul 10

July 8, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #80

Posted on July 10, 2020 at 10:53 AM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates

 

How do local sales tax distributions from the comptroller look like this month?

 

Today (7/8), the comptroller announced the distribution of $744.2 million in monthly sales tax revenue to all local governments for July. While the $744.2 million figure represents a 2.6 percent drop from July 2019, the city-specific numbers for July are a little bit better. Cities received $483.4 million in the July allocation, only a 1.1 percent drop from July 2019. According to the comptroller, declines were not as steep as last month because widespread social distancing requirements were relaxed across the state in May, which is the reporting period reflected in the July numbers.

 

The comptroller’s full press release on local sales tax numbers in July can be accessed here.

 

Where can I find detailed data regarding the spread of COVID-19 and the impact on our community and local economy?

 

The Texas nonprofit organization Texas 2036 has created a Texas COVID-19 Tracking Resource that incorporates, among other things, public health data, economic data, and even community mobility reports from Google. In addition, the application includes information related to federal COVID-19 funding received by cities and counties. Interested city officials can view much of this data both at the state and county level.

 

As a reminder, Texas Department of State Health Services maintains an interactive COVID-19 Case Dashboard that shows all sorts of figures related to the virus, including data by county and case demographics. The dashboard is updated daily.

 

What is the latest on how the pandemic will affect public schools in the fall?

 

Yesterday (7/7), the Texas Education Agency released health guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year. Although the guidance is subject to change depending on the trajectory of the pandemic’s impact in Texas, the document represents the clearest statement yet to local school districts on how to handle instruction in the fall. Among other things, the guidance requires school districts to offer daily on-campus instruction, but also allows parents to opt-in to virtual instruction from a school district that offers it. Additionally, schools must comply with Governor Abbott’s recent executive order on masks, should it still be in effect during the school year. 

 

Further Updates

 

Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?

 

TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.