Will you have an update manana?
Not if it is humanly possible to avoid it. We can’t
believe this information just keeps on coming, and we know everyone
(including Ed.) needs a break from it. Stay safe and enjoy some cooler
weather. (Isn’t it nice when the Texas summer heat breaks, even just for
a while? Fall and Spring weather in Texas seem to make all the
other nonsense way more palatable. Love this state and her cities.)
What’s the latest virus-related cautionary letter from the
attorney general to a local government?
The attorney general couldn’t let a county get all his
attention, so he also sent a letter to a city to close out the
week. According to a press release from the attorney general
yesterday (September 9):
“Attorney General Ken Paxton today warned the City of Brownsville against its invalid order
limiting all restaurant capacity to less than 25 percent of total listed
occupancy. As it stands, the city’s order directly contradicts Governor Greg
Abbott’s orders and exceeds the city’s lawful authority. Executive Order
GA-28 expressly allows certain restaurants to “operate at up to 50 percent”
and allows restaurants, and not cities, to decide whether to operate at a
capacity at or below this limitation.
‘The City of Brownsville’s order clearly conflicts with
Governor Abbott’s order. It is imperative that we remain consistent in our
application of limitations, and that the restaurants operating within the
state’s limitations are allowed to do so,’ said Attorney General Paxton. ‘The
city should immediately review and revise this unlawful order.’
Here’s our usual disclaimer that you’ve seen many times
now: The press release above is pasted in verbatim. We are not
saying that the attorney general’s informal letters are binding. To the
contrary, we aren’t even acknowledging that they are correctly
reasoned. But a city enacting regulations contradicting them could get
sued by the attorney general or others.
What’s the latest in the long list of voting rights lawsuits?
Two judges issued orders in two separate lawsuits on Tuesday
(September 8), but only one of them was originally-filed due to the pandemic.
According to The Texas Tribune, a federal judge dismissed the Mi Familia Vote v. Greg Abbott
lawsuit based on the separation of powers doctrine. In this pandemic-related lawsuit, on which we first reported in July, the
plaintiffs are voters who claimed the state’s current polling place
procedures – including rules for early voting, the likelihood of long lines,
and the governor’s decision to not require voters to wear masks – place
unconstitutional burdens on voters during the pandemic.
According to the dismissal order, “the Elections Clause of the
Constitution specifically commits the administration and management of
federal legislative elections to the Texas legislative branch.” Even so, the
order states that “the requests for relief do not appear unreasonable and can
easily be implemented to ensure all citizens in the State of Texas feel safe
and are provided the opportunity to cast their vote in the 2020 election.”
Also on Tuesday, a different federal judge in a separate
lawsuit penned a 103-page memorandum opinion and order. (Editor’s
note: Reading a 103-page court document is like something else that
proverbially tends to roll downhill. So thanks to our newest TML attorney for
taking on that task!) The order in Richardson v. Texas Secretary of
State concludes that the state’s process for determining whether there is
a mismatch between a voter’s signature on their ballot envelope, and the
signature the voter used on their application to vote by mail “plainly violates
certain voters’ constitutional rights.” This order will impact mail-in
ballots in the upcoming election, which are expected to greatly increase
because of Coronavirus.
According to The Texas Tribune, two voters filed the lawsuit
last year after local election officials rejected their mail-in ballots
because the election officials decided the signatures on the envelopes in
which their ballots were returned did not match. In the lawsuit, the
plaintiffs claimed that at least 1,873 mail-in ballots were rejected based on
mismatched signatures during the state’s 2018 general election, and at least
1,567 were rejected in 2016.
To ensure the issue is addressed prior to the November
election, the judge ordered the Texas secretary of state to inform local
election officials within 10 days of the order that it is unconstitutional to
reject a ballot based on a “perceived signature mismatch” without first
notifying the voter about the mismatch and giving the voter a “meaningful
opportunity” to correct the issue. The secretary of state’s Elections
Division attorneys, who are doing an amazing job in a tough situation, will likely
issue guidance soon.
Don’t forget that we created a web page with all of the virus-related lawsuits.
How do we approach the challenge of recovery from COVID-19?
The way we approach recovery will likely define Texas going
forward. Our ultimate challenge is to make our cities and state stronger
than we’ve been in the past. In his TML virtual Annual Conference session on
October 14, Steven Pedigo, LBJ Urban Lab director, will outline a Playbook
for Resiliency, and offer strategies and actions we can adopt now for a more
prosperous future. Pedigo is challenging Texans to “think about
resiliency as a place’s capacity to
weather threats to its economy and its residents’ health, and even more
broadly, as the capacity of residents, communities, institutions, businesses,
and systems to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic
stresses and acute shocks they experience. The more resiliency a community
has, the less likely it is to break under pressure – and the faster it is to rebound.”
Register here to hear Pedigo’s October 14 presentation,
and view more than 30 other TML Annual Conference sessions related to
disaster recovery and resilience.
What’s the latest with regard to the President’s executive
order extending the federal unemployment benefit subsidy?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified the Texas Workforce Commission that federal
funding for the additional $300 weekly benefit program (announced last month)
has already run dry. Recipients should continue to receive their
“normal” state unemployment benefits.
What’s going on in Congress with regard to additional stimulus
The U.S. Senate voted down what’s being called a
"skinny" stimulus package (S. 178 (116)) today. The bill had provisions
relating to – among many others – liability protections for businesses (and
cities), clawing back unspent CARES Act funding, additional unemployment
benefits, additional Paycheck Protection Program funding, U.S. Postal Service
funding, health response, and education/child support funding. The bill
wouldn’t have provided any additional funding or CRF flexibility for cities,
although it would have extended the deadline to spend current funds to
September 30, 2021.
What’s the latest with sales tax distributions?
According to today’s press release:
“Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced today he will send
cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $765.3
million in local sales tax allocations for September, 4.5 percent less than
in September 2019. These allocations are based on sales made in July by
businesses that report tax monthly.
infection rates in July likely suppressed economic activity.