Will there be a TML Coronavirus Update tomorrow (May 21)?
No, the TML legal and legislative staff will be presenting
tomorrow afternoon at the League’s “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Webinar: What
You Need to Know.” The webinar is sold out due to technical limitations
with 500 registrants. Absent any technical issues, the webinar will be
recorded and made available at no charge. We’ll miss you, but don’t
worry! We’ll be back on Friday, and then back on Tuesday after Memorial
What’s the latest in the mail-in ballot controversy?
In addition to the pending state court lawsuits we’ve reported
on previously, the Texas Democratic Party and others sued the governor,
attorney general, secretary of state, and Travis and Bexar Counties in federal
court seeking to allow mail-in ballots for those afraid of contracting the virus.
The attorney general argued that the federal judge should wait
to rule until the outcome of the state court proceedings, but the judge
disagreed. He waxed poetic in a 74-page order that essentially allows any voter to do so by mail-in
ballot. For example, the judge wrote that “the Court finds the Grim
Reaper's scepter of pandemic disease and death is far more serious than an
unsupported fear of voter fraud in this sui generis [unique]
experience…Indeed, if vote by mail fraud is real, logic dictates that all
voting should be in person [instead of the current law allowing those over 65
or with a disability to do so]."
The attorney general issued the following statement in support
of his immediately-filed appeal: “Mail-in ballots are
vulnerable to fraud,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Two-thirds of all election
fraud cases prosecuted by my office involve mail ballot fraud, also known as
‘vote harvesting.’ Allowing widespread mail-in ballots will lead to greater
fraud and disenfranchise lawful voters. Governor Abbott already has made a
temporary order expanding the early voting period for the July elections. In
addition, local election officials have many other mechanisms available to them
to ensure safe and fair elections, including sanitizing voting machines and
areas and implementing social distancing.”
What restrictions have been imposed on the spending of federal
coronavirus relief funds (CRF)?
Texas cities are eligible to receive federal CRF funds in three
ways thus far: (1) a direct allotment from the U.S. Treasury Department to
cities over 500,000 population; (2) an application-based allotment from TDEM for cites in counties
with less than 500,000 population; and (3) a county-optional sharing of its
allotment for cities in a county of over 500,000 population.
The limitations on the use of the funds are as follows:
1. With regard to a direct allotment from the U.S. Treasury Department
to cities over 500,000, those cities must use the funds in accordance with guidance from the Treasury Department.
2. With regard to an application-based allotment from TDEM for
cities in counties with less than 500,000 population, those cities must use the
funds in accordance with the guidance from the Treasury Department. IN ADDITION,
the state has placed FURTHER LIMITATIONS in the Coronavirus Relief Fund Terms and Conditions document,
which 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 guidance from the Treasury Department lists several
examples of permissible expenditures under the three categories prioritized in
the terms and condition document. 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.
3. With regard to cities in a county over 500,000 population,
the county may (but is not required to) share its direct allotment on terms
agreed to by the county and the city. If the county does so, those cities
must use the funds in accordance with the guidance from the Treasury Department and any agreement
terms with the county.
As a reminder, the federal CARES Act requires any expenditure of
coronavirus relief fund revenue to be spent only to cover expenses that were
not accounted for in a city’s most recently approved budget as of March 27,
2020. In other words, regardless of expenditure limitations in the state and
federal guidelines referenced above, the revenue can only go towards unbudgeted
expenses paid by the city due to the public health emergency in connection with
Has the Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued any additional
orders regarding utilities?
Yes. On May 14, the PUC voted to continue the suspension of
disconnections for non-payment by vertically integrated electric utilities
outside of ERCOT (namely Entergy, El Paso Electric, SPS and SWEPCO) and water
and sewer utilities regulated by the PUC.
Do the PUC orders apply to municipally-owned utilities?
No, but the PUC is urging MOUs to “review the Commission’s order
on the direction given to IOUs when making their own decision regarding
disconnections for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis” in a Q&A on its website. The League previously reported on
this question here.
Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?
TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.