The Mignon Memo

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Posted May 20, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who recently honored Austin healthcare and frontline workers with a flyover, provide a unique glimpse of the Texas Capitol.

Governor Greg Abbott Announces Next Phase of Texas Reopenings

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the immediate reopening of daycare centers as part of the latest round of Texas business reopenings. Next, bars, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, rodeos and aquariums may partially reopen at 25% capacity on Friday, while restaurants will be able to increase their capacity to 50% that same day. By May 31, youth sports and overnight camps can reopen, along with professional sports, minus spectators. And by June 1, summer school at public and private schools, including universities, can resume.

Amarillo and El Paso, current hotspot regions, were exempted from the reopening schedule – they will delay a week, while the state’s surge response teams work to contain outbreaks in each area.

Texas Education Agency Releases ‘Intersessional Calendar’ Option for 2020-2021 School Year

Texas Education Agency officials have outlined a possible year-round calendar adjustment for school districts to consider implementing for the upcoming academic year. The ‘intersessional calendar’ would plan for short-term disruptions due to the pandemic and include adjustments for struggling students facing significant learning loss. Key changes include:

  • An earlier start date, later end date
  • Extended breaks throughout the year, including during winter when coronavirus cases may spike
  • Six weeks of intersessional breaks that may be used for remediation or enrichment for struggling students
  • Built-in remote learning time and staggered in-person attendance
  • Spread out school days into the summer to minimize loss of learning – classes would be held in 11 out of 12 months

Class of 2020:  How Texas is Honoring High School Graduates During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The class of 2020, born in the aftermath of 9/11 and now graduating in the midst of a pandemic, knows better than most that life events can pivot to the unexpected quickly. High school seniors have missed out on a great deal of tradition and fun in the last few months, and for that reason Texas education officials have prepared guidelines to allow socially distant graduations to resume. Options for school districts include completely virtual ceremonies, editing photos of individual seniors into a graduation video, celebrating seniors while they drive in a procession or hosting a socially distanced outdoor ceremony. Congratulations to all of the seniors celebrating this month – onward!

 

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and relaxing Memorial Day weekend!

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Posted May 13, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Eyes on the Skies: U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds to Fly Over Austin This Afternoon

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will fly over Austin and San Antonio today in honor of front-line workers and health care professionals serving in the coronavirus pandemic. The Austin flyover will start at 2:40 p.m. and end at 3:15 p.m., with the squadron starting over Leander before circling over Georgetown, Round Rock and Pflugerville and then passing over downtown Austin along I-35. It will then circle around to Lakeway and South Austin before returning to fly down I-35 over Buda and Kyle. A similar flyover over Dallas and Houston was conducted last week by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

**Note that inclement weather in either city could delay flyover times or postpone the event altogether.

Texas Senate District 14 Special Election

The candidate filing deadline for the Senate District 14 special election is 5pm today. Don Zimmerman, a Republican former Austin City Council member, made things official Monday, and it’s expected that Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, a Democrat whose last day in that office was Tuesday, will file sometime today. As you will remember, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) filed for the seat last week – he released a list of over 120 endorsements this week.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that he was doubling the length of the early voting period for the upcoming July 14th primary runoff elections, which includes this special election. Early voting will begin June 29th, “such that election officials can implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices,” Gov. Abbott stated in his proclamation.

Texas 2036 Online Tool Takes Comprehensive Look at COVID-19’s Toll on Texas

On Friday, Texas 2036 launched a new COVID-19 tracking dashboard that presents health and economic data, both statewide and for all Texas counties currently reporting COVID-19 data, in one easy-to-visualize format. The tool aims to give Texans a daily snapshot of how the pandemic is affecting their lives and livelihoods; since the launch it has been accessed thousands of times and has been cited in the media as an important source of information on the outbreak and its impact on Texans.

Murder Hornet Task Force in Texas

Governor Greg Abbott has charged a task force of Texas A&M AgriLife experts with studying the “Murder Hornets” that have been in the news recently. The goal is to protect Texas citizens, agriculture and honey bees if the hornets arrive in Texas.

The Asian giant hornets, which were sighted in northwestern Washington state and Canada in late 2019, have caused concern across the country – they prey on bees and can decimate local honey bee populations, essential for pollination in most fruit and vegetable crop production. Additionally, the hornets’ painful stings can cause fatal allergic reactions in people already sensitive to bee stings.

We’re filing this under “What’s next, 2020!?”

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Posted May 6, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Austin artist Chris Rogers works to complete his West 6th Street mural honoring healthcare workers.

Governor Greg Abbott:  Texas Hair Salons May Reopen Friday, Gyms May 18

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Gov. Abbott announced that salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen this Friday, and gyms may do so May 18th. To continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the businesses will have to follow certain rules, including stylists working with only one customer at a time, and waiting customers maintaining 6 feet of separation or waiting outside. Masks are recommended for stylists and customers, but not required.  Gyms must operate at a maximum of 25% of capacity, showers and locker rooms will be closed, clients should wear gloves and equipment must be disinfected after every use.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced three options for graduation ceremonies: outdoor ceremonies with social distancing between family groups, hybrid ceremonies with one student at a time photographed receiving their diploma and vehicle ceremonies for drive-by graduations.  Additionally, the governor said the state is still working to determine how to reopen bars safely and did not offer a timetable for that to happen.

Texas Sales Tax Revenues Fall by 9.3% in April

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced on Friday that Texas collected $2.58 billion in state sales tax revenue in April, roughly a 9% drop from the $2.8 billion collected in April 2019 — the steepest decline since January 2010. The numbers illustrate the dramatic impact that state and local budgets have felt from the widespread social distancing measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The comptroller warned that the state’s largest single source of funding will continue to “show steeper declines” in coming months compared with a year ago as the economy continues what will likely be a slow crawl out of a weekslong virtual shutdown due to the pandemic.

Representative Eddie Rodriguez First to File for Senate District 14

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) was first to file the necessary paperwork to be on the ballot in the July 14th special election to represent Sen. District 14. The winner will succeed Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) who resigned April 30th to become the first dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. Rep. Rodriguez has represented House District 51, covering much of southeast Travis County, since 2003.

In a live interview with the Texas Tribune at noon on May 14th, Rep. Rodriguez will discuss his campaign and what an election taking place during a pandemic might look like. It is anticipated that others will file for the seat before the filing period for this election ends May 13th.

Texas Flair for Your Zooming Background Pleasure

By this point in quarantine, you’re probably ready for a change in scenery, amiright?! While we can’t bust you out, we can help with some Texas backgrounds for your next Zoom meeting.

Texas Humor offers some fun backgrounds — if you have a secret desire to play weather forecaster (see above), traffic reporter or be on the most wanted list, you’re all set. There are Austin (here and here) and San Antonio (here) options, as well as collegiate options (Texas A&M, UT Austin, Texas State, SMU, Texas Tech, TCU and Rice to name a few), and photos of iconic Texas scenery, Galveston beaches and even the Dallas Arboretum (scroll to the 2nd half of the webpage). Change your “location” and never worry about being judged by your décor again!

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Posted April 29, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

During the coronavirus quarantine period, the HOPE Campaign (Helping Other People Everywhere) commissioned street artists to paint inspirational murals over plywood window coverings and glass doors along East Sixth Street in Austin’s entertainment district.

Texas’ Stay-at-Home Order Expires Thursday; Many Texas Businesses May Open Friday

On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott laid out his Report to Open Texas, saying Texas’ statewide stay-at-home order will expire as scheduled on Thursday April 30th.  The first phase of the Governor’s plan begins Friday May 1st, when Texas malls, stores, restaurants and movie theaters may open with 25% occupancy.  Outdoor sports with no more than four participants, such as golf and tennis, may resume as long as social distancing guidelines are followed, and museums and libraries are able to open.

Barber shops, hair salons and gyms must wait to reopen until mid-May at the earliest as part of the second phase of business reopenings, provided there are “two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19.”  If those standards are met, businesses could expand their occupancy to 50%.

Students from Abilene and Wylie ISDs Build Robots for Local Hospital

Hospital officials with Hendrick Health System in Abilene reached out to local public schools recently, asking for assistance in devising a way to save on personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been so scarce during the coronavirus pandemic.  Engineering and robotics teams at Abilene ISD and Wylie ISD worked together to build a robot that could remotely drive into patient rooms for tasks such as delivering medications, thereby saving hospital staff from needing to use PPE.  Raise Your Hand Texas posted this story about Texas educators rising to the challenge after being alerted by Rep. Stan Lambert (R-Abilene).

How to Hunker Down Like a Texan

For some of us, a small silver lining of the coronavirus quarantine has been the opportunity to slow down and try to catch up on the many books, television shows, movies and other leisure activities on our wish lists.  Texas Monthly has compiled a few Texas-centric works that are definitely worth adding to your list, including several virtual museum exhibits and music releases that could inspire a future road trip.  Enjoy!

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Posted April 22, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores is in compliance with Austin/Travis County’s facial covering requirement, which is in effect through at least May 8th.

Governor Greg Abbott Closes Texas Schools, Begins to Open Texas Economy

Gov. Abbott made several big announcements recently:

  • A “strike force” of consultants will advise the Governor on reopening the Texas economy.
  • Texas Schools will remain closed through the rest of the school year.
  • State parks were allowed to reopen Monday, April 20 — with restrictions in place to ensure social distancing.
  • Doctors in non-frontline specialties may resume some procedures beginning today, Wednesday, April 22.
  • “Retail to Go” — retailers will be able to open drive-up operations starting Friday, April 24.
  • On Monday, April 27, after consultation with medical advisors and provided progress continues in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, additional openings will be announced; this includes consideration of eliminating the stay-at-home policy, currently set to expire April 30.

Texas State Representative Mary González Named to Legislative Budget Board

Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) was appointed to the 10-member Legislative Budget Board by Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Monday.  The LBB, which was created by statute in 1949, develops the recommended state budget for the Texas Legislature at the beginning of every legislative session.

Rep. González has served in the Texas House since 2013 where she represents House District 75, a district that encompasses east El Paso County and the towns of San Elizario, Socorro, Clint, Fabens and Tornillo.

Cooped Up and Craving a Little ‘Cue?  Have Texas Barbecue Shipped to You

If you’re weary of cooking in quarantine, Texas Monthly has thoughtfully rounded up a list of Texas BBQ joints and meat suppliers that can ship their goodies straight to you.  Because while there’s nothing better than an April hill country drive through the bluebonnets to your favorite BBQ joint, having it arrive at your door is not a bad substitute.

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Posted April 15, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

The Texas Governor’s Mansion was lit in blue Saturday, April 11th to honor all heroic frontline health care workers.

Governor Greg Abbott Announces $50 Million in Loans for Texas Small Businesses

On Monday, Gov. Abbott announced $50 million in loans to Texas small businesses affected by COVID-19 as part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.  The loans will be made through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, and primarily will be used for payroll so that small businesses can retain their employees.

The Governor will lay out his strategy to open the Texas economy later this week, as well as make an announcement about whether or not schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.

Possible Redistricting Delays Due to Coronavirus

Federal officials have proposed delaying some census deadlines by four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, including the distribution of redistricting data.  If approved by Congress, the change could push Texas redistricting into legislative overtime next summer.  The U.S. Census Bureau has had to delay its field operations for the count, which began in Texas just as the virus outbreak began to grow.

Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott Hosts Virtual Story Time for Kids

Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott began hosting a virtual story time for children this week.  The Stars of Texas Storytime program, which began yesterday, will run at 10am on Tuesdays and Fridays from Governor Greg Abbott’s Facebook page.  Special guests and notable authors from across Texas will read children’s books on the livestream – the inaugural event featured Mrs. Abbott along with Peaches and Pancake, the family’s golden retrievers, reading Night-Night Texas by Katherine Sully and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.

If you need additional incentive to just #stayhome…

 

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Posted April 8, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar Says Legislative Special Session Not Needed

Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Tuesday stated the Texas economy has all but certainly plunged into a recession, with oil prices deflated and most of the state sheltered at home.  Officials’ first real glimpse into the economic slowdown will come in June, but with syrocketing unemployment claims, plummeting hotel occupancy rates and most local businesses not collecting sales taxes – the single biggest source of state tax revenue – significant declines are expected.

The comptroller does not believe a special legislative session is necessary as of now to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  He has begun talking to agencies about cutting spending, and he plans to use the rainy day fund to help get the state through until Texas legislators reconvene in January 2021.  Under state law, the comptroller can borrow from the fund to maintain cash flow; he predicted the fund would end the fiscal year, in August, with about $8.5 billion.

Texas State Parks Closed Until Further Notice Due to Coronavirus

On Tuesday, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials temporarily shut down all state parks in order to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.  Even with rising concerns about the highly contagious disease, officials said state parks in March hosted nearly 740,000 visitors a day, and that they have now “reached a point where public safety considerations of those in the parks, and in the surrounding communities, must take precedence over continued operations.”

In Austin, all city parks, trails, greenbelts and preserves will be closed over the Easter weekend — closures will go into effect at sunset Thursday and will end at sunrise Monday.

UT President Greg Fenves Departing 40 Acres for Top Spot at Emory University

University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves is leaving the state’s flagship college for Emory University, where he will become president August 1st, he announced Tuesday.  His last day at UT will be June 30th; he has served as president since 2015.

Rice University Engineers Working to Solve the Ventilator Problem

Rice University engineering students have designed a bag valve mask device that could provide comfort to coronavirus patients as they wait for ventilators to become available.  Those interested in building the device, named ApolloBVM, can access the website and how-to instructions here.  Originally designed in March 2019, the device was brought up to medical grade through the help of Rice engineers and Texas Medical Center doctors.

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Posted April 1, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Texas Schools to Remain Closed Until May 4th; Social Distancing to Continue Through April 30th

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order #14, which allows only essential services to remain open across Texas through at least April 30th, an action similar to what many local governments already have done to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  The Governor explained it is not a “stay at home” order because Texans are still allowed to exercise outside and run necessary errands.  The order is in place through April 30th, which aligns it with the new end date that President Donald Trump announced Monday for social distancing guidelines.  The executive order also directs schools to remain closed until at least May 4th.  Any law enforcement officer in the state can enforce the order; those caught violating it can be subject not only to fines or jail but to a quarantine order.

How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic

If you haven’t seen it yet, Texas Monthly just published a gripping article on San Antonio-based H-E-B and the phenomenal preparation work the grocery store chain has done to take care of its customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

H-E-B has had a pandemic and influenza plan in place since the threat of H1N1 in China in 2005, and by the second week of January 2020, after seeing consumer trends in China, they started to prepare for the coronavirus in the U.S.  Now, H-E-B has put its research to work, from cutting store hours to allow time to stock shelves, to using heavier trucks to bring in more supplies and using data from curbside service to determine what items people need most.  The grocer has also announced it will deliver 24 truckloads of food to 13 Texas food banks across the state, and has donated more than $3 million to Texas nonprofits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As Texans have seen time and again, H-E-B always comes through for its communities.

The 50 Greatest “Texas” Movies Ever

In our quest to entertain during these days of social distancing at home, may we present a list of the 50 greatest “Texas” movies ever made.  Some favorites:  Dazed and Confused (obviously), Terms of Endearment, Friday Night Lights, The Last Picture Show, No Country for Old Men, Giant, Urban Cowboy, Selena, Tender Mercies…the full list can be found here.  Other fun Texas movie compilations can be found here and here and here.

As Wooderson said, “You just gotta keep livin’ man.  L-I-V-I-N.”

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Posted March 25, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Texas Counties Issuing Stay-at-Home Orders

Many of Texas’ biggest urban cities and counties have ordered residents to stay indoors to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the list of counties issuing such order continues to grow.  By Thursday morning, more than 16.6 million Texans will be under orders to stay at home except for essential errands and personal exercise, or 58% of the state’s population.

Currently, shelter-in-place orders are in place, or will be soon, for the following areas:  Dallas County (Dallas), Harris County (Houston), Bexar County (San Antonio), Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Travis County (Austin), McLennan (Waco), Williamson County, El Paso County, Hidalgo County, Collin County, Lubbock County, Denton County, Bell County and Hunt County.

Texas’ May Primary Runoff Election Delayed Due to Coronavirus

The May 26th primary election runoffs in Texas will be delayed until July in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus under an order signed by Governor Greg Abbott.  The elections are now scheduled for July 14th with early voting beginning July 6th.  Dozens of runoffs are ongoing for party nominations to congressional and local offices, the most prominent being the race between former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar and state Senator Royce West of Dallas for the Democratic nomination to face Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in the fall.

State Budget Could Take Massive Hit After Coronavirus Crisis

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar briefed legislators on the state’s economy and budget Sunday, saying that while it was too soon for specific forecasts, both are expected to take potentially massive hits in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  The briefing was one of state lawmakers’ first glimpses of the impact the virus is expected to have on multiple industries, state finances and Texas’ largely oil-fed savings account, known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, or the rainy day fund.  The Comptroller, who referred to the state of the economy as “the current recession,” predicted both the general revenue for the state budget and the savings account balance will be drastically lower — possibly by billions of dollars — when he makes a revised fiscal forecast; that update could happen in July.

Texas Driver’s License Offices Temporarily Closed

All Texas driver’s license offices have been temporarily closed to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, though those seeking a commercial license can still book an appointment in order to help meet delivery needs across the state.  The closure came not long after the waiver of expiration dates on driver’s licenses and state-issued identification during the state’s coronavirus emergency.

Paws-ing the Coronavirus Newsfeed

If you need a break from 24 hour-a-day coronavirus coverage, here are some distractions in the form of animal webcams.  You can view the Houston Zoo’s giraffe feeding platform and gorilla habitat here and here, the University of Texas’ Tower Falcon cam here, the West Texas Hummingbird cam here, the Dallas World Aquarium’s manatee cam here and the El Paso Zoo’s sea lion and meerkat cams here and here.

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Posted March 18, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Texas Waives STAAR Testing Requirements

Governor Greg Abbott announced the state of Texas will waive all STAAR testing requirements for the current school year amid the coronavirus pandemic that is necessitating the closure of school districts during the normal testing window.  Gov. Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are working to ensure schools continue to deliver instruction to students while schools are closed and that students are learning and ready to succeed at the next grade level once the crisis is over.  The Governor’s announcement came shortly after TEA Commissioner Mike Morath warned that many Texas schools could be closed through the remainder of the academic year due to the virus.

So that children and families do not lose access to nutritious meals during this time, the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, the Texas Hunger Initiative and other state partners have compiled information on Texas school closures and food resources being offered.

Texas Driver’s License Expiration Dates Extended During Coronavirus

The Texas Department of Public Safety is temporarily waiving expiration dates for Texas driver’s licenses due to the coronavirus.  Gov. Abbott’s recent disaster declaration for Texas allowed for the waiver of laws and regulations that hinder agencies’ abilities to respond to the pandemic; as a result, for 60 days after the end of the state of disaster, Texas driver’s licenses, commercial driver’s licenses, identification cards and election identification certificates will still be considered valid if the expiration date is on or after March 13, 2020.

Texas Capitol Closed to the Public

The Texas Capitol is now closed to the public indefinitely as the state works diligently to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus.  Legislators, their staffs and the offices that support them are working remotely to continue government business.  This temporary closure extends to the Capitol Visitors Center, the Texas State Cemetery, the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage, the Capitol Grill and the Capitol gift shops.

Friends:  You may hear from us more frequently over the coming weeks, as we’ll be posting news pertinent to the Texas Legislature as it is received.  In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones as we all navigate this new reality.