The Mignon Memo

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Posted June 17, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

Austin’s Paramount Theatre posted a reminder about the upcoming primary runoff election in Texas, which was rescheduled to July 14th after the coronavirus pandemic preempted the original May date. Early voting begins June 29th.

Governor Greg Abbott Addresses Texans as Coronavirus Cases Rise

Gov. Greg Abbott reassured Texans on Tuesday that hospital beds remain plentiful and treatment options have improved, even as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations increase in Texas. The governor noted that fewer Texans have tested positive than residents of other large states, and that Texas has the second lowest death rate of the 25 most affected states.

In explaining the rising trend, Gov. Abbott mentioned temporary spikes in positive tests in some isolated areas. He also suggested some young people are not practicing appropriate social distancing at “bar-type settings.” He pointed to a recent warning by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which said bars and restaurants could lose their licenses for 30 days if they do not follow state guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Bars are currently allowed to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.

The governor said that Texans know the strategies to coexist with COVID-19 for a few more months while vaccines and treatments are developed: masks, hand sanitizer and safe social distancing.

Texas A&M System Creates $100 Million Scholarship Fund to Address Diversity

During a special called meeting on Monday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents unanimously approved the creation of a $100 million scholarship fund aimed at making the system’s 11 universities more inclusive and reflective of Texas’ demographics, as well as bolster aid meant for economically disadvantaged students, or students who are the first generation of their families to attend college. The program will disburse $10 million annually over 10 years, and has been in the works for some time.

Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp emphasized the need for the student population to reflect that of the state. According to 2019 data, white students currently comprise more than half of the student population at the College Station campus, while black students make up less than 4%. Hispanic and Asian students make up 21% and 8% of the student population, respectively. At the same time, Texas’ population is 41% white, 39% Hispanic and 12% black, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Pandemic Plunders Texas Lottery

The Texas Lottery Commission estimates it has lost $85 million in ticket sales during the coronavirus pandemic, which translates into a $23 million loss to the Texas Permanent School Fund.

You can’t win if you don’t play – support our kiddos and veterans and go buy a ticket!

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Posted June 10, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Texas in Third Phase of Reopening: Almost All Businesses May Open at 50% Capacity

Texas entered Phase III of reopening last Wednesday, with Governor Greg Abbott allowing bars and virtually every other type of business that was restricted in Phase II to 25% capacity to jump to half-capacity. At restaurants, already at 50% capacity, maximum table sizes were allowed to increase to 10 patrons from six, and starting June 12, they will be permitted to run at 75% capacity.

Amusement parks finally can plan on reopening, though on a staggered basis: counties that have had more than 1,000 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 won’t be able to reopen theme parks such as Six Flags and Sea World until June 19, at 50% capacity. Theme parks in counties that have had fewer than 1,000 cumulative cases, however, were allowed to open at half-capacity immediately — such as the Schlitterbahn locations in New Braunfels and Galveston.

Water parks, which have been open at 25% capacity since May 29, were allowed to immediately go to 50% capacity. Additionally, swimming pools, libraries, museums, rodeos, equestrian events and sporting events – professional, collegiate or similar – were able to immediately operate at 50% capacity.

Texas Sunset Advisory Commission Releases Agency Staff Reports

The Sunset Advisory Commission was created by the Texas Legislature in 1977 to make state government more efficient, effective and accountable by regularly evaluating state agencies and making recommendations on the need for, performance of and improvements to agencies under review.

The commission is currently in the process of reviewing 21 state agencies (2 under limited scope review) prior to the 87th Legislature, which will convene in January 2021. Sunset staff reports for the following agencies are now available: Texas Animal Health Commission, Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board, Teacher Retirement System of Texas, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Prescribed Burning Board, Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Due to current events surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the commission’s regular meeting schedule has been disrupted; their meetings page will post updated information as it becomes available.

Only in Texas…

Socially distancing seagulls line up along the pier in Port Aransas, currently one of the top destinations on Airbnb in the U.S. A virtual office can be located just about anywhere, right??

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Posted June 3, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Texas Sales Tax Revenue Falls 13.2% in May

On Monday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Texas collected about $2.6 billion in state sales tax revenue in May, 13.2% less than the roughly $3 billion the state collected in the same month last year. It’s the steepest decline in over a decade and is the first full-month look at how Texas’ statewide stay-at-home order impacted businesses.

“Significant declines in sales tax receipts were evident in all major economic sectors, with the exception of telecommunications services,” Hegar said. “The steepest decline was in collections from oil and gas mining, as energy companies cut well drilling and completion spending following the crash in oil prices.”

Other major tax collections were also down in May. Motor fuel taxes were down 30% from May 2019, the steepest drop since 1989. And the hotel occupancy tax was down 86% from May 2019, the steepest drop on record in data since 1982.

Helpful Websites for Texas Job Seekers

In these quickly changing times, here are a few websites we recommend that may be helpful for friends or loved ones seeking employment now or in the future. Christine’s List focuses on Texas jobs in advocacy, information and public administration. Another resource is Texas Political Jobs, a compilation of legislative, political, public affairs and public policy jobs across the state at every level. Additionally, WorkInTexas.com is the Texas Workforce Commission’s comprehensive online job search resource and matching system, providing recruiting assistance to Texas employers and job search assistance to individuals seeking Texas employment.

Only in Austin…

Resident great horned owl Athena, who has returned to her nest at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin for the last several years, is raising another brood. The owlets were recently photographed near the nest, sticking together as they learn to hunt and eventually survive on their own.

This Week in Texas: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Posted May 27, 2020 in The Mignon Memo

Only in Austin…

The University of Texas at Austin held its virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 on Saturday.  Congratulations and best wishes to all 2020 graduates!

Texas State Agencies Ordered to Submit 5% Budget Cut Plans

Amid fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen have asked certain state agencies and higher education institutions to submit plans to reduce their budgets by 5% for the current biennium by June 15th.

Among the agencies exempted from the request, due to their importance to Texas’ response to the pandemic and the continuity of critical government functions, are the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Military Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as funding for school districts, Child Protective Services and behavioral health service programs. According to the Legislative Budget Board, the exempted agencies and programs make up a majority of the state’s general revenue funding.

New Wave of Texas Reopenings: Water Parks, Food Courts

Yesterday, Governor Greg Abbott added to the services and activities allowed to resume under the second round of reopenings — food courts in shopping malls can reopen immediately with social distancing, and water parks can begin operations at 25% capacity starting Friday. Additionally, driver education programs are able to resume operations immediately.

Are you “over it” too?

It’s been a “ruff” few months, we admit, but here’s a little something that gave us a Truvy from Steel Magnolias kind of moment (“laughter through tears is my favorite emotion”).  Hope you enjoy this emotional and happy drive by graduation video.

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…