State sends resources to Florida

Gary Borders

Texas has deployed state resources to Florida to assist in response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the devastation caused last week by Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States in the past decade.

“Texans understand the urgency of hurricane disaster response and recovery efforts, and our state is swiftly sending more support and resources to Florida as they continue responding to Hurricane Ian,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

The Texas Division of Emergency Personnel has sent more than 80 people to Florida, including nearly two dozen firefighters. In addition, more than 1,000 workers from Texas electricity providers were deployed to Florida to assist in restoring power.

Court: Paxton can’t prosecute election crimes

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stuck with an earlier ruling that Attorney General Ken Paxton does not have the power on his own to investigate and prosecute suspected election crimes. The Austin American-Statesman reported the court turned down Paxton’s request to reverse a December ruling which struck down a 1985 law giving the attorney general that authority.

That ruling by the court, which consists of all Republicans, said the 1985 law violated the state’s separation of powers doctrine, since it gave the attorney general’s office, which is in the executive branch, prosecution authority reserved for members of the judicial branch – district and county attorneys.

Paxton sharply criticized the ruling, the Statesman reported.

“The CCA's shameful decision means local DAs with radical liberal views have the sole power to prosecute election fraud in TX — which they will never do. The timing is no accident — this is devastating for the integrity of our upcoming elections,” Paxton said on Twitter.

Wildfires once again on the rise in state

Dry weather and low humidity have once again increased the prevalence of wildfires in multiple areas of the state, after a rainy respite in mid-to-late August. However, the rain has largely left the state once again. Texas A&M Forest Service firefighters responded to nearly 80 wildfires in the past week, with two still active Sunday in Young and Angelina counties. Both were nearly completely contained.

“The 2022 fire season has been significant for the state of Texas, as state and local firefighters have responded to more than 9,800 wildfires,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief. “The state received beneficial rainfall mid- to late-August, which helped to significantly slow the operational tempo for wildland firefighters. However, the benefits of that moisture have started to wane, and we are, once again, observing dry conditions across the state that are resulting in increased wildfire activity.”

Nine out of 10 wildfires in the state are caused by human activity. Residents are urged to wait on conducting any outdoor burning until conditions improve, even if your county is not under a burn ban. A total of 95 Texas counties are still under a burn ban.

New cable barrier saving lives

Motorists on Texas highways likely have noticed the addition of cable barriers along medians that prevent vehicles from veering into opposite lanes of traffic. Those barriers are saving lives, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

A review of four TxDOT districts where 130 miles of new cable barriers were installed – in Lufkin, Pharr, Waco and Fort Worth – showed the barriers have been hit and repaired 242 times since 2019.

“I'm going to assume that each of those 242 strikes was a potential fatality had that cable barrier not been there,” Commissioner Laura Ryan said.

The agency has completed 88 “Road to Safety” projects in the state, with 120 more now under construction. The efforts seem to have had a beneficial effect, with 84 fewer traffic fatalities reported in Texas from January to August. The state also saw a 9% drop in distracted driving deaths, and an 18% decrease in work zone fatalities.

PUC expands weather prep rules

The Public Utility Commission has expanded weather preparation rules for electricity generators and transmission utilities in hopes of ensuring the reliability of the power grid during summer and winter severe weather events. 

“Reliability drives every decision we make when it comes to grid operations,” said Public Utility Commission Chairman Peter Lake. “The grid has to be ready for any weather condition, from extreme heat to extreme cold.”

Under the new rules, the state is divided into 10 geographically distinct areas in which minimum and maximum temperatures are set under which power generators must prove their ability to continue operating.

The temperature standards go into effect next year.

COVID-19 cases continue to drop

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Texas during the past week was again down slightly, with 22,006 new cases reported along with 123 deaths, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,654 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Sunday, down slightly from the previous week.

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, the state has reported nearly 8 million confirmed cases and 90,885 deaths. Just under 64% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published several community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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