The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
November 2019
During my inaugural address, I made a commitment: We have to open the doors to county government if we want to build better county government.

An important part of keeping this commitment is keeping you informed, and making it easy for you to know what we’re working on. We take every opportunity to keep you up to date through the press, in person, and through social media, but this newsletter is a deeper dive. 

Since taking office, we have worked to advance ambitious projects that improve the lives of residents in Harris County. 

So far, we have taken bold, thoughtful action to improve flood control, reform our criminal justice system, and bring transparency, accountability, and efficiency to your government. We have:


But there is much more to do. And as we move forward with ambitious priorities, we will never forget our responsibility to fight for each and every person in our community. 

As always, information is just half of it. We want to hear from you. Always feel welcome to share your thoughts by responding to these emails.

And remember, Houston Municipal elections are tomorrow. With our new policies you can vote at any location on Election Day. Remember to make your voice heard!

Abrazos!
Lina Hidalgo
County News
County Judge Works to Secure Historic Environmental Protections
Judge Hidalgo is committed to protecting the environment and health of residents. To support this priority, she worked with Commissioners Court in September to approve a total of $11.6 million to expand and modernize the county’s ability to protect the environment and enable a proactive response to any potential threats to public health and safety. 

The funding and associated package of reforms represent the most significant expansion of the County’s ability to protect residents from environmental threats in at least 30 years, and will significantly expand monitoring, response, and enforcement capacity across three key county departments: Pollution Control Services, the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Public Health Department. Over the next two years, the number of staff for Pollution Control Services, the Fire Marshal’s Office and Public Health will increase by more than 50 employees. The funding also covers one-time capital purchases that include a state-of-the-art mobile air monitoring lab, a network of fixed and mobile monitors, and vehicles and safety gear for HazMat responders.

“Our residents should never have to worry about the quality of the air they breathe or the environmental conditions in which they’re raising their families,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Harris County is the nation’s epicenter for oil, gas and petrochemical production, with thousands of people living in very close proximity to industrial facilities. These actions will finally enable us to shift from a reactive posture to a proactive one when it comes to protecting our communities. We simply can’t rely on industry or state and federal agencies to safeguard the quality of our environment.”

To learn more about Harris County Pollution Control Services, or to report issues regarding air, water, or solid waste pollution click here or call (713) 920-2831.
Hidalgo Announces "Paradigm Shift" on Harris County Flood Control Policy
On the two year anniversary of Harvey’s landfall, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Harris Thrives, a comprehensive initiative to transform the county’s approach to disaster resilience, approving changes designed to speed delivery of vital flood control projects, improve the way projects are prioritized , and integrate the latest mitigation science into the county’s efforts to protect communities against flooding. 

“Harvey was devastating but we are launching a historic response. We’ll demonstrate what can happen when we’re faster, fairer, and smarter about how we prepare and recover from disasters,” Judge Hidalgo said at the Aug. 27th Commissioners Court meeting. “We are making a massive investment that touches every corner of Harris County. A county-wide game plan that looks ahead, that isn’t driven by the storm we know, but by the storm we don’t yet know.”

Among the actions taken thus far: 

  • Jump-starting construction flood projects instead of waiting for federal match dollars to begin. Earlier this summer, the Court voted to fast-track drainage improvement projects in 105 subdivisions. More recently, the Court also voted to advance construction of the first quarter of Flood Bond projects approved by voters, which are located across all four precincts in Harris County. 

  • Approved new floodwater detention standards to make sure new development takes into account the latest rainfall projections and protect residents who live downstream. 


Judge Hidalgo has committed to being transparent about county work, making decisions in the open. To keep up with the status of flood control projects and learn about other efforts taking place, visit HarrisThrives.org .
Judge Hidalgo Unveils Package of Common-Sense Gun Safety Initiatives 
In Texas, victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable to gun violence . In 2017, 65% of women killed by current or former male intimate partners in Texas were shot to death, a tragic figure that exceeds the national average. And Texans have long been aware of the risk: there have been laws on the books for 20 years prohibiting dangerous individuals in family violence cases from possessing firearms. Without funding, however, these mandates had not been enforced.  

Judge Hidalgo has made clear that elected officials at the state and federal level have failed to meet their basic obligation to take meaningful action to protect Americans from gun violence. In response, on October 29th she joined Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and District Clerk Marilyn Burgess to announce a package of common-sense actions that will save lives and protect some of our most vulnerable residents.

Among the announcements was the expansion of a weapon-surrender program designed to protect victims of domestic violence. The program, which was piloted in the 280th Harris County Family Court, requires those charged with domestic violence to surrender their weapons to the Harris County Sheriff's Office, which will test and safely store the weapons until the case is resolved. With 45 percent of domestic violence homicides occurring within 90 days of separation, the program seeks a measure of protection for victims and their families during a vulnerable time period.

In addition to this action, Judge Hidalgo highlighted other important gun safety measures being taken, including: 

  • Expedited checks to keep licensed dealers from unknowingly selling to people convicted of crimes that forbid them from owning guns
  • Free gun lock distribution 
  • A public health task force on violence and injury prevention that will study gun violence

Residents can pick up a free gun lock at the downtown Precinct One Constable’s Office located at 1302 Preston Street, or you can complete an online form to have the lock shipped to your home. 
Harris County Joins in the National Fight to Block Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule
In August, the Trump administration proposed the Public Charge of Inadmissibility Rule , which would test immigrants seeking a visa or green card on their likelihood of becoming a “public charge” in the future based on factors such as income, education level, and English proficiency. History of use of SNAP, Medicaid, and/or Public Housing would deem them ineligible. This rule was proposed to instill fear in the immigrant community and to discourage this vulnerable population from accessing safety-net programs providing essential services such as housing and medical care. Programs affected by the public charge group are designed to get vulnerable communities up on their feet and on the path to self-sufficiency. The rule is already putting an undue burden on Harris County programs, which must step in to fill the gaps.

Late last month, Harris County joined the fight to stop this rule from taking effect by jointly filing an amicus brief with 28 other local government agencies in support of a preliminary injunction contesting the rule . On October 11, just a few days before the rule was to be implemented, a federal judge in New York issued a nationwide injunction to temporarily block the rule while still under review in the courts.  

There are several local resources available for immigrant families who want to learn more about this proposed rule and any potential impact it may have on them. For help with these questions, you can call the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative’s Immigrant Rights Hotline at 1-833-468-4664. Information in Spanish is also available here
Imelda Disaster Recovery Resources Still Available
Over 2,600 homes have been reported impacted by flooding since Tropical Storm Imelda hit Harris County over a month ago, and our priority is to get every survivor the help they need to get back on their feet as quickly and efficiently as possible. That is why shortly after the disaster, Harris County stood up several local recovery centers and Judge Hidalgo urged the Federal Government to approve a major disaster declaration, opening up the delivery of additional assistance for homeowners and families.

With the approval of the declaration , survivors in Harris County are eligible to apply for Individual Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which provides financial help and/or direct services to survivors, including assistance with housing or other disaster-related needs. To learn more or register, residents can visit the link to the FEMA application on ReadyHarris.org or by calling 1-800-621-3362. 

Residents can also dial 2-1-1 for information on federal and local resources.

The Imelda Assistance Fund, established by Judge Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, has secured financial commitments from the community of more than $480,000. Fund grants and services will be disbursed via non-profit organizations experienced in disaster recovery. Residents seeking to donate financial resources can donate by visiting ReadyHarris.org .
Crucial County Investments Kept Back From Vote by County Commissioners
Earlier this year, Governor Abbott signed into law SB2, a draconian measure that impedes our ability to raise revenue and keep up with the historic growth we are seeing across Harris County. Because of this new legislation, starting in 2020, Harris County’s tax revenue will be capped at 3.5%.  

This legislation is potentially catastrophic when it comes to our work to fund vital services and programs our residents expect, and is estimated to lead to a loss of $3 billion over the next ten years. To blunt that impact, Harris County Commissioners Court scheduled a vote last month on a modest, one-year 8% property tax increase. If enacted, this one-time increase--representing about a $38 dollar average increase for homeowners--would have allowed Harris County to continue investing in vital services in the near term while mitigating against the very real potential of an economic downturn or natural disaster in the future. 

Unfortunately, two County Commissioners on the Court exploited an obscure rule in Texas law that requires a minimum of four court members to be present to vote on a tax increase. They didn’t show up to court, therefore prohibiting a vote. This irresponsible decision by the Commissioners leaves Harris County vulnerable to unpredictable natural and economic forces while serving a rapidly growing population.
Upcoming Events
Election Day - Tuesday, November 5th
Voting is more accessible this year with the Countywide Polling Place Program. You don’t have to go to a designated location to vote; you can vote anywhere that’s close and convenient to you—at any of 700+ locations on Election Day.

Use the Harris County Poll Finder tool to get election reminders and step-by-step directions to the nearest polling location using our Poll Finder text tool. Just text VOTE to 1-833-937-0700. Visit HarrisVotes.com to learn more.
2019 State of the County Address - Friday, November 15th
Join County Judge Lina Hidalgo for the 2019 State of the County address hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) on November 15, 2019. Judge Hidalgo will be discussing the progress we have made in 2019 and announce major initiatives for the year ahead. 

To purchase tickets, visit the GHP website here . You can also watch live over Judge Hidalgo’s Facebook page starting at 10:30 a.m. 
About Judge Hidalgo
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County's governing body and Director of the Harris County's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.

For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here .