The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
January 2020
Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a joyous and restful holiday season. Here at the County Judge’s Office, we have already set our sights on some exciting goals and initiatives for the new year, and we are roaring and ready to go. 

In 2020, resilience and the safety of our residents will remain our number one priority, and we will continue to challenge the possibilities on our flood control progress.  

2020 is also the year in which we focus on our children. We will embark on the design of an Early Childhood Initiative to ensure we are serving our youngest and most vulnerable residents the best we can to set them up for successful lives, building an ever brighter future for our County. This is the year we launch our juvenile justice reform initiatives, building on the work we’ve done over the past two years to ensure our juvenile justice system focuses on ensuring kids become productive members of society and are not discarded to a lifetime of recidivism. And this is just the beginning! 

Less than a week in, we are taking our places at the starting line. But we can’t do it without your input--please feel free to share your comments and suggestions by responding to this email. Here’s to a wonderful 2020. 

Lina Hidalgo
County News
Harris County Joins National Fight to Reinstate Clean Power Plan
Judge Hidalgo is committed to protecting our environment so that every Harris County resident has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. But protecting the environment goes beyond governance at a local level. This year, Harris County will join cities, states, and organizations across the country in filing an amicus brief in support of the Clean Power Plan. The Plan dates back to the Obama administration and required the energy industry to strictly limit its carbon emissions, essentially replacing coal-fueled energy with other sources such as natural gas and various forms of renewable energy. The Trump administration repealed this rule, prompting several organizations and states to file a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency to keep it in place. Shutting down coal power generation is both important for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which are contributing to climate change and environmental turmoil the world over, and for our local economy, which benefits from increases in natural gas use. Our efforts to preserve our environment for this and future generations will not be ignored. 
Healthy Food Initiative to Provide Harris County “Food Deserts” with Access to Nutritious Foods
All residents of Harris County deserve access to nutritious foods in order to lead healthy lives. Unfortunately, many low-income areas lack access to full-service grocery stores, leaving residents to shop at convenience stores or small-market stores that often only carry lower nutritional foods at a higher cost. These so-called “food deserts” can lead to alarming public health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among others. 

In early December, Harris County Commissioners Court took a first step towards mitigating the effects of food deserts and ensuring access to nutritious food for all by approving the Healthy Food Financing Initiative Program . The program will provide funding via competitive grants to support healthy food retail, urban agriculture, and nutrition education. Stay tuned for additional information on the program and how to apply for funding.
Harris County to Launch Investigation into Pollution Management of Union Pacific Railroad Property
In December, Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Commissioners Court approved an investigation into the management of a contaminated Union Pacific railroad property in the 5th Ward’s Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. In August, the Texas State Department of Health published a study which determined that residents in the same neighborhood have been diagnosed at higher-than-normal rates of lung, esophagus, and larynx cancers, which are all consistent with the chemical contaminant polluting the railroad property. The County Attorney’s office will be hiring an independent investigator to determine if the property is environmentally safe for neighboring residents and is determining the County’s legal response to Union Pacific’s application to amend its Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) permit. As more details emerge, Judge Hidalgo will not hesitate to hold those responsible accountable.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo Signs Declaration to Ramp Up County Efforts to End HIV/AIDS Epidemic
Here in Harris County, the HIV epidemic is a concerning public health issue. Harris County averages over 1,000 new HIV cases every year, and 6,800 additional residents are estimated to be unaware of their positive HIV status. Last month, County Judge Lina Hidalgo demonstrated Harris County’s commitment to ending the epidemic by signing the Paris Declaration of Fast-Track Cities alongside City of Houston Mayor Sylvestor Turner. By signing the Declaration, Harris County joins an ever-growing list of communities across the globe in pledging to work towards meeting goals to increase awareness of HIV status, connect those living with HIV to life-sustaining treatment, and support treatment with the goal of viral suppression in all HIV patients.

Judge Hidalgo urges all Harris County residents to get tested and seek treatment if HIV positive. Free HIV testing kits are available via Testing123 , Harris County Public Health’s HIV/STD Prevention Program. For those living with the disease, free and low-cost medical care is available at Thomas Street Health Center and several Harris Health System locations including Northwest Health Center .
Countywide Polling Program Allows Fifty Percent of Runoff Election Voters to Cast Ballots Outside Their Home Precinct 
Despite the December 14 runoff election being held on a Saturday, half of Harris County voters chose a location other than their home precinct to cast their ballot. As part of County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s efforts to make participating in local government easier for residents, the county’s new Countywide Polling initiative makes it more convenient than ever for residents to get to the polls to vote. Eligible non-voters: you just don’t have an excuse anymore! For more information on the next election and polling locations, visit .
Groundbreaking Upgrades to FEMA National Wireless Alerting System to Improve Targeting, Message Size, and Accessibility for Harris County Residents During Emergencies
Last month, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced major improvements to Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages, which are used to communicate risks and threats through mobile devices like smartphones that are connected to cellular data networks. We will now have the ability to geo-target WEA messages to a specific geographic area. For example, an alert can now be delivered to a specific neighborhood affected by a specific reservoir or dam facing a threat. Also, public safety agencies will now be able to send messages of up to 360 characters in both English and Spanish. Previously, WEA messages were limited to only 90 characters and could be transmitted only in English. 

“The ability to better micro target alerts in both English and Spanish will substantially reduce over alerting and make sure the alerts we do send contain the life-saving information residents need to act fast,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “With this vital improvement, we are applying state-of-the-art technology to help us better respond to the reality of 21st century threats.”

This improvement came after five years of work between the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM), the Federal Communications Commission, FEMA, the National Weather Service, major wireless carriers, and the emergency management community. 

To learn more about how wireless emergency alerts work on your smartphone click here
Upcoming Events
Upcoming Commissioners Court Meetings
As part of the County Judge’s Office initiative to make local government more transparent and accessible, we invite you to get involved by viewing or attending Commissioners Court meetings. The meetings are held at 1001 Preston Street, Suite 934, Houston, TX 77002. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, or watch the official close captioned livestream here
Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings
Though Hurricane season has just ended, Harris County never stops preparing for the next big storm. And while the 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program is in full swing, we continue to seek input from community members as we implement projects in watersheds across the County. If you have a comment about a particular project, we invite you to attend the corresponding meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here .
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 .