May 26, 2020

Inside this edition of Capitol Roundup:

Gov. Greg Abbott issues executive order to open up more businesses in light of COVID-19 pandemic

Mail-in absentee voting battles play out across state and federal courts in Texas
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Quote of the Week:

"There is no reason - capital N, capital O - no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote...t his is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election."

-Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the comment Friday amid efforts to expand mail-in voting to all Texans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The battle over mail-in ballots have fallen mostly along party lines as Democrats, citing health and safety reasons, largely support the idea and many Republicans, citing potential for fraud, oppose it. An expansion of mail-in voting in Texas currently faces battles in both federal and state court. 
Abbott's phase-two executive order opens up latest wave of businesses

In his latest executive order related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the next wave of re-openings designed to reboot the Texas economy.

Abbott announced that the latest order, in accordance with guidelines from the  Texas Department of State Health Services, aims to "achieve the goals established by the President to reduce the spread of COVID-19."  The order also urged Texans to continue social distancing practices, especially for those over the age of 65. 
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

The May 18, 2020, executive order is phase two of Abbott's plan to reopen the Texas economy. The order allowed childcare facilities to immediately open, with bars following closely behind and sporting events being allowed to resume at the end of the month.   Abbott also said he would permit restaurants to operate at 50% capacity starting May 22, up from 25% that's allowed now.

The order also allowed the following businesses to re-open on May 18: gyms, manufacturers, massage parlors, office-based employees, and youth sports clubs and operators.  On May 22, the following businesses were allowed to open under the order: bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, skating rinks, rodeos, outdoor motorsports facilities, and zoos. 

On May 31, the order will also open up professional sports leagues and day- and night-camp facilities for youth.   Click here for a complete list of businesses allowed to open to date. 

Under the order, all newly reopened businesses and services are subject to the recommended minimum standard health protocols outlined by the DSHS.  The order also encouraged all individuals to wear appropriate face coverings but noted that no civil or criminal penalties may be imposed to failing to wear one. 

Finally, certain counties where communities have been hard hit by the virus will face a delayed phase two reopening.  The counties include:  Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter, and Randall.  Businesses in these counties will have to wait until May 29 to re-open under phase two. 

Abbott's latest order makes up the second phase of a three-phase plan to open the Texas economy, following previous orders issued on May 5 and April 27.  The current order is effective through June 3, 2020. 

"Every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain Covered Services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.  People over the age of 65, however, are strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible; to maintain appropriate distance from any member of the household who has been out of the residence in the previous 14 days; and, if leaving the home, to implement social distancing and to practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation," the order stated. 
Battles over expanding mail-in voting to all Texas voters during pandemic play out in state and federal courts

The debate over mail-in voting in Texas has been growing louder during the COVID-19 pandemic as court battles at the federal and state levels illustrate how a largely partisan issue may play out this November.

On the one hand, proponents of expanding mail-in voting argue that allowing all Texas voters to vote by mail during the pandemic will help halt the spread of the coronavirus.  Largely Democrats, the supporters also believe such an expansion would increase voter turnout across the state.

On the other hand, those against the expansion, primarily Republican lawmakers, have argued that mail balloting leads to increased opportunity for voter fraud.  While mail-in voting is already allowed for some voters, evidence of fraud among those groups has been scarce.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Under current law, Texans can vote by mail under a number of circumstances: if they're going to be out of their home counties during early voting and on election day; if they're 65 years or older; if they are disabled; or if they're in jail but eligible to vote.

Exactly what makes a voter "disabled" is at the core of two major legal disputes playing out in Texas courts.  While disabled voters can vote by mail, they are not required to actually describe their disability in their voter applications. 

Under state law, mail-in voting is available to someone who "has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health."   Those who want to see mail-in voting expanded to all voters during the pandemic have argued that the threat of infection at a polling place should meet this definition of disability and allow anyone to vote early by mail. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sits firmly on the other side of that argument, defending lawsuits in state court and federal court to prevent the expansion of absentee voting across the state.   In all likelihood, the U.S. Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of expansion.

In state court, at both the district and appellate level, judges have agreed with such an expanded definition of "disability" under state election law. But the Texas Supreme Court heard an appeal last week that could overturn the rulings in the lower courts.

Meanwhile, a federal district judge in San Antonio also agreed that mail-in voting should be expanded. But likewise, that ruling has been appealed and currently sits in front of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently blocked the district judge's order that would have allowed the expansion.

The first elections affected by the parallel court cases could be the state's primary runoff elections, which are scheduled to take place July 14 with early voting beginning June 29. However, the real test will likely come in November when the state will hold its general election, which is much more likely to gain higher turnout, especially in a presidential election year.


26 - Runoff Primary Election Day


15-17 - *CANCELLED* 2020 AGC-TBB Convention *CANCELLED*
(rescheduled for July 27-29, 2021 - more info here)

29 - Early voting begins for July 14 runoff elections


14 - Primary Runoff Elections


10 - Outstanding Construction Awards (Georgetown, TX)

11- Board of Directors Meeting


3 - General Election Day

20 - Board of Directors Meeting (Austin)