The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
December 2019
At the County Judge’s office, we feel an incredible sense of urgency. We’ve been moving as quickly and effectively as possible, working on the issues that are most pressing to you and where we can make the most impact. The issues we prioritized this past year, my first year as Harris County Judge, were about core immediate needs -- flood control, air quality and environmental protections, and justice reform, among others. We won’t stop focusing on those priorities, but tomorrow is about building on that progress to invest in our future. 

In 2020, we will have an important new focus, on top of the flood control and safety work that is always a priority. As a strong believer in research and data, I believe it’s worth spending time on the issue of early childhood development. Decades of studies have shown that children who had access to high-quality early childhood programs completed high school with lower rates of suspension, arrests, and substance abuse issues, and had higher rates of employment as adults. Early childhood programs have one of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program. 

To make real improvements in early childhood development, we need and want you to be a big part of this effort. We will keep you informed of opportunities to participate in our upcoming community meetings here in this newsletter, via our social media channels, and on our website . I look forward to working in partnership with our greater community for a better future for Harris County’s children and a brighter future for Harris County.

Happy Holidays!
Lina Hidalgo
County News
County Judge Hidalgo Outlines Key Accomplishments During First State of the County Address
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo joined business leaders, residents, and community leaders from across the region to deliver her first State of the County Address . During her remarks to about 900 attendees, Judge Hidalgo outlined key areas of progress in fostering a safer, healthier, and more equitable Harris County.

"The state of our county is strong," said Judge Hidalgo. "But being strong is about much more than having a low unemployment rate or a strong bond rating. It's about making sure that all of our residents enjoy equal access to the great opportunities available to them in Harris County. Over the past year we've made county government more transparent, made strides to reform our criminal justice system, and have begun to make up for lost time when it comes to investing in our flood control infrastructure. But there is much more to do, and we look forward to another year of ambitious, meaningful initiatives, including a focus on what we can do to improve early childhood development and education."

It has been a busy year, with meaningful progress on areas from environment to smart budgeting. See a list of our accomplishments here.
Federal Judge Approves Harris County’s Historic Bail Reform
It is a new day for the nation’s third-largest county. A federal judge has approved Harris County’s bail reform settlement, ending a crippling two-tiered system of justice. Decisions about who had to stay in jail were made based on how much money defendants had rather than their threat to the community, and Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal had ruled that system unconstitutional. Rosenthal approved the agreement and consent decree , which sets a new standard for smart criminal justice policy in our nation. 

County Judge Lina Hidalgo had made reforming the unconstitutional justice system one of the top priorities of her first year in office. “Under bail reform, the guilty will still be held accountable for their actions, but the accused won’t have their lives, livelihoods, and families torn apart because they are too poor to buy their freedom. As County Judge, I am proud to preside over a county that is leading the nation to make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more cost-effective,” she said.
Harris County Expands Gun-Surrender Program, Passes Resolution Supporting Universal Background Checks 
On November 12th, Commissioners Court voted to formally expand the “Safe Surrender” pilot program designed to protect victims of domestic violence. Texas law prohibits protective order respondents in domestic violence cases from possessing firearms, but most jurisdictions lack a formal surrender protocol, risking the safety of survivors, law enforcement officers, and community members, and disregarding accountability. The program, which was piloted with promising results in the 280th family court, provides a pathway for those charged with domestic violence to voluntarily surrender their weapons to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which will safely store the weapons until the case is resolved. The expansion also includes requirements for data tracking and assessment.

In addition to the Safe Surrender program expansion, Commissioners Court also voted in support of a resolution expressing the dire need for universal background checks for all firearm sales and, in particular, all stranger-to-stranger firearm sales and all firearm sales not involving a licensed gun dealer.

“A large majority of Texans support background checks. It’s time government caught up,” said Judge Hidalgo. “Elected officials at the state and federal level have failed to meet their obligation to protect us from gun violence. While non-binding, this resolution, coupled with the steps Harris County has taken in recent weeks, sends a clear message that the residents of Harris County will not tolerate inaction when it comes to gun violence.”

Construction to Begin on Brays Bayou Stormwater Detention Project
The Harris County Flood Control District will begin construction on a series of stormwater detention basins located at Braeswood Boulevard between Endicott Lane and South Post Oak Road to reduce the risk of flooding in the vicinity of the basins and along Brays Bayou. Consisting of three separate storage cells, the project will collectively hold approximately 37 acre-feet (more than 12 million gallons) of stormwater during heavy rain events. Additionally, after the project is constructed, tree plantings will take place to replace the trees affected during construction. The project is expected to take four months to complete.

"We are working with a sense of urgency to break ground and complete hundreds of individual flood control projects like these across Harris County," said Judge Lina Hidalgo. "Flooding is the most common and costly type of disaster we face, and we'll continue to pursue a flood agenda that is fast, fair and smart to protect neighborhoods and communities that for too long have been caught in a cycle of flooding and recovery."

To date, the Flood Control District has made more than $400 million in improvements in the Brays Bayou watershed -- primarily through Project Brays, a cooperative effort between the Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can see the status of all ongoing flood control projects by visiting .
County Health Study Urges Investments in Prevention, More Holistic Care
According to the findings of a new landmark study of Harris County’s overall public health, more holistic and preventative programs are needed to improve the wellbeing of Harris County residents. “ Harris Cares: A 2020 Vision of Health in Harris County ,” was commissioned in January 2019 to provide an overall assessment and roadmap to tackling our region’s toughest health challenges. Some of the study’s most alarming findings include:
  • Average life expectancy varies across Harris County zip codes by as much as 24 years.
  • Residents are often unable to access healthcare facilities due to a lack of transportation or considerable distance to the nearest public healthcare facility. 
  • One in three children in Harris County between the ages of 12 and 17 is overweight or obese.
  • One in five adults in Harris County does not have insurance.

Acting on those recommendations will be a long-term project, but it is easier with a clear direction and roadmap. County Judge Lina Hidalgo is working to ensure all county residents have access to the healthcare they need to live long, prosperous lives by investing in system-level solutions that address the underlying issues that affect public health, such as lack of access to clinics and hospitals or nutritious foods. 

The complete study is available to read here
Overwhelming Support for the Countywide Polling Program
During last month’s November 5th election, residents were able to test out Harris County’s new Countywide Polling Program for the first time. The program allows voters to choose from 350+ polling locations across Harris County on election day and vote at whichever one is most convenient for them. About half of Harris County voters cast their ballots at a polling location other than their previously designated polling place. Early voting for the upcoming runoff elections on December 14th runs from December 2nd through December 10th. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., except Sunday, December 8th, when they will open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Election Day, December 14th, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information on the races and polling locations, visit
Survey Asks Residents to Share Their Tropical Storm Imelda Experience
Make your voice heard by participating in a survey on the effects of flooding on Harris County residents. The Hurricane Harvey Registry , created in partnership between Rice University, the Environmental Defense Fund, and seven local health departments, was introduced eight months after Harvey to assess the impact of the storm on residents’ physical and mental health. Now that survey is expanding to survey the effects of Tropical Storm Imelda. The survey is open to any adult living in the impact zone of either storm, and those who have already completed the survey following Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to log in to answer a few additional questions. The survey is voluntary and takes only 10 minutes to complete. Please visit to complete the survey, which will help inform policy around flood control and resilience.
Commissioner Court Meetings Now Accessible for the Hearing Impaired
Beginning this month, the official livestream of Harris County Commissioners Court Meetings will be closed captioned for the hearing impaired. The move is part of Judge Hidalgo’s initiative to make county government accessible to each and every resident. You can learn more about Commissioners Court meetings and view the livestream and an archive of previous meetings here .
Imelda Disaster Recovery Resources Continue - Apply for FEMA Aid by December 3
FEMA Individual Assistance
After Tropical Storm Imelda hit Harris County in September, 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 or by calling 1-800-621-3362. Residents can also dial 211 for information on federal and local resources.

Imelda Assistance Fund
The Imelda Assistance Fund, established by Judge Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, has secured financial commitments from the community of $450,000 to date. Last week, the Fund announced its first round of grants totaling $310,000 to six experienced, local non-profit organizations to provide short-term, urgent support to Tropical Storm Imelda flood victims. This round of grants is focused emergency financial assistance and mucking and gutting for Houston and Harris County’s most vulnerable populations. Grantees were invited to apply based on their proven track record during Hurricane Harvey relief, presence in the hardest-hit areas by Tropical Storm Imelda, and recommendations from trusted disaster relief partners in the community. 

To see if you may be eligible to receive services and fill out an intake form in Spanish or English, please visit or call 211 for assistance. To learn more about the fund or to make a donation, please visit .
New Harris County Partnership to Provide Housing for Foster Youth
Each year in Houston, more than 200 youth age out of the foster system. According to the Hay Center , a Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults program dedicated to helping former foster children land on their feet, within four years 25% of youth who have aged out of the system end up living on the streets. These young adults deserve more from our community than our best wishes. 

On October 29, Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a new partnership between the Harris County Housing Authority and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless to distribute vouchers to youth who have aged out of foster care. The vouchers ensure that they can pay rent, providing them with the stable housing they need to help get them on their feet. To find out more about the voucher program, visit the Hay Center website here .
Harris County Residents Vote to Expand Clean Transportation System
November 5th marked Election Day in Harris County and a momentous victory for public transportation, air quality, and the fight against climate change. Voters approved Prop A , which will raise $3.5 billion to fund METRO Next , a plan to improve and expand clean transportation options for Houston area residents. METRO Next will fund an additional 16 miles of light rail, 75 miles of METRORapid express bus, 110 miles of HOV lanes for buses, as well as additional bus shelters and sidewalks. Environment Texas estimates that by 2040 METRO Next will take up to 500,000 car trips off the road each day, or five million fewer vehicular miles driven each day, resulting in a significant decrease in air pollution in Harris County. In October, Judge Lina Hidalgo participated in a press conference hosted by Environment Texas to demonstrate her commitment to improving public transportation and environmental protections in Harris County and support for the passage of METRO Next. Check for updates on the METRO Next webpage here
Upcoming Events
Vote in the Runoff Elections December 14
Harris County residents head back to the polls on December 14 to vote in runoff races for the Mayor of Houston, several city council seats, and multiple HISD Trustee positions. The runoff elections are required for the November races in which neither candidate was successful in securing more than 50% of the vote. Early voting runs from December 2 through December 10. Thanks to the new countywide polling system, residents can vote at any polling location during early voting and on election day. For more information on the races and polling locations, visit
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 develop 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 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 .