Hurricane Harvey debris removal funding gains approval

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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and leaders of the Texas Legislature on Nov. 9 announced the approval of $90 million in emergency state funding to help Hurricane Harvey disaster-declared counties pay for the removal of debris.

Cities and counties in impacted areas are responsible for 10 percent of costs associated with debris removal. The funding, to be administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, is intended to help alleviate that burden as the rebuilding process continues, the Governor’s Office said.

“Today’s action is just one more step in a long process to help our cities and counties recover and I want to thank all the members of both the Texas House and Senate for their effort to secure this much-needed funding,” Abbott said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said: “Acting on this priority is essential so we can move forward with rebuilding and recovery efforts.”

House Speaker Joe Straus said: “The Texas House remains committed to helping all areas of our state that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”

Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said: “All Texas leaders — local, state and federal — need to work hand in hand to ensure that Texas rebuilds and comes out stronger.”

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said the testimony his committee is receiving from local officials “is extremely compelling and while I know our local leaders are resilient, the State must support their efforts.”

Day of prayer observed

Gov. Abbott on Nov. 8 proclaimed a statewide day of prayer following the mass shooting by a lone gunman at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5.

The proclamation encouraged Texans to join in a moment of silence at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 12 to honor and remember those who lost their lives in the shooting. Abbott signed the proclamation at a community prayer gathering at Floresville High School, 13 miles from Sutherland Springs. Vice President Mike Pence joined Abbott at the gathering and also spoke.

“The act of craven cowardice and evil inflicted on the Sutherland Springs community has deeply touched the core of who we are as faithful people. In times of tragedy, we often see the very best of Texas,” Abbott said. “We must remain strong and resilient, and lean on the support and care of our helping communities in this dark time,” Abbott added.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Nov. 8 released the names of the 26 deceased victims in the shooting.

All 7 measures passed

Voters approved all seven of the Texas Legislature’s proposed amendments to the state constitution on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Early voting and Election Day voting combined revealed a statewide average turnout of 5.77 percent of citizens registered to vote. In contrast, some 11.35 percent of registered voters participated in the previous constitutional amendment election, in November 2015.

The amendments are as follows:

— Prop. 1 broadens the scope of the homestead ad valorem tax exemption for a disabled veteran or spouse;

— Prop. 2 prescribes conditions, fees, refinancing options and eligibility for home equity loans;

— Prop. 3 limits the service of certain gubernatorial appointees after expiration of term;

— Prop. 4 relates to notice requirements to the attorney general regarding challenge to constitutionality;

— Prop. 5 permits professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct raffles;

— Prop. 6 provides a homestead exemption for a deceased-in-the-line-of-duty first responder's surviving spouse; and

— Prop. 7 permits financial institutions to award random prizes to customers to encourage saving.

SB 4 appeal is heard

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Nov. 7 heard arguments in the ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4, the state law passed by the Texas Legislature last May that bans “sanctuary cities.”

In its appeal, the State of Texas is asking the court to uphold the law.

A U.S. District Court in San Antonio on Aug. 30 granted a preliminary injunction preventing the law from taking effect. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit on Sept. 25 ruled that the state could enforce some provisions of law with the current appeal pending.

The case is styled as City of El Cenizo, TX, Et Al.; City of Austin, Et Al. vs. State of Texas, Et Al., Appellants (and related cases).

Allocations to be sent

Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Nov. 8 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts some $774.9 million in local sales tax allocations for November, an amount 5 percent more than distributed a year ago, in November 2016.

Allocations are based on sales made in September by businesses that report tax monthly, and sales made in July, August and September by quarterly filers, Hegar said.

Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.

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