AUSTIN — Before Hurricane Florence reached the shores of the Carolinas last week, Gov. Greg Abbott focused on the Gulf of Mexico, where an inbound tropical disturbance threatened the southern region of Texas.
Proactively, Abbott on Sept. 14 issued a disaster declaration for 78 counties stretching from the Texas Gulf Coast to deep into the interior of the Lone Star State.
A daily earlier, Abbott ordered the state’s emergency operations center to increase its readiness level and said some 25 state agencies, plus the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, would be ready to help communities. The governor urged Texans to prepare by assembling emergency kits, essential documents and evacuation maps.
Abbott also recommended that Texans in coastal areas:
• Select a safe evacuation route for all family members and pets;
• Consider special needs for individuals with disabilities or the elderly;
• Stay informed about changing weather conditions; and
• Follow local officials’ instructions if a storm develops.
• While last week’s tropical disturbance proved to be much milder than anticipated, the Atlantic hurricane season continues until Nov. 30. Comprehensive disaster readiness and response tips can be found at the National Weather Service website, weather.gov and ready.gov.
Rainy Day fund is eyed
In preparation for the upcoming legislative session scheduled to begin in January, the Senate Finance Committee in a Sept. 11 hearing considered state spending and costs related to the 2017 Hurricane Harvey disaster.
Figures provided to the powerful, budgeting-writing committee by the Legislative Budget Board show the state already has spent $2.6 billion on Harvey-related disaster recovery. But that amount, largely federal funds, does not include dollars for public education, according to the Senate News Service.
Public education in Texas is funded primarily with local property taxes, so when property values in a district decrease, so does the money available for public schools there. Lost property value could mean up to $1.4 billion less for school districts in the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, which caused an estimated $125 billion in damages.
Some members of the committee suggested tapping the state’s nearly $11 billion Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day fund, to help overcome local property tax revenue shortfalls.
Portal assists victims
The Texas Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 10 launched a new portal within the agency’s official website that enables victims and claimants to apply online for Crime Victims’ Compensation and Emergency Medical Care Compensation for sexual assault exams.
The portal is intended to make it easier for crime victims, claimants and their advocates to submit applications, upload crime-related bills and follow the steps of the claim and bill review process with near real-time updates.
Created by the Legislature in 1979, the Crime Victims’ Compensation program is administered by the attorney general’s office and reimburses victims and claimants for certain crime-related expenses not paid by other sources, such as funeral and burial, mental health care, loss of wages, loss of support, child care and medical care.
The program receives criminal court costs, fees and fines from convicted offenders to reimburse victims and their families for crime-related expenses of up to $50,000. More information can be found at texasattorneygeneral.gov.
Revenue is distributed
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Sept. 12 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts some $739 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of September, an amount 10.5 percent greater than the amount returned in September 2017.
Allocations are based on sales made in July by businesses that report tax monthly.
Registration ends Oct. 9
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos on Sept. 7 posted a reminder that Oct. 9 is the voter registration deadline and to make all necessary preparations to be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming November 6 General Election.
Texans may check to see if they are already registered to vote by visiting www.votetexas.gov.
Pablos encouraged all eligible Texas voters to ensure that they:
• Are registered to vote in their county of residence; and
• Are aware of what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Pablos said, and encouraged Texans to avoid waiting at the polls on Election Day by voting during the early voting period that will begin on Monday, Oct. 22, and end on Friday, Nov. 2.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.