By The Texas Tribune
Thursday’s biggest developments:
• U.S. Senate passes $2 trillion stimulus package
• Campaigns face uncertainty after runoff postponed
U.S. Senate advances $2 trillion stimulus package
[5 a.m.] The U.S. Senate unanimously passed one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation in American history late Wednesday night, aiming to mitigate the fallout from a COVID-19 outbreak that has forced people across the nation to self-isolate and disengage from American commerce.
Nearly 900 pages in length, the $2 trillion bill will direct payments of up to $1,200 to adults and $500 per child. There is also $500 billion allotted in aid to large corporations, including airlines, and $350 billion in small business loans.
The affirmative votes included those of Texas’ U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. In all, 96 senators voted in favor the bill. Three Republican senators missed the vote due to self-quarantines after being potentially exposed to the virus.
The bill now heads to the U.S. House and faces a complicated trajectory. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was deeply involved with the Senate negotiations, but House members are currently in their home districts — many sheltering in place. There is little appetite to bring those representatives back to Washington and risk endangering their health.
With those concerns in mind, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer alerted House members as the Senate vote concluded that his chamber would gavel into session Friday morning to take up the bill via a voice vote. The House GOP leader, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, expressed his support for that procedural maneuver Wednesday.
A voice vote is when the presiding officer decides the bill’s outcome based on the strength of ayes versus nays, rather than the normal procedure of members punching a voting card into an electronic slot. — Abby Livingston
Texas campaigns prepare for uncertainty after runoff reset by coronavirus
[5 a.m.] Not only has the pandemic of the novel coronavirus upended how candidates campaign for the foreseeable future, it has also caused the May runoff election to be pushed back seven weeks, adding more uncertainty to a high-stakes election cycle in Texas. The changes impact runoffs in a slew of especially consequential races, from the U.S. Senate contest to most of the U.S. House races that national Democrats are prioritizing.
The state’s marquee runoff is the one to determine which Democrat will challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: MJ Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot, or Royce West, the longtime state senator from Dallas. Both have moved their campaigns entirely online, and Cornyn announced March 17 that he was “suspending all campaign-related activities.”
West has had the additional responsibility of responding to the outbreak in his capacity as a current elected official — not to mention one representing Dallas County, the hardest-hit part of the state. And Cornyn has given the Democrats plenty to seize on, from his comments blaming the Chinese for the virus to his running Twitter commentary on congressional negotiations over coronavirus aid. — Patrick Svitek
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/26/coronavirus-updates-texas-campaigns-adjust-rescheduled-runoff/.
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Texas expands travel restrictions, launches pop-up hospital as coronavirus spreads
By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
Abbott said he was dramatically expanding a previous executive order that requires a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone flying into Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or New Orleans. Now, the state is also mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone driving into Texas from anywhere in Louisiana and for those flying in from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, as well as anywhere in California and Washington.
In Texas, Abbott said the state’s first ad hoc health care facility to respond to the pandemic will be the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, an original hotspot for the outbreak at the state level. The convention center has the capacity for 250 beds “with plenty of room to massively expand that number if needed,” Abbott said.
At the same time, Abbott said there is “plenty of hospital capacity” to deal with the outbreak statewide and existing hospitals remain the “primary location” for treatment. He said the number of hospital beds available for coronavirus patients statewide more than doubled in the past week, with over 16,000 beds free as of Thursday. Most of those beds became available after he issued an executive order a week ago banning non essential surgeries in the state.
Elaborating on the new Louisiana travel restrictions, Abbott said they will be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety “at and near entry points from Louisiana.” The restrictions do “not apply to travel related to commercial activities, military service, emergency response, health response or critical infrastructure functions,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s order comes as state and local officials continue to battle over whether to release as many as thousands of inmates awaiting trial from the Harris County Jail, where at least one inmate has tested positive for the new coronavirus and some 30 others are showing symptoms.
Advocates have fought for as many inmates as possible to be released from county jails, citing the increased risk of spread given close quarters and poor sanitary conditions. Abbott and Texas Attorney General Paxton on Sunday asked to intervene in a federal lawsuit in Harris County in which a federal judge is weighing whether and how to release Harris County Jail inmates.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had been drafting an executive order for compassionate releases of inmates on no-cost bonds before trial, but shelved it over concerns that Paxton’s office would halt it.
There are, as of Sunday, at least 2,552 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 34 deaths, according to the latest figures from Texas Department of State Health Services. Almost half of Texas’ 254 counties — 118 — are reporting cases.
There have been 25,483 tests done in the state, according to the DSHS numbers.
Abbott said 176 Texans have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus, which Abbott emphasized is still a small fraction of those who have contracted the disease.
The growing spread of coronavirus throughout Texas comes as Abbott continues to resist calls to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, a move that many of the state’s biggest counties and cities have already taken. Asked Sunday about the possibility of further statewide action, Abbott said he was waiting to see new federal guidance that is expected to be issued this week. Later in the afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that national social distancing guidelines would extend through April 30.
Emma Platoff and Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/29/texas-expands-travel-restrictions-coronavirus-spreads/.
Country music legend Joe Diffie passes away from Coronavirus COVID-19 complications
NASHVILLE, Tenn — Country music legend and GRAMMY®-winner Joe Diffie passed away Sunday from complications due to Coronavirus COVID-19.
Just Friday, Joe made a statement that said, “I am under the care of medical professionals and currently receiving treatment after testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”
“My family and I are asking for privacy at this time. We want to remind the public and all my fans to be vigilant, cautious and careful during this pandemic.”
Joe had postponed his concert that was scheduled for March 21st in Tifton, GA, stating that his number one priority was the health and well-being of everyone in attendance.
Joe Diffie was 61 years old and had 17 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country charts in the 1990’s.
Boerne City Hall votes to extend Mayor Handren’s Emergency Health Declaration for 30 days
BOERNE, Texas — By unanimous vote, Boerne City Council has voted to extend Mayor Handren’s emergency health declaration for 30 days, according to the City of Boerne.
This was during the first City Council meeting in the new chambers. There was just essential staff and the building was physically closed to the public, with some council members joining remotely.
The Council also requested any and all ways the city can help our residents in the come weeks and months who might face economic hardship.
“We know these are tough times, one that few could’ve predicted at the beginning of the new year. If we stick together, neighbor helping neighbor, we will come out of this a stronger community,” said a Facebook post from the City of Boerne.
“We can’t wait to re-open all our city facilities to you, our residents; and we can’t wait for you to see your home for city government, in action, working daily for the people of Boerne.”
While COVID-19 was the main topic, Boerne City Council also talked about other issues the city is facing during the meeting other than the COVID-19 epidemic, like sidewalk repairs/expansions, etc.
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