Mail-in ballot applications rejected at high rate
Mail-in ballot applications for the March 1 primary are being rejected by almost 40 percent — largely because of a missing ID number, which is now required after a new voting bill passed the Legislature last year.
The Houston Chronicle reported that nearly four in 10 Harris County mail ballot applications had been rejected as of last week. Early voting began Feb. 14, and the deadline for mail ballot requests is Feb. 18.
Other counties across Texas also reported high rejection rates, including Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop counties, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Those seeking to vote by mail must include a driver’s license number, a state ID number, or in some cases the last four digits of their Social Security number. If what the applicant provides doesn’t match the applicant’s individual voter registration information, the application must be rejected.
Texas has one of the strictest vote-by-mail requirements in the country. Registered voters are eligible to vote by mail if they are 65 years or older; sick or disabled; out of the county on election day and during the early voting period; expected to give birth within three weeks before or after election day; or confined in jail but otherwise eligible.
Early voting continues through Feb. 25.
Drought conditions improve slightly
The latest drought map for the state shows a slight improvement as of Feb. 1, with 84% of the state experiencing some level of drought, down three percentage points from the previous month. Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board, said there were some improvements in the last month, mainly in East Texas. Additional rainfall in early February, mainly in East Texas and Central Texas, should improve conditions by the next report in March.
Wide swaths of the Panhandle and the Great Plains are experiencing the worst drought conditions.
Texas top exporting state for 20th year
Data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau showed Texas as the top exporting state in the nation for the 20th consecutive year. The state exported $375.3 billion in goods last year, more than California and New York combined. The state also led the nation in tech exports for the ninth year in a row.
“Made in Texas is a powerful global brand, and the Lone Star State continues to dominate the nation in exports, thanks to our unrivaled and productive workforce, robust infrastructure and welcoming business environment,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Funding available for clean school bus
An estimated $13 million in grant funding is available under the Texas Clean School Bus Program to replace or retrofit school buses to reduce exposure to their diesel exhaust. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is accepting applications from school districts statewide.
Grants are given on a first-come, first-served basis. Districts can be reimbursed for all of the costs to retrofit buses, or 80% of the costs to replace older buses with newer, cleaner models, according to TCEQ.
Only buses used daily are eligible. While the deadline is in October, funding typically runs out when enough applications are received. More information can be found at www.terpgrants.org.
During early February’s winter storm, the state’s electrical grid withstood increased demand, with few outages reported. Regulators are crediting increased inspections by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas during December.
The Dallas Morning News reports ERCOT inspected 324 generators and transmission systems in December; the Public Utility Commission handed down $7.5 million in fines for companies not filing weatherization plans by the deadline.
“We’ve been working for the last year to make sure that this grid is more reliable than it ever has been in the past — and it is,” interim ERCOT CEO Brad Jones said a few days before snow and sleet hit.
In addition to increased inspections, legislation passed last regular session required power generators to winterize their plants. Additionally, alternate fuel sources are required if natural gas isn’t available. While this year’s storm wasn’t nearly as severe as Winter Storm Uri in 2021, thus far the grid has stood up to increased demand.
The state’s largest power generator, Vistra, is spending up to $80 million to ensure its plants keep generating electricity despite whatever Mother Nature throws at them, The Morning News reported.
COVID-19 cases continue to drop sharply
It is beginning to look as if the omicron variant of COVID-19 really has peaked, with new cases in the state during the past week dropping to 109,990, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That’s a decrease of 75% in the past month, while new deaths at 1,398 were essentially unchanged.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported a total of 8,140 COVID-19 hospitalizations, down 23.6% from the previous week. The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated topped 17 million, or 58.6% of the state’s population. Just more than 6 million Texans have also received a booster dose, which has proven effective in preventing more serious symptoms from the omicron variant, researchers say.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span. including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.