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Visit San Antonio: Legislative Affairs, July 2020

The Government Relations (GR) team closely followed new developments related to funding and regulatory actions of the federal, state and local governments to combat the spread of COVID-19.  In addition, the GR team has been monitoring the Texas Legislature as the Interim Session has slowed down with many House and Senate committees still determining how to conduct business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal

It was quiet on Capitol Hill with the House and Senate out of session the first couple of weeks in July. Congress is expected to spend the rest of the month finalizing the Phase 4 coronavirus relief bill, with the anticipated passage ahead of the August congressional recess that is scheduled to begin Aug. 7. While the House has passed its version of relief legislation, known as the HEROS Act, the Senate is expected to unveil its own version in the coming weeks, which is likely to be the key starting point for the next phase of legislation.

The GR team continues to focus on advocating for the addition of travel-related provisions, including expanding eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program to 501c(6) and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) of all sizes, the extension of the loan submission deadline, securing additional funds for Economic Development Administration Grants for DMOs, and a temporary travel tax credit.  The GR team is also closely monitoring and actively supporting U.S. Travel’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C.

State

The beginning of July was busy.  Governor Greg Abbott issued two new and/or amended Executive Orders: 1) requiring facemasks usage statewide and 2) prohibiting the gathering of more than 10 persons.  Both were effective July 3. Gov. Abbott also issued a proclamation suspending elective surgeries in hospitals in all counties located within 11 Trauma Service Areas (TSAs) in Texas. July 10, he renewed the disaster proclamation for all counties in Texas.  Finally, the Governor provided $41 million in Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program to local governments statewide, authorized by the federal Emergency Appropriations for Coronavirus Health Response and Agency Operations Act.  The City of San Antonio received $2.6 million.

Texas Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Bonnen, sent a memorandum to all members of the Texas House of Representatives.  The memorandum addresses operational issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the normal course of business for the Texas House of Representatives.  House committees are governed by both the House Rules and Chapter 301 of the Government Code. Under House Rules and Chapter 301, committees are not authorized:

  • To use virtual meetings or virtual hearings to conduct business in lieu of holding in-person meetings open to the public at the Capitol or an approved location outside of Austin; or
  • To intentionally meet, via videoconference, telephone conference, or in person in numbers of less than a quorum to conduct committee business, including receiving briefings from agency officials at which committee members may ask questions.

Speaker Bonnen provided House members with three Interim Options to Conduct Committee Business without violating the letter or spirit of the House Rules and Chapter 301.  These options include:

  • Option 1 – Post Committee Chair Updates to Committee Members/Public on the House Website,
  • Option 2 – Issue a Formal Request for Information through TLO/TLIS and House Website, and
  • Option 3 – Online Events Conducted by Committee Chair

As the VSA GR team learns more about how the Texas House and Senate will begin to conduct business, we will provide you with additional updates and information.

Local

On July 15, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued Executive Order NW-13, continuing the local disaster declaration and public health emergency for Bexar County.  It is effective as of 5 p.m. on July 15, continuing through 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 12, unless extended, modified or terminated early by the County Judge.  This Executive Order shall incorporate and adopt the most recent executive order, GA-29, issued by Abbott on July 2 and any subsequent orders by the Governor relating to the expanded opening of Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.

The City of San Antonio’s Emergency Health Declaration had been previously extended, indefinitely.  We anticipate that the City of San Antonio will amend this declaration to match Bexar County’s and Governor Abbott’s recent orders.

Bexar County July 2020 Runoff Election Highlights

The number of voting centers in the county was reduced from 226 to 214 after approximately 50 election site workers decided not to work because of concerns about the coronavirus.  Even with reduced voting centers, more than 100,000 registered voters (nearly 10%) cast their ballots for the 14 local, state and federal runoff elections in the Bexar County.

Below are some of the race results:

U.S. Senate

  • MJ Hegar (D) will face Senator John Cornyn (R) in November.

U.S. House of Representatives - Texas

  • District 20 – Mauro Garza (R) will face incumbent Congressman Joaquin Castro (D) in November.
  • District 23 - *Still undecided, but the winner will face Gina Ortiz Jones (D) in November. This seat is being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who is leaving Congress.
  • District 35 - Jenny Garcia Sharon (R) will face incumbent Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D) in November.

Texas Senate

  • District 19 – Roland Gutierrez (D) will face off with incumbent Senator Peter Flores (R) in November.

Texas House

  • District 119 – Elizabeth "Liz" Campos (D) and will face off with George Garza (R) in November. This seat is being vacated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who won the democratic party runoff election for Texas Senate Dist. 19.

Bexar County Commissioner’s Court

  • Precinct 1 – Rebeca "Becky" Clay-Flores defeated longtime incumbent Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez in the primary runoff battle for the Precinct 1 seat.
  • Precinct 3 - Trish DeBerry defeated Tom Rickhoff.  This seat is being vacated by Commissioner Kevin Wolff and is a traditionally republican leaning district.

Bexar County Republican Party Chair

  • John Austin defeated incumbent Cynthia Brehm by a significant margin in their battle for the party chair.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chair

  • Monica Alcántara defeated Grace Rose Gonzalez for the Bear County democratic party chair.

Statewide Ballot Box Challenges & Looking to November

Outlined in a pair of articles published by the Texas Tribune, elections in the Lone Star State will be interesting come November. Tuesday highlighted a combination of COVID-19 struggles at polling places, vote-by-mail confusion, and digital woes with new systems at the Secretary of State’s office.  Amid continuing economic uncertainty, social justice debates and our ever-present public health crisis, pollsters and pundits are struggling to predict what will happen in the general election – especially in traditionally red states like Texas.

The election night bottom line is that the House lost four incumbents (two who had yet to serve during session and will not), which brings the total of new members expected to serve next session in the House up to 15.  Finally, election night results set up several important battleground general election races as Republicans attempt to preserve their numeric majorities in the House and Senate, while Democrats seek to retain gained seats from last cycle and pick up nine new ones to take partisan control of the House or to acquire enough seats to influence the open Speaker’s race.