OPINION COLUMNS

FEMA briefs governor, vice president on hurricane recovery efforts

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Gov. Greg Abbott and Vice President Mike Pence on Nov. 15 received a briefing on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Joint Field Office in Austin.

Pence, in town for the Republican Governors Association conference, joined Abbott, FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and state and local officials to discuss ways to improve federal and state coordination of resources.

Abbott thanked Pence for “his commitment to the people of Texas” in the aftermath of the hurricane that struck the Texas coast in late August, bringing historically heavy rains, flooding and destructive winds.

“The people of Texas have suffered greatly, but I am hopeful that the response of their federal and state leaders will continue to strengthen their resolve,” Abbott said. “I, along with the vice president, want to assure all victims that they will not be forgotten and we will continue to work to help get their lives back on track.”

Hurricane Harvey impacted a land area larger than Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont combined, according to the governor’s office.

On Nov. 10, Abbott offered words of encouragement to Texans, saying: “We are listening to our local leaders and we continue to work with our federal partners to secure more and faster funding. The road to recovery is long, but progress is being made. And each day brings new hope.”

REPORT DETAILS FUNDING

The Texas comptroller’s office on Nov. 14 announced the release of its monthly publication, Fiscal Notes. The issue focuses on the role of federal funding in state finances.

In 2016, Texans sent the federal government $261 billion in taxes and the state government received $39.5 billion in federal grants, or about 15 percent of the total federal tax tab. Those grants pay for programs in education, health care, infrastructure and other areas, the report shows.

“The missions of our federal, state and local governments are distinct but intertwined,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said. “Texans pay federal income tax, so it’s important to examine and monitor the value our state gets back from the folks in Washington.”

In November Fiscal Notes, the Comptroller’s office also looked at the rising importance of “telehealth” in Texas – technologies that allow doctors and other health care professionals to consult with and treat patients through audio-visual connections.

AG GOES AFTER GOUGERS

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Nov. 13 announced his office’s filing of more price gouging lawsuits against businesses accused of taking advantage of Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On Oct. 30, Paxton’s staff notified 127 additional businesses that they were being investigated for alleged price gouging during the disaster. In all of these cases, consumers allege they were charged excessive prices for gasoline.

Paxton said, “Price gouging is illegal, unconscionable and completely opposite the spirit of cooperation we saw just about everywhere else in our state before, during and after the hurricane. My office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute more cases arising from Harvey.”

A finding of price gouging carries civil penalties as much as $20,000 for each violation, rising to $250,000 for violations targeting those 65 and older, according to the attorney general’s office.

TEA RELEASES RATINGS

The Texas Education Agency on Nov. 14 released the final 2017 state academic accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters and more than 8,600 campuses.

Final ratings include the results of an appeals process that provides districts and charters an opportunity to contest preliminary ratings announced by TEA in August.

The TEA received 66 school district and campus-level appeals in 2017 compared to 104 in 2016, 72 in 2015 and 90 in 2014.

Under the final 2017 ratings, more than 90 percent of school districts and charters across Texas achieved the rating of “Met Standard.” Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings under the state’s accountability system: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required.

AG DAY SET AT CAPITOL

The Texas Department of Agriculture announced the 2nd Annual Texas Agriculture Memorial Day would be observed at the state Capitol on Nov. 21.

As stated in the announcement: “With fewer and fewer Texans engaged in vital industry of agriculture, it is important for all Texans to recognize and appreciate the sacrifice required in producing the food and fiber we all need.”

An honor guard on horseback is scheduled to deliver a commemorative wreath to the Capitol to be received by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

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

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