Ed Sterling Mug

Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on March 13 declared a state of disaster in all Texas counties and listed actions agencies are taking to contain and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, a contagious flu-like respiratory disease.

Abbott said agency actions would include:{

—Provide immediate ability to move resources around the state, including resources obtained through the Strategic National Stockpile, an emergency supply of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies;

—Restrict visitations at nursing homes, state-supported living centers, hospitals, daycare facilities, prisons, jails and juvenile justice facilities, while allowing limited exceptions for situations such as end-of-life visitations;

—Direct state agencies to take any action necessary to facilitate telemedicine and to provide flexible work and tele-work policies; and

—Empower the Texas Attorney General to pursue cases of price-gouging and ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Cost waiving requested

Earlier last week, Abbott and the Texas Department of Insurance asked health insurers and health maintenance organizations operating in Texas to waive costs associated with the testing and telemedicine visits for the diagnosis of COVID-19.

Additionally, TDI requested that insurers report their actions related to consumer cost-sharing and access to services so that the department can ensure consumers are aware of their available benefits.

“Consulting a physician from home is a practical way to avoid getting sick, prevent the spread of the virus and help ensure that emergency rooms are available for those who truly need them. We appreciate the collaboration of health insurers operating in Texas to enhance our state’s proactive approach to addressing any potential outbreaks of COVID-19,” Abbott said.

Hegar: Economy is strong

Texas faces current weaknesses in financial, commodity and energy markets but the fundamentals of the Lone Star State’s economy remain strong, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said on March 9.

Texas has exposure if oil prices remain depressed for a sustained period of time, and slowdowns in economic activity related to the COVID-19 outbreak could also be a headwind, Hegar said. However, he added, it is now only six months into the state’s current budget cycle, so it is too early to tell how current fluctuations might impact long-term economic performance and state revenues.

Hegar also pointed out that the Texas economy is less reliant on oil and gas severance taxes to fund the day-to-day functions of state government than it has been historically. Additionally, the state leadership has numerous financial management tools that allow the state to react to and contend with economic pressures.

“Having said that, we will continue to monitor the economy and state revenues closely and will provide updates to lawmakers and the public as conditions warrant,” Hegar said.

Revenue to be distributed

Comptroller Hegar on March 11 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $766.2 million in local sales tax allocations for March.

The dollar amount is 7.7% more than in the amount distributed in March 2019.

The allocations are based on sales made in January by businesses that report tax monthly.

Details may be found online in the comptroller’s monthly sales tax allocation comparison summary reports at comptroller.texas.gov.

Agency conducts exercise

Comptroller Hegar on March 11 said his office conducted an agencywide telework exercise on March 10.

In the exercise, some 1,800 employees representing the majority of the comptroller’s staff worked regular hours from home. Critical operations of the agency functioned normally, including call center agents who handled normal call volumes while teleworking.

“I want to stress that this was a scheduled business continuity exercise designed to simulate a scenario in which comptroller employees were required to work from home. This exercise will allow the agency to identify and address any weaknesses in our continuity plan under controlled conditions,” Hegar said.

Texas joins consortium

The Office of the Secretary of State on March 9 announced that Texas will become the 30th state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a non-profit consortium that assists member states in increasing voter participation and improving the accuracy of voter rolls.

Governed and managed by member states, ERIC was formed in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts. During its 2019 session, the 86th Texas Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for Texas to join the consortium.

Participation in ERIC will assist Texas elections officials in identifying and conducting outreach to eligible but unregistered voters to encourage them to register to vote, according to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.

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