CAPITOL HIGHLIGHTS: Governor issues disaster declaration for storm-stricken counties

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AUSTIN — After severe weather struck north and east Texas on Oct. 20, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration naming a list of counties in that region.  

Among the counties named are: Cass, Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Erath, Hunt, Kaufman, Lamar, Panola, Rains, Rockwall, Rusk, Tarrant, Van Zandt and Wood.

“By issuing this declaration, Texas is providing local officials with the resources they need to quickly respond and recover from this storm,” Abbott said. In addition to providing access to state resources, the declaration waived certain regulations to make it easier for utility companies to bring in out-of-state resources to assist in restoring power.  

The storm brought high winds, heavy rains and at least four tornadoes. Tornadic action ravaged a swath 40 miles long through the Dallas area, causing widespread destruction in residential areas and businesses, forcing many closures and resulting in the loss of electrical power to tens of thousands of customers. 
Damages attributed to the storm, currently estimated at more than $2 billion, continue to be updated.
 
Report: The digital divide
More than two million Texas households still do not have access to high-speed internet service. 
Those findings are included in the top story of the October edition of “Fiscal Notes,” a monthly publication produced by the comptroller’s office. 
The story says the digital divide between urban and rural Texans "has serious implications for education, telemedicine, agriculture and small business.”
Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar commented about the story in an Oct. 23 news release, saying, “It’s a wired world today and we can’t expect our state to flourish unless we make sure as many Texans as possible have access to dependable high-speed internet for everything from educational and medical services to agricultural technology and online sales.”
 
Air monitoring increases
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is enhancing its air-monitoring capabilities thanks to new equipment funded by the Texas Legislature and savings from the agency’s 2019 budget.
The Legislature granted TCEQ’s request to equip up to three new vehicles with real-time, mobile air-monitoring technology. Meanwhile, budget savings are being used to fund the installation of three new automated gas chromatograph air monitoring stations in the Houston area and the purchase of new handheld air monitors.
Previously TCEQ’s vans were equipped with instruments only capable of collecting data while stationary and required a time-consuming process to deploy and calibrate. The newly equipped vans will provide the ability for rapid survey assessments, allowing the agency to quickly sample pollutant hot spots, map air concentrations, and identify locations for sampling over longer durations.
 
Update: Vaping, lung issues
The Texas Department of State Health Services has identified 147 Texas cases of severe lung disease in people who reported they had “vaped” before developing symptoms. One of the patients has died.
In its Oct. 22 weekly update on the use of e-cigarettes (“vaping”) and lung disease, the agency reported that state health officials are gathering more information about 17 other possible cases to determine whether they are consistent with the symptoms and substance use seen in cases in Texas and 48 other states. 
Respiratory symptoms include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and coughing. Some people have also experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Clinicians are urged to ask patients with these symptoms about a history of vaping, gather as much information as possible about suspected cases, and report them to DSHS.
Nationally, 1,479 cases have been reported. The DSHS and agencies in other states are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to gather evidence about what the cases have in common and to determine a cause.
 
AGs target online sales
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 22 announced he has joined a bipartisan coalition of 47 state and territorial attorneys general in calling on Facebook, Craigslist and eBay to take action against alcohol sales on their platforms. 
A letter from the coalition asks the companies to:  
—Review the current content posted to their websites and to remove illegal postings for the sales and/or transfer of alcohol products; and
—Develop and deploy programming to block and prevent platform users from violating state laws. 
Coalition members also invited the companies to join them in forming a work group with stakeholders from government and industry to explore how to establish protocols for preventing illegal alcohol sales.