If history is an indicator, Texas voters will likely go to the polls on Nov. 2 in underwhelming numbers to decide the fate of eight proposed amendments to the state’s constitution. With no statewide races on the ballot, and a scattering of local elections for city council and school board, turnout typically is low. Nevertheless, early voting is now underway and continues until Oct. 29.

The proposed amendments include allowing raffles at rodeo events; allowing counties to issue bonds for transportation infrastructure; banning the state from prohibiting or limiting religious services (related to closures during the pandemic); eligibility of candidates to run for judicial positions; and property tax exemption for bereaved families, among other measures. A fuller explanation of the proposed amendments can be found at the non-partisan BallotPedia site: https://tinyurl.com/29andwew

More than $1 billion in rental assistance

A federally funded rental assistance program administered through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has distributed more than $1 billion in rent and utility assistance to more than 174,000 Texas households — more than any other state. The pandemic relief measure has provided assistance in 95% of Texas counties and still has more than $900 million that can be distributed, according to TDHCA.

“Crossing the $1 billion mark shows we were able to address a great and pressing need that is still present here in our state, but it’s important we continue to work vigorously to get help out as quickly as possible,” Bobby Wilkinson, TDHCA executive director, said.

Renters can apply for the program by calling 1-833-9TX-RENT (1-833-989-7368) or online at TexasRentRelief.com. The call center is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. To qualify, households must be at or below 80% of the area median income and meet other criteria.

State dried up in September

The cooler and wetter conditions of early summer became a distant memory in September as much of the state experienced little rain, according to Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist for the Texas Water Development Board.

“At the end of the month, drought conditions covered 7% of the state, up six percentage points from the end of last month,” Wentzel wrote.

September was the first month since last March that was both warmer and drier for most of the state. Wentzel predicts dry conditions will continue for the next few months, leading to drought expanding to cover all but the eastern edge of Texas by the end of the year.

$36.4 million in border enforcement funding

Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that his Public Safety Office will award $36.4 million in funding for law enforcement and prosecution in connection with Operation Lone Star, the state’s border security effort.

“Operation Lone Star is critical to our efforts to secure the border, and we will continue to invest in this operation in order to keep Texans safe,” Abbott said. “The grant funding provided through House Bill 9 ensures that our local partners along the border have the resources and support they need to respond to the border crisis.”

The funds will go to a dozen counties along the Texas-Mexico border.

How to pick the right Medicare plan

Medicare open enrollment is underway and continues through Dec. 7. The Texas Department of Insurance provides some advice for Texans enrolling for Medicare after turning 65 this year or for existing enrollees considering changes to their Medicare plans. Those include:

• Know the deadlines, which in general run three months before turning 65 to three months after. People with insurance through their employer can delay enrolling, but it’s best to check with the company’s benefits manager.

• Learn the different parts of Medicare and decide if you need a gap plan to supplement Medicare coverage.

• Calculate the costs and compare plans. More information can be found at medicare.gov.

New COVID-19 cases drop slightly; deaths rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas reported in the past week dropped slightly to 48,971, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, but new deaths jumped 34% to 1,949. The latest wave of serious cases appears to be slacking off from the highs reported in late August and September, with 5,376 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals as of Sunday. That’s a drop of nearly two-thirds from its late-summer peak, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated ticked up to 15.2 million, according to DSHS, while more than 900,000 people have received an additional dose of the vaccine. The additional doses were first authorized in mid-August.

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: gborders@texaspress.com. He reports on the Texas Legislature for the Texas Press Association and its member newspapers, including The Herald.

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