Wednesday’s biggest developments:
- Texas reports 15,492 cases and 364 deaths
- In election year, Texas Democrats try to offer contrast without politicizing crisis
- The commission that regulates the oil and gas industry is weighing oil production limits
Democrats ask Trump to suspend construction of border wall
[3 p.m.] U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar on Wednesday asked the Trump administration to suspend construction of the border wall on the country’s southern border and use the money to instead help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Laredo Democrat was joined by more than 90 lawmakers who urged acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to consider the safety of workers, law enforcement officers and border residents in areas where construction is taking place.
“Money should be invested in healthcare, small businesses, and fighting the spread of COVID-19, not used to build an ineffective and wasteful border wall that does not solve our immigration crisis or protect our homeland,” Cuellar wrote. “Those who are tasked with building this wall are susceptible to not only contracting COVID-19, but also risk spreading the virus to others. Continuation of construction only exacerbates the public health risks for those living at the southern border, detracting from our national efforts against fighting this virus.”
The border wall construction is considered an essential project that has been allowed to continue while most of the country remains paralyzed due to the pandemic. Lawyers for the United States Justice Department are also moving forward with trying to survey or condemn more land for future projects, according to attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project. — Julián Aguilar
Texas reports 15,492 cases and 364 deaths
[1:30 p.m.] Texas reported 868 more cases of the new coronavirus Wednesday, an increase of about 6% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 15,492. Three new counties reported their first cases Wednesday; more than two-thirds of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 3,907, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 1,877 cases.
The state has reported 46 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 364 — an increase of about 14% from Tuesday. Harris County reported six additional deaths, bringing its total to 52 deaths, more than any other county.
As of Wednesday, 1,538 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s an increase of 129 patients from Tuesday. At least 151,810 tests have been conducted. — Mandi Cai
Houston federal judge won’t weigh in on fight against Abbott’s no-cost jail release ban
[12:12 p.m.] A federal judge has declined to take any action against Harris County’s and Gov. Greg Abbott’s jail release decisions. On Tuesday evening, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled that she would not issue a temporary order against Harris County officials or the governor. Inmates’ attorneys in an ongoing bail lawsuit have argued that the governor’s order banning no-cost release of some inmates during the pandemic unconstitutionally discriminates against poor defendants and puts too much gubernatorial power over the judicial branch.
“This is neither an easy nor good solution. It is simply the best one this court can devise from the law and the facts that constrain its authority,” Rosenthal wrote. “The good news, however, is that it reflects the commendable, though still halting, progress made by the parties and interested nonparties in safely reducing the Harris County Jail population during this dangerous time.”
At the urging of health officials, local authorities in Texas have moved to reduce their jail populations as the new coronavirus spreads in lockups. The fear of mass release of violent inmates led to Abbott’s order, which has been challenged in multiple legal arenas. Rosenthal said state litigation on the order — in which Abbott is named a defendant — may make it unnecessary for her to rule on whether his order is unconstitutional.
She said movement by officials to at least partially reduce the jail population in Harris County keep her from stepping in for now. Harris County’s jail population shrank significantly in March, by more than 1,000 inmates, according to jail reports. In April, it has continued to decrease, but by small amounts — moving from 7,637 inmates April 2 to 7,466 on Tuesday. About 50 inmates at the jail have tested positive for the virus, with many more symptomatic and awaiting results. — Jolie McCullough
University of Texas at Austin cutting summer tuition
[10:26 a.m.] The University of Texas at Austin will add 25 courses this summer and reduce summer tuition for undergraduate students to 50% of the rate for fall and spring semesters, according to a university email sent to students and faculty Tuesday. Typically, summer tuition has been 85% of regular semester tuition.The purpose of the change is “to encourage undergraduate students to continue learning even during the COVID-19 crisis and to remain on track to earn their degrees,” the email said.
All courses will be taught online through the summer term. The cost reduction doesn’t apply to graduate or professional students. Instead, the university will support those students through targeted tuition assistance for departments with limited resources. — Naomi Andu
Texas oil and gas regulators weighing whether to limit oil production
[5 a.m.] The three elected officials who lead the Texas Railroad Commission appeared nowhere near making a decision about limiting oil production Tuesday night. But they did take more than 10 hours of testimony during a meeting Tuesday. The commissioners are weighing whether to limit production in the middle of parallel public health and economic crises brought on by the novel coronavirus — and at least one admits that they don’t know how such a limit would be implemented or enforced.
“We don’t know if we can manage it,” Commissioner Christi Craddick said.
The commissioners heard from energy executives and oil producers who opposed and support such a move. If the commissioners were to limit production, it would be the first time since the 1970s that Texas officials have made such a move. — Mitchell Ferman
State lawmaker pushes Gov. Abbott to look into coronavirus impacts on black Texans
[5 a.m.] State Rep. Shawn Thierry wants Gov. Greg Abbott to form a task force to look at the coronavirus pandemic's potentially inequitable impact on black Texans, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that an emerging national picture shows black Americans are disproportionately getting sick and dying from COVID-19, but sparse data has been collected in Texas to determine if the same trend is playing out in the state's black and Hispanic communities.
Texas Democrats try to strike right tone in response to pandemic
[5 a.m.] The novel coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between political parties. But the federal and statewide response to the contagion is being led by elected officials in a massively important election year. And as some Texas Democrats criticize Republicans for the nation’s now-ruinous economy and rising death toll, they’re grappling with a particularly fraught political landscape: Can they make gains for their own party without appearing like they’re politicizing — or rooting for — a global health tragedy?
As the opposition party, Democrats have to strike a delicate balance.
“They have to show that their comments are objective and not driven by animosity,” said William DeSoto, an associate professor of political science at Texas State University. “You have to try to be objective and not just seem like you’re doing a hit job.” — Alex Samuels
Disclosure: Texas State University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.