COVID-19 May 15 Updates: High Court Asked To Stop Vote-By-Mail, Food Distribution Moved To Sunday
We'll be updating this story throughout the day Friday with the latest local news on the coronavirus pandemic. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Thursday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Update at 4:16 p.m. – Attorney General Ken Paxton asks the Texas Supreme Court to stop expanded vote by mail
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court today to stop an appeals court ruling that upholds a lower court order opening up mail-in voting during the pandemic.
The 14th Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a trial court order from April will stay in place as a lawsuit proceeds. That order allows voters who don't want to risk exposure to the coronavirus to use mail-in ballots during upcoming elections under the disability category.
In his motion to the state Supreme Court, Paxton wrote the appeals court decision is “unlawful” and state officials should be able to determine who can vote using a mail-in ballot.
“That breathtaking order not only prevents the Attorney General from carrying out his sworn duty to prosecute election fraud associated with unlawful mail-in ballot,” he wrote, “but it prevents the Texas Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and every other executive-branch official from even speaking—that is, 'issuing guidance'—about who is eligible to vote by mail, and who is not.”
The state has one of the most restrictive vote-by-mail programs in the country. Texas Democrats and voting rights groups have said that’s a problem for upcoming elections.
Chad Dunn, an attorney representing the Texas Democratic Party in a legal challenge in federal court, told reporters on a call today that he is surprised state leaders haven’t pursued some way to expand the vote-by-mail program to keep voters safe.
“I am shocked, frankly, that the state of Texas – even today in these circumstances where so many people are suffering – that they are fighting tooth and nail to make a grandmother, 64 years old, go vote in person,” he said.
– Ashley Lopez
7:58 a.m. — Eviction proceedings can continue starting Tuesday
The Texas Supreme Court says eviction proceedings can continue starting Tuesday, May 19. The court had previously banned evictions. Tenant advocates and lawyers say local and federal regulations may still protect many renters in Austin and Travis County.
Let’s start with the federal rules. If you rent a home financed by a federally-backed mortgaged, then you’re protected from eviction until Aug. 24. If you’re not covered by that, the Austin mayor has banned landlords from starting the eviction process until after July 25. And then there are county protections. Travis County judges say they still will not start hearing evictions until after June 1.
Advocates encourage tenants to pay their rent in full and on time, if they can. But it’s clear the need for rental assistance is high. A City of Austin program got nearly 11,000 applications for money that could only help 1,000 households.
— Audrey McGlinchy
7:51 a.m. — Too early to tell what effect COVID-19 will have on tax appraisal protests
It's the last day for property owners to protest their tax appraisals. It’s too early to tell what effect the coronavirus — or unchanged home values — will have on the number of protests.
To say the Travis Central Appraisal District is doing things a little differently this year would be an understatement. First, most homeowners will not see changes from their 2019 tax appraisal notices because of a legal fight over the sales data it collects.
Second, there’s the virus that has changed the way appraisal protests will be handled. The current plan is to have no in-person interactions, but mostly over the phone or computer. Travis County Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler says the informal protest process can begin almost as soon as one is filed.
“They can either get in line and get a call back today, at the next available opportunity, or they can schedule themselves for a future date and time," she said.
The appraisal district’s website has details on the slight changes to the protest process this year and the steps to begin the informal process online. Mailed-in protest forms must be postmarked today.
— Jimmy Maas
Update at 7:33 a.m. — Georgetown and Buda will reopen their city halls on Monday
The City of Georgetown will open some facilities and lobbies on Monday. That includes City Hall; the Public Safety Operations and Training Center; Visitors Center; and its Municipal Complex.
Face coverings will be required in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. Georgetown city employees will have to take their temperature before and when they get to work. Georgetown's municipal court and recreation center are expected to open around June 1.
In Buda, City Hall and the Public Safety Building will reopen with limited capacity on Monday. Buda's Public Library and Visitors Center will stay closed, though the library is offering curbside service Monday through Thursday.
Update at 5:45 a.m. — Central Texas Food Bank reschedules weekend food distribution to Sunday
The Central Texas Food Bank has been setting up drive-thru emergency food relief distribution sites to help those in need during the coronavirus pandemic. The next distribution will be Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Austin Community College Highland, 6101 Highland Campus Dr.
The event had previously been scheduled for Saturday but was moved to Sunday due to possible inclement weather.
Pre-packed food boxes will be loaded into the trunks of people’s vehicles. CTFB asks people to make room in their trunks before arriving.
Other Central Texas Food Bank drive-thru distribution sites in May are scheduled for:
- May 21 at Del Valle High School, 5201 Ross Road, Del Valle, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- May 28 at Toney Burger Stadium, 3200 Jones Road, Austin, from 9 a.m. to noon
Catch up on what happened yesterday
Voters concerned about coronavirus can apply for mail-in ballots while court case proceeds
Voters who don't want to risk exposure to the coronavirus can use mail-in ballots during upcoming elections as a legal battle moves through the courts, the 14th Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday challenging a district court ruling allowing voters to use the disability excuse to cast votes in upcoming elections by mail. He bypassed the appeals court in requesting the high court "compel the early-voting clerks for Dallas, Cameron, El Paso, Harris and Travis Counties to follow Texas law on mail-in ballots."
The appeals court ruled the lower court's decision would stay in place while the case was heard.
Other local coronavirus news from Thursday:
- Williamson County residents can now be tested for the coronavirus, even if they do not have symptoms. Residents can sign up for the free testing by making an appointment at wilco.org/coronavirus.
- Latinx patients at Central Health's drive-thru testing sites are testing positive for COVID-19 three times more often than non-Latinx patients, the county-backed health agency said Thursday.
- Austin Public Health published a chart that provides recommendations on how to stay safe during different stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Numbers out this morning show just over 141,000 Texans filed new unemployment claims last week. That's about 102,000 fewer claims than the week before.
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