Capital Highlights: Governor, congressman seek details on border security cuts

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Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-McAllen, are asking U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for detailed information regarding border security cuts.

Of particular interest to Abbott and Cuellar is the federal agency’s decision to cut resources for aerial-based border security support in a program known as Operation Phalanx. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security’s request for aerial detection, situational awareness and monitoring capability support for Operation Phalanx from the Department of Defense for calendar year 2016 was 50 percent lower than that of recent years.

The decrease came despite the governor’s Sept. 30, 2015, request for additional aerial observation resources along the border, and despite the fact that Congress fully funded Department of Defense support for Operation Phalanx in the recently passed omnibus appropriations bill, according to the governor’s office.

“Given the recent surge of migrants from Central America and Cuba along the southern border, we believe (the Department of Homeland Security) should be requesting more surveillance and security resources, not fewer,” Abbott and Cuellar wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to Johnson. “Any decrease in aerial observation is not only imprudent, but contradicts the very mission of border security enforcement.”

Abbott and Cuellar noted that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to decrease surveillance resources “is unsettling” and requested the following information:

- Metrics used to determine that a 50 percent reduction in aerial resources would sufficiently support Operation Phalanx;

- Detailed plans on how the cuts would impact staffing, resource allocation and operation levels in Laredo, the Rio Grande Valley and Tucson; and

- What resources the department plans to use “to backfill any gaps” the reduction presents.

Abbott posts first year report

Gov. Abbott on Feb. 2 released a “Report to the People of Texas” listing highlights of his first year in office.

The report, as stated in a news release, “takes a look at the economy and businesses that expanded or relocated to Texas, in addition to providing an overview of legislation passed to cut taxes, improve Texas’ public and higher education systems, build new roads, secure our border and chart a course that keeps the Lone Star State a beacon of individual liberty and economic opportunity.”

State representative resigns

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, who is suffering from lung cancer, resigned from office effective Jan. 26.

Gov. Abbott set May 7 as the date for a special election to fill the House District 120 seat held by McClendon for the last 20 years.

The winner of the special election will serve out the rest of McClendon’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2016.

Sales tax revenue decreases

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Feb. 2 said state sales tax revenue in January totaled $2.47 billion, down 4 percent compared to January 2015.

“As expected, reduced spending in oil and gas-related sectors resulted in a fall in total sales tax revenue,” Hegar said. “Collections from industries mainly driven by consumer spending, including retail trade, restaurants and services, continued to grow, as did receipts from the construction sector.”

However, Hegar noted, sales tax collections in January 2015 were a record high and represented a double-digit percentage increase over January 2014, meaning this month’s collections are being compared to unusually high collections from a year ago.

Heroes Day is proclaimed

Gov. Abbott has proclaimed Feb. 2 to be Texas Military Heroes Day.

Last year, Feb. 2 was celebrated as Chris Kyle Day to honor the late Medal of Honor recipient who became widely known as the U.S. military’s most prolific sniper. Abbott said his proclamation now calls Texans to remember “scores whose names are unrecognized and have quietly done their duty, serving Texas and the United States faithfully.  Today, and from every Feb. 2 hereafter, we will honor all who have sacrificed and served on behalf of the Lone Star State. No matter the battle, no matter the job, they deserve our thanks.”

First Zika case is reported

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Feb. 2 reported the first case of Zika virus disease contracted in Texas.

According to the agency, the case involves a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired the Zika infection while traveling abroad.

Seven other Texas cases of Zika virus disease are known and all are related to foreign travel to areas where Zika is currently being transmitted, the DSHS reported.

There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the virus, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control currently recommends that pregnant women delay travel to foreign countries where Zika is being transmitted.

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