Texas House Committees To Begin Work On Harvey Relief Measures

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By Alexandra HartSeptember 18, 2017 7:17 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Hurricane Harvey is shaping up to be a major theme for the next Texas legislative session. House Speaker Joe Straus is asking committees to begin working on long-term solutions to Harvey-related problems. Straus wants lawmakers ready to take action once the legislature convenes in 2019.

Houston Public Media’s Andrew Schneider reports:

Top priorities for Straus include flood control and other infrastructure investment. That’s not only to fix damage from Harvey, but also to prepare for future disasters. The speaker also wants help for schools Harvey damaged and students the storm displaced.

Rep. John Zerwas of Fort Bend County chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

“The recovery from this thing, it’s going to be long at best, and it could be even more prolonged if we aren’t stepping in and making sure what the resources that are available to us and making sure that the communities and ultimately the citizens will benefit from those things,” Zerwas  says.

Zerwas says 2019 may seem like a long way off, but lawmakers will have to work out the framework of the budget by next summer. He plans to bring the Appropriations Committee to Houston in October for its first public hearing.

On Saturday, a group called the “This Is Texas Freedom Force” gathered to oppose the City of Dallas’ decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park in the city’s Oak Lawn neighborhood. The statue was removed last Thursday.

Using Facebook to organize, the group shared transportation details and encouraged folks with handgun licenses to come armed. They also warned potential protestors that racist activities would not be tolerated.

Mark Callaway traveled 57 miles from Wills Point in east Texas to demonstrate.

He told KERA news in Dallas that the protest isn’t about race or anything malicious. He said it’s about history and respect.

“I’m a supporter of the men that died for our country,” Callaway said. “They’re history. They sacrificed a lot. They deserved to be remembered, not pushed away to the side.”

About 115 people turned out for the event, including a small group of armed protesters who stood at the perimeter of the park. A fight broke out before the event, and one counter-protester was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Besides that, there were no major groups of counter-protestors and the event was largely peaceful.

The leader of the “This Is Texas Freedom Force,” Robert Beverly, told those gathered that this won’t be the last that Dallas sees of his group.

The state is scrapping a requirement that Harvey victims applying for disaster-relief food stamps do so from their home counties. Last week, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission faced criticism over that requirement.

Advocates said that policy was burdensome to people displaced by the storm, and broke with previous policy.

But Friday, Executive Commissioner Charles Smith said those affected would have greater flexibility in applying for benefits outside their home counties. The agency also expanded the program to include seven additional counties, on top of the 11 originally included.