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TipSheet: Travis County, 4.21.20

Tuesday, April 21, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

The Travis County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. This week’s meeting will be broadcast to ensure everyone is able to follow social distancing regulations. The public can access the meeting by watching the livestream or tuning into public access Channel 17. To help our readers stay informed, each week we offer a selection of interesting items from the voting session agenda. The entire agenda is available at the Travis County website.

3. Receive update on Census 2020. (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: The final tally of Travis County residents will have profound effects on the next decade of politics, planning and funding. Ensuring an accurate count for the census is a huge undertaking in a normal year. But Covid-19 threw a curveball into the equation and has experts fearful that the already anticipated undercount could prove to be devastating in Austin and Travis County. To help keep the count on track, the U.S. Census Bureau tweaked the timeline and extended the count from July 31 to Oct. 31. Even with that extension, it remains to be seen how effective the county’s efforts will be to reach target populations. As of Monday, Travis County had a 50 percent response rate; the response rate for Texas is 46 percent, according to data from the Census Bureau. With Travis County halfway to the finish line, it will be interesting to see what techniques the county has in store to reach the other half of the population that has not responded to this once-in-a-decade effort.

6. Approve exemption and contract award of Contract No. 4400005059 with Chisos Star, LLC DBA The Cook’s Nook for emergency prepared food access services. (Commissioner Daugherty)

Monitor’s Take: This contract – a partnership between culinary incubator the Cook’s Nook and Keep Austin Together – is a step toward alleviating food insecurity within the community. These two entities have assembled a list of local restaurants and will use their kitchens and personnel to prepare meals to be distributed to community partners for delivery to vulnerable Travis County residents. This expansion in the number of organizations involved in serving meals to the community will help ease the burden on the Central Texas Food Bank and charitable organizations such as Meals on Wheels. Meals under this contract are anticipated to cost $3.85 apiece for a weekly total of $19,738. The contract is scheduled to run from April 21-May 31 with a budget not to exceed $160,000.

A1. Receive legal briefing from County Attorney and take appropriate action on Governor’s Executive Order No. GA-13 relating to detention in county and municipal jails during the Covid-19 disaster and any associated litigation. (This item will be taken into Executive Session under the Consultation with Attorney exception.) (Judge Eckhardt)

Monitor’s Take: Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s order on March 29 that prevented judges from releasing inmates during the pandemic if they cannot post bail, some Travis County judges have continued to operate under previous practices that granted defendants personal bond if the crime did not involve violence or threats of violence. Personal bonds allow those who have been arrested to get out of jail without posting cash bail, and courts have granted the majority of cases in Travis County personal bonds over the last year. Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have tried to block Abbott’s order, saying it is unconstitutional and an overreach of executive power. So far these attempts have failed and the gubernatorial order remains in effect. The governor issued his order in an effort to prevent mass jail releases by local officials looking to reduce the populations and prevent transmission of Covid-19. (As the Monitor recently reported, Travis County inmates and sheriffs have so far evaded the fate of other detention facilities in the state.) While each Municipal Court judge is making an independent decision as to whether to follow the governor’s executive order, that might change based on legal advice offered to the Commissioners Court.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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