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TipSheet: Travis County, 3.23.21
Tuesday, March 23, 2021 by Seth Smalley
The Travis County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. 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. The meeting will be streamed live on the Travis County website and the Travis County YouTube channel.
Special Joint Session Covid Updates
Monitor’s Take: Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard will join the Commissioners Court for a special joint session with City Council. As usual, expect the Covid brief to occupy a significant portion of time in the morning. So far, Covid-19 case numbers have been declining for over a month straight as vaccination infrastructure in the county is ramping up. The county has moved to stage 3 risk-based guidelines and has lowered the vaccination age threshold for those with no underlying conditions to 50 and up.
Item A1: Honoring Bertha Sadler Means
Bertha Sadler Means was an Austin civil rights leader known for her activism against Jim Crow segregation. Huston Tillotson’s African American Resource Center is named after her, as is the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy. She died on March 16 at the of 100.
Item 30: Progress Update on 2017-2022 Bond Program
There will be a virtual ribbon-cutting for the Grand Avenue Parkway project.
Item 15: Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Guidelines
Each fiscal year, the budget process commences with the budget guidelines. During executive session this week, commissioners will be briefed on several ongoing legal cases pertaining to both the county and the city.
Emily Borchardt v. Travis County: Borchardt is one of eight women named in a class-action lawsuit suing the county for defamation in a sexual assault case. The suit states that the DA’s Office declined to prosecute after evidence was submitted.
Amy Smith, et al. v. City of Austin, et al.: In another case of reported sexual violence, Amy Smith was kidnapped and raped in 2008. The police initially misidentified her rapist with a DNA testing error, but after DNA evidence identified the true attacker, the case did not progress. In 2014, the charges were refiled, but the county allegedly did not continue the case to avoid having to explain the first flawed DNA analysis, according to a legal news site.
State of Texas v. City of Austin, et al.: This case has to do with Travis County’s decision to continue enforcing the mask mandate, despite the governor’s executive order to end the mask mandate and business occupancy limits. The state was citing two parts of state law: one, given the pandemic, the governor has disaster authority to waive state law (including laws intended to mitigate the disaster); and two, state law states that the governor’s orders supersede city and county laws. Travis County has argued that no local rules or ordinances were being enforced. Instead, the county is merely following Texas Health and Safety Code, which asserts localities are allowed to follow guidelines set by their local health authorities, in this case Dr. Mark Escott.
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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.