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Waco hospitalizations reach new high; Waco ISD, Midway report some improvement

COVID-19 numbers have lessened slightly for area school districts while hospitalizations crept up from 182 patients to a new high of 202.

Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 255 new cases Saturday, 87 new cases Sunday and 181 new cases on Monday, bringing the active cases in the county to 1,435 and the cumulative case count to 38,015.

There are 202 people in McLennan County hospitals with COVID-19, 152 of whom are county residents and 54 of whom occupy ICU beds.

Another six people have died, bringing the local death toll to 578. They were a 42-year old Hispanic man, a 41-year-old Hispanic woman, a 70-year old white woman, a 72-year old Black man, a 62-year old white woman and a 54-year old man of unknown ethnicity.

The percentage of patients in McLennan County hospitals who are unvaccinated was 89% on Monday, the lowest it’s been since Aug. 24. Out of the 50 ventilators in use, COVID-19 patients are relying on 39. China Spring has the highest incidence rate per 100,000 residents with 581 cases.

The new cases are mostly between the ages of 11 and 19, followed by the 1 to 10 age group and the 20 to 29 age group. The health district reported 2% are 1 year old or younger.

There were 8,140 new confirmed cases in Texas on Monday and 46 more deaths, bringing the active case count to 303,932 and death toll to 58,901. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas have been above 13,000 since Aug. 21 and decreased to 13,065 on Monday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Waco ISD began the school day with no new cases on any of its campuses or among employees but had 32 new cases by Monday evening. The district has had 567 cases total since Aug 1.

Waco ISD spokesman Josh Wucher said the response to the school’s mask requirement from parents has been “overwhelmingly positive” and the district’s active case count has been declining since it was put in place.

“We saw that when the requirement to wear masks inside our buildings was initially announced, and we saw it again after the attorney general made threats on Facebook last week,” Wucher said.

Midway ISD spokeswoman Traci Marlin said the school’s active case count has decreased by about half over the last week. Marlin said it’s still too early to tell what caused the improvement. She also said it could be short-lived if students did a lot of traveling over the Labor Day weekend.

On Monday there were 200 Midway students attending classes while at home temporarily. Another 76 students have been attending class remotely. Both sets of students have been learning virtually since the district brought remote learning back two weeks ago.

McGregor ISD reported 15 active cases on Monday, a decrease from last week.

Supports for northbound I-35 bridges at University Parks, 4th-5th installed

Waco motorists who use the Fourth-Fifth street corridor, University Parks Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard saw new bridge supports put into place as work on those three intersections along Interstate 35 progressed over the weekend.

Texas Department of Transportation officials said the intersections would not be completed until the spring of 2022, but the decks for the new bridges should be poured before the end of 2021.

University Parks and Fourth-Fifth streets are the main entrances to downtown Waco from I-35, and construction along the interstate has caused major traffic delays for the past year.

TxDOT spokesman Jacob Smith said the decks for bridges at University Parks and Fourth-Fifth streets would be essentially done by the end of 2021, and work below the bridges would take another few months to complete.

The work is part of a $341 million expansion and reconstruction of I-35 through downtown Waco. It includes a realignment of Fourth-Fifth streets at I-35 and the inclusion of pedestrian and bicycle lanes.

The 5.6-mile project, beginning at 12th Street and ending at North Loop 340 in Bellmead, has been ongoing since May 2019.

Dems want to tax big firms, the rich

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveiled a sweeping proposal Monday for tax hikes on big corporations and the wealthy to fund President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan, as Congress speeds ahead to shape the far-reaching package that touches almost all aspects of domestic life.

The proposed top tax rate would revert to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for couples, and there would be a 3% tax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big businesses, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on incomes beyond $5 million, slightly less than the 28% rate the president had sought.

In all, the tax hikes are in line with Biden’s own proposals and would bring about the most substantive changes in the tax code since Republicans with then-President Donald Trump slashed taxes in 2017. Business and anti-tax groups are sure to object.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee, said the proposals, taken together, would “expand opportunity for the American people and support our efforts to build a healthier, more prosperous future.”

It’s an opening bid at a daunting moment for Biden and his allies in Congress as they assemble the massive package that is expected to become one of the largest single domestic policy measures considered in decades. The president’s “Build Back Better” agenda includes spending on child care, health care, education and strategies to confront climate change. It is an ambitious undertaking on par with the Great Society or New Deal.

Republican critics decry the sweep of Biden’s plan, suggesting it slopes toward a Western European-style socialism, and they particularly reject the taxes required to pay for it, bristling because it would reverse the GOP tax cuts that were approved just a few years ago.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal is “the last thing American families need.” All GOP lawmakers are expected to vote against it.

Democrats have no votes to spare to enact Biden’s agenda, with their slim hold on the House and the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker if there is no Republican support. Democratic congressional leaders have set a target of Wednesday for committees to have the bill drafted.

One Democratic senator vital to the bill’s fate says the cost will need to be slashed to $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion to win his support.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suggested it’s time for a “strategic pause,” and cautioned there was “no way” Congress will meet the late September goal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for passage, given his wide differences with liberal Democrats on how much to spend and how to pay for it.

Manchin is not alone, as other centrist lawmakers have raised concerns. Restive Democrats from high-tax, heavily Democratic states like New York, New Jersey and California are pushing for a repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions that was imposed by the 2017 Trump law. Neal indicated Monday that the issue is under serious consideration.

Finding compromise will be a daunting project as progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are angling for the most robust package possible. As chairman of the Budget Committee helping to write the bill, Sanders noted that he and other members of the liberal flank initially urged an even more robust package of $6 trillion.

“For me, this is not a particular number, but it is making sure that we meet this moment,” said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., a member of House leadership. “The pandemic has shown us that we cannot continue to have an economy of haves and have nots.”

The White House welcomed the preliminary tax plan, which keeps to Biden’s promise not to tax anyone making less than $400,000. The proposal “makes significant progress towards ensuring our economy rewards work and not just wealth,” said deputy press secretary Andrew Bates.

The House, Senate and White House are working together to align their plans ahead of this month’s deadlines, though some differences are emerging that will need to be resolved.

The House tax proposal was pitched as potentially raising some $2.9 trillion, a preliminary estimate — but it would go a long way toward paying for the $3.5 trillion legislation. The White House is counting on long-term economic growth from the plan to generate an additional $600 billion to make up the difference.

Much of the revenue raised would come from the higher taxes on corporations and the highest earners, increasing the individual tax rate to 39.6% from the current 37%.

Looking at wealthy individuals, Neal proposed an increase in the top tax rate on capital gains for those earning $400,000 a year or more, to 25% from the current 20%. Exemptions for estate taxes, which were doubled under the 2017 Trump tax law to now $11.7 million for individuals, would revert to $5 million.

State sues Waco, Midway, La Vega, McGregor school districts over mask mandates

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made good on his threat to take public entities that adopted masking rules to court Monday, suing four Waco-area school districts and claiming the state will suffer “irreparable harm” unless a Waco judge issues an injunction blocking mask mandates.

Paxton alleges in the suit, filed in Waco’s 414th State District Court against Waco, Midway, McGregor and La Vega school districts, that the defendants are “deliberately violating state law.”

The suit asks Judge Vicki Menard to set an expedited hearing on the state’s application for a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction that seek to block the four districts from requiring that masks be worn in their schools. Menard has not set a hearing.

“In flouting GA-38’s ban on mask mandates, Defendants challenge the policy choices made by the State’s commander in chief during times of disaster,” the suit states. “But the Texas legislature made the Governor — not a patchwork of county judges, city mayors, superintendents, or school boards — the leader of the State’s response to and recovery from a statewide emergency.”

GA-38 is a statewide order, issued using statewide emergency powers, with a statewide legal effect, according to the lawsuit.

“It has the force and effect of state law, and state law preempts inconsistent local law,” the suit states. “Defendants disagree with Governor (Greg) Abbott’s policy choice. But Defendants must recognize the fact that they are not above the law.”

Waco Superintendent Susan Kincannon said in a statement Monday that she is not interested in politics — she is focused on taking care of kids. She said WISD will “respond accordingly” if and when it is served with the lawsuit.

“In the meantime, two things are clear,” Kincannon said. “Courts across the state are deeply divided over whether the mask provisions of the governor’s executive order have the force of law. More importantly, since requiring masks in all Waco ISD buildings, the number of students and employees reporting that they have tested positive for COVID-19 has decreased significantly.”

Midway ISD spokeswoman Traci Marlin said she has written to the attorney general’s office multiple times requesting the district’s removal from the mandate list. She said River Valley Intermediate School officials requested the school district strongly encourage masking because of the high number of cases on campus so early in the year, but the request was never a mandate. The district’s website has reminders that the masks aren’t mandatory, Marlin said.

“It’s just frustrating to have criticism from some people for not having a mask mandate, then get listed as having one,” Marlin said.

Officials from La Vega ISD and McGregor ISD did not return phone messages and emails Monday.

The four Waco-area school districts join the Elgin, Galveston, Richardson, Round Rock, Sherman and Spring school districts as lawsuit defendants. Paxton sued those six districts on Friday for requiring students, teachers, school employees and visitors to wear face coverings while on their premises, which Paxton dubbed “unlawful political maneuvering.”

“If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they must do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases,” Paxton said in a statement. “I have full confidence that the courts will side with the law — not acts of political defiance.”

Dozens of school districts across the state have defied Abbott and issued mask mandates.

Abbott had called on Texas lawmakers to pass a bill that would stop school officials from requiring students, teachers and other school employees to wear face coverings. However, the concept was not adopted by the Legislature.

The Texas Disaster Act of 1975 gives the governor the authority over the state’s emergency response and is designed to “mitigate the damage, injury, and loss of life and property” resulting from a disaster and to “provide a setting conducive to the rapid and orderly restoration and rehabilitation of persons and property affected by disasters,” according to the lawsuit.

The executive order seeks to “create a uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one that gives individuals the autonomy to make personal health decisions free from government control,” the lawsuit states.