City of Waco officials and Waco and Midway schools, who had considered holding separate elections in November, have decided instead to contract with the McLennan County Elections Office to conduct joint elections.
So instead of the city and the school districts having to spend considerably more money, rent their own voting machines, hire their own election workers and ask voters to stand in different lines on Nov. 3, voters will find the city and school candidates at the top of their ballots, McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said.
“I think that will be great for the voters,” Van Wolfe said. “They can now have everything they are eligible to vote on on one ballot and they will just have to stand in one line to vote and won’t have to stand in line for city and schools and one for the county.”
Waco City Secretary Esmeralda Hudson said the Waco City Council is set to vote Aug. 4 to contract with the county. City leaders asked her to explore the options of partnering with Waco and Midway schools to hold separate elections. She said after reviewing the situation, it just makes more sense, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to contract with the county for joint elections.
“A lot of city governments feel they want to protect the integrity of the general election,” Hudson said. “In May, when cities and schools normally hold their elections, those are nonpartisan races and the focus is on the city and schools. The ballot in November is a presidential ballot and it is a partisan ballot that some feel takes away from a nonpartisan ballot.”
Mayor Kyle Deaver said the city wanted to explore its options, but thinks “in these unprecedented times” that it is more feasible to contract with the county.
Hudson said it would cost the city an estimated $100,000 to hold a separate election and about $30,000 for the city to contract with the county, which already has election workers, voting sites and voting machines in place.
The last time the city and WISD held its own elections — without contracting with the county elections office — was May 2012, Hudson said.
“But the key then is we didn’t have as many polling locations,” she said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Monday extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election by nearly a week. Under the new order, early voting in person will begin Tuesday, Oct.13 and continue through Friday, Oct. 30.
“As we respond to COVID-19, the state of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus,” Abbott said in a statement. “By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.”
Oct. 5 is the deadline to register to vote and Oct. 23 is the deadline to apply for mail-in ballots.
Van Wolfe said there will be 34 polling locations on election day and five early voting centers. Besides, Waco, Waco ISD and Midway ISD, 24 other entities are contracting with the county to conduct their elections, she said.
McLennan County will pay 33.75 percent of the estimated $210,000 for the total cost of the election, Van Wolfe said. The city of Waco and Waco ISD will pay 14 percent each and Midway ISD will pay 7 percent, the total based on the number of polling places within those jurisdictions.
Now that straight-ticket voting has been eliminated and election workers are wiping down each voting machine after each use, Van Wolfe said voting takes a bit longer than it used to. So election workers will be extra vigilant to make sure voters practice social distancing while standing in line. Those extra measures will require her office to hire about 300 poll workers, more than in normal times, she said.
Also, other coronavirus-fighting measures such as buying face shields and masks for workers, pens that voters can keep to sign in with and pencils used to dial up their favorite candidates will increase election costs, as they did in the July 14 primary runoff.
“Normally with the presidential election in November, we have a lot of people who want to work the election, but I don’t know about this time because of COVID-19,” Van Wolfe said.
At least three elections workers who worked the polls in Robinson tested positive for COVID-19 after the primary runoff, but it has not been determined where they contracted the disease.
Kyle DeBeer, WISD chief of staff, said the board considered separate elections and wanted to gather as much information as possible before making its decision to contract with the county. The board considered that the most feasible option, he said.
WASHINGTON — Unemployment assistance, eviction protections and other relief for millions of Americans are at stake as White House officials launched negotiations late Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer on a new coronavirus aid package that’s teetering in Congress ahead of looming deadlines.
While Senate Republicans struggled to roll out their own $1 trillion proposal, Pelosi implored the White House and GOP lawmakers to stop the infighting and come to the negotiating table with Democrats. Aid runs out Friday for a $600/weekly jobless benefit that Democrats call a lifeline for out-of-work Americans. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week, saying that the federal bump is too generous on top of state benefits and is discouraging employees from returning to work.
“This is wrong. We have to do what’s right for the American people,” Pelosi said at the Capitol afterward.
With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, both parties are eager for a deal. There is widespread agreement that more money is needed for virus testing, to help schools prepare to open in the fall and to shore up small businesses. Voters are assessing their handling of the virus crisis before the November election, and President Donald Trump’s standing is at one of the lowest points of his term, according to a new AP-NORC poll.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met with Pelosi and Schumer for nearly two hours at the speaker’s office. The two top negotiators would be back at it Tuesday.
“Good meeting,” Meadows said.
The Republicans come to the negotiating table hobbled by infighting and delays. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he wanted to hit “pause” on new spending after Congress approved a sweeping $2.2 trillion relief package in March. But Pelosi, D-Calif., took the opposite approach, swiftly passing a $3 trillion effort with robust Democratic support. In the intervening months, the crisis deepened.
McConnell, flanked by top GOP chairs Monday at the Capitol, unveiled his long-awaited proposal. It provides some $105 billion to schools and colleges, the K-12 funds tilted toward campuses that reopen with in-person learning. There’s more money for virus testing, $15 billion for child care centers and benefits for businesses, including a fresh round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, tax breaks and a sweeping liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits.
Republicans left out new money for cash-strapped states and cities, a priority for Democrats, but included another round of $1,200 direct payments to households that Democrats also support. Based on an earlier formula, people making $75,000 or less would receive the full amount, with the benefit phased out for those earning above $99,000, or double for married couples filing joint taxes.
The GOP bill also provides $1.7 billion for a new FBI headquarters in Washington, a non-pandemic-related expense that’s a top priority for the president but not for lawmakers or McConnell. Trump’s hotel is across the street from it on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Senate Republicans have offered another bold framework to help our nation,” McConnell said. He called it a starting point in talks.
But Democrats said it was insufficient, and conservative Republicans quickly broke ranks on McConnell’s plan, arguing the spending was too much and priorities misplaced. Half the Republican senators could vote against the bill, some warned, and their opposition leaves McConnell heading into negotiations with Pelosi without the full force of the Senate majority behind him.
“The focus of this legislation is wrong,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the bill’s most vocal opponents, told reporters at the Capitol. “Our priority, our objective, should be restarting the economy.”
As bipartisan talks unfold, the White House is now suggesting a narrower relief package may be all that’s possible with Friday’s approaching deadlines.
But Pelosi has resisted tackling a relief package in piecemeal fashion, arguing that broader aid is needed for Americans. “Forget it,” she said. Democrats also panned the Trump administration’s desire to reduce the $600 weekly unemployment aid.
“They managed to have enough money for $2 billion for the FBI headquarters that benefits Trump hotel and they say they have no money for food assistance?” said Schumer. “What the heck is going on?”
Frankie Gonzalez, the toddler whose body was found June 2 in a trash bin, died from homicidal violence including blunt force injuries, according to a cause of death report released Monday.
In a one-page preliminary report, pathologists at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas ruled Frankie’s cause of death as homicide.
Frankie’s mother, Laura Villalon, also known as Laura Sanchez, 35, remains in the McLennan County Jail on a first-degree felony injury to a child charge in Frankie’s death. She also is being held for an alleged parole violation.
Child Protective Services records show she was not supposed to be left alone and unsupervised with Frankie and his two sisters because of her past criminal record and long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Villalon previously was stripped of her parental rights to six other children because of neglect and drug abuse, but CPS officials were allowing her visits with her youngest three children as long as she was supervised.
Lorenzo Gonzalez, the father of Frankie and his older and younger sisters, has told authorities he went to work and left Villalon alone with the children because he thought she was doing better dealing with her abusive past.
Waco police arrested Lorenzo Gonzalez later in June on a second-degree felony charge of endangering a child. He remains jailed on that charge plus federal authorities have placed an immigration hold on him.
Court documents show Gonzalez signed a Department of Family and Protective Services agreement promising not to leave the children alone with Villalon and to alert authorities if she “threatened to take the children unsupervised.”
Villalon led police to Frankie’s body the day after she fabricated a story that the 2-year-old disappeared during a family outing to Cameron Park. Her report prompted a widespread search for the boy and a statewide Amber Alert.
Waco police have said they think Frankie, who was born in prison while Villalon was serving a sentence for violating her probation for burglary, died May 28 while in Villalon’s care and that she kept his body at her home for two days before placing him in the trash bin near a church on Park Lake Drive.
Villalon’s attorney, Susan Shafer, declined comment Monday.
McLennan County First Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes said he is waiting for the final autopsy report “to make final evaluations” about how to proceed with the case.
Lorenzo Gonzalez’s attorney, Phil Martinez, said his client remains “torn up” over the death of his son.
“He is very upset that his son died,” Martinez said. “Initially, before he was arrested, he was cooperating with law enforcement about what he knew and what he could tell them about what might have happened. Every time I have talked to him about it, he is broken up regarding all of this. He doesn’t know what could have overcome the mother to do something like that. He is also looking for answers.”
Frankie’s sisters remain in state foster care.
McLennan County health officials reported one death attributed to COVID-19 on Monday, with 56 new cases that pushed the county past the 4,000-case mark for the year.
The person who died was a 55-year-old Black woman, the 36th person in the county to die from the disease .
The 56 cases brought the county’s year-to-date total to 4,042. Of that number, 1,889 are active cases and 2,117 estimated as recovered. The majority of new cases, 44 of 56, were of people younger than 50.
Local hospitals were treating 76 COVID-19 patients, 12 of which were in critical condition. Of the hospitals’ 54 ICU beds, 47 were in use with 12 COVID-19 patients on 12 of the 24 ventilators being used. The total number of those tested for COVID-19 since March reached 30,769 with the latest seven-day rolling positivity number at 19%.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management opened testing sites Monday at the Waco Multi-Purpose Facility, 1020 Elm Ave., and University Baptist Church, 1701 Dutton Ave. Waco-McLennan County Health District spokesperson Kelly Craine said the new sites operating this week in Waco employ a COVID-19 test that uses a cheek swab rather than a deep nasal swab with results as quick as 24 hours. The multipurpose facility reported 226 people were tested Monday with 207 tested at UBC. Each state site has a capacity of 600 tests per day.
Testing will continue at those two sites through Wednesday, with drive-through testing Thursday at Toliver Chapel Baptist Church. Additional drive-through testing will be held Aug. 3 at McGregor High School with walk-up testing Aug. 13 at McLennan Community College Highlander Gym.
Here are the age groupings for cases reported Monday:
0 in the under-1 age range
0 in the 75-79 age range
State health officials also reported 4,267 newly confirmed cases and 44 deaths in the state on Monday as well as a change in fatality reported that boosted the state totals by almost 700 deaths to 5,713. Texas also reported nearly 10,000 hospitalizations but said lags in reporting from hospitals may keep that number lower than it really is.