Week of April 25-May 1, 2016

Abbott proclaims flooding disaster, adds more counties
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on April 18 declared a state of disaster for Austin, Bastrop, Colorado, Fort Bend, Grimes, Harris, Montgomery, Waller and Wharton counties.
Those counties were hit with severe storms and flooding beginning April 17, requiring the aid of emergency responders over many days.
Abbott authorized the use of “all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster” and suspended any statute that would prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the disaster, pending written approval of his office.
On April 22, Abbott added the counties of Bosque, Fayette, Liberty, Milam, Palo Pinto, Parker and San Jacinto to his April 18 disaster declaration. The governor’s office said even more counties could be added later.
On April 24, Abbott requested federal “individual assistance” for Harris, Fayette, Grimes and Parker counties. If his request is granted by President Obama, affected citizens would be able to apply for grants of up to $33,000 and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“As Texans recover from the severe flooding that inundated several areas of Texas, it is crucial they receive the financial assistance needed to restore their communities,” Abbott said. “In facing these challenges, Texans have displayed enormous courage, with more than 1,000 rescues from the rising waters. With much-needed financial assistance, I am confident Texans will continue to overcome the challenges before them as they begin to rebuild their lives.”
TEA grants waivers
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on April 20 announced he would grant two missed instructional day waivers for school systems in Houston-area counties that fall within Gov. Abbott’s April 18 disaster declaration. 
Morath said school systems in disaster counties with more than two days missed due to flooding will not have to make up those two days on the remaining school calendar, but they will need to work with the Texas Education Agency on options for any additional missed days beyond two.
Paxton warns of scams
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on April 20 advised Texans in disaster-stricken counties to protect themselves against scams and be ready to report possible price gouging.
“Unfortunately, people who have already been through so much also need to be wary of bad actors taking advantage of their circumstances,” Paxton said. “To that end, I’d like to caution everyone in any area affected by storms and flood to be extremely careful with people offering to help you rebuild or reconstruct.”
Texans in affected counties who believe they have been scammed or encountered price gouging may call the attorney general’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online at texasattorneygeneral.gov.
TxDOT advises caution
With more rain and flooding in the weather forecast, the Texas Department of Transportation on April 21 posted a recommendation to drivers to “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”
TxDOT implored drivers to “heed all warnings and never drive around barricades or cross roads that are either closed or submerged with water.” 
Flash flooding, according to TxDOT, is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in Texas. Highway officials noted that as little as six inches of water can float some vehicles.
Budget challenges ahead
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus last week encouraged members of the House Committee on Appropriations to consider a number of budget challenges that will face the Legislature when it convenes in January.
In an April 19 letter to the committee, Straus, R-San Antonio, identified the need to address the state’s foster care system and a shortfall within the state’s health care system for retired teachers. Straus also mentioned that the state’s school finance system is still under court review. The matter is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.
“Any of these issues individually would pose a challenge,” Straus wrote. “Yet they come at a time when our state continues to grow rapidly, bringing more children in our schools, more cars on our roads and an overall greater demand for state resources. At the same time, we do not want to abandon the commitment to low taxation and overall fiscal discipline that has put our state in such a sound budgetary position.”
Jobless rate stays same
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate maintained a 4.3 percent rate in March, matching the state’s revised 4.3 percent unemployment rate in February, the Texas Workforce Commission reported on April 15.
In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged the national average unemployment rate at 5.0 percent for the month of March.