Changes to state law and a resolution passed by the county commissioner’s court have paved the way for golf carts to be driven on public roads in unincorporated parts of the county.
As a result, golf carts are allowed on public roads with a maximum speed limit of 35 miles per hour, said Capt. Mark McGaffey, of the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office. Previously, golf carts in the unincorporated areas only were allowed to be driven on the beach or to and from a golf course if someone lived within 2 miles of that course.
In addition to allowing golf carts on roads, the state law also mandated all golf carts have a license plate, he said.
“Right now, we want to give everybody the correct information so that everybody can get on the same page that we’re on,” McGaffey said.
Although the state law was passed earlier this year, the county is just now making the changes because the commissioner’s court had to pass a resolution permitting the changes, McGaffey said. Since that has passed, the state law is going into effect, he said.
Apart from the golf cart plate requirement, not much has changed for golf car rental companies, said Randy Martin, owner of Crystal Beach Golf Carts. Because of an incorrect interpretation of the previous law, Galveston County officials had allowed golf carts to be driven on the public roads, even though it was illegal, he said.
“It won’t affect business at all because this is technically business as usual,” he said.
Once the county was aware of the misinterpretation, it began informing people they weren’t allowed to drive the carts on public roads, McGaffey said. That meant residents and visitors couldn’t drive their carts to the beach.
State law also requires that a golf cart driver have a valid driver’s license and liability insurance. Carts also must have reflectors, mirrors, headlamps, tail lamps and a parking brake.
Other cities in the county also have updated their golf cart ordinances. The League City council voted in April to amend the ordinance to reflect state law, and the League City Police Department no longer performs golf cart inspections or requires permits.
“We had our own standards so people knew whether golf carts met the requirements,” said John Griffith, public information officer for League City police. “Now that the state has established requirements that are similar to the ones we had before, we’ve just abolished the old law.”
But a change in state law isn’t enough to ensure golf carts will be safer, law enforcement officers said.
“For them to be safer, people would have to actually implement the changes,” Griffith said.
Even the requirement to have a license plate, reflectors and a mirror won’t necessarily ensure the carts are safer, McGaffey said.
“It’s just like a car,” he said. “The car’s got all the bells and whistles and they’re safe vehicles, but they still hurt people.”
One ongoing problem in cities and unincorporated areas is children driving golf carts. State law requires all drivers of golf carts to have a drivers license, making it illegal for children to drive.
This is true even at the beach, McGaffey said.
“People say, ‘This is the beach,’” he said. “Well, it’s also a roadway.”
Children driving golf carts is a problem Christian Dobbins has seen. Dobbins is the owner of CKD’s Golf Carts in League City and said he frequently sees children driving golf carts around their neighborhoods and on the beach.
“People let their kids on them, and the next thing you know, they’re running into parked cars and going through the grass,” he said.
Neither League City police nor the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office had numbers on how many golf cart-related wrecks have occurred in their respective areas.
In 2020, a 9-year-old boy in League City was in a severe incident involving a golf cart, Griffith said. He wasn’t aware of any other serious crashes, he said.
“The issue is if we have one and if someone dies, it doesn’t matter that we haven’t had any,” he said.
Both League City and the sheriff’s office are working to update residents on the changes to the law.
In the unincorporated areas, that also includes educating officers on the changes they must now enforce, McGaffey said.
And it will be a while before the county starts ticketing people who break the new law, he said.
“Right now, we’re trying to get our guys up to speed,” he said.
Martin, the owner of Crystal Beach Golf Carts, is taking the time to align his golf carts with the new law, which means getting a license plate for each of his carts. Even though the cost for the license plates falls on golf cart owners, Martin, who said the cost is minimal, is happy with the new requirement, he said.
“It’ll allow our carts to be identified by the plate and not by a number that we put on there or a sticker that we put on them,” he said.
Mission Carts owner John Caddell doesn’t expect the state law to make golf carts in League City safer because the city already had stringent requirements, he said. But he’s hopeful the requirements being part of state law will make people more aware of them, he said.
“People are more aware of the rules, so I think they’re more willing to abide by the rules,” he said.
Griffith acknowledged some League City residents might not be happy with the changes, but safety is the department’s priority.
“We don’t want one child to die because of a golf cart accident when citizens could have done the right thing and followed the laws,” he said.
The bipartisan infrastructure deal senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial Wednesday test vote as senators struggle over how to pay for nearly $1 trillion in public works spending.
Tensions were rising Tuesday as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas — including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill — restless Democrats say it’s time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.
“It is not a fish or cut bait moment,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., describing the procedural vote as just a first step to “get the ball rolling” as bipartisan talks progress.
Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.
Biden calls it a “blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back.” He asserted Tuesday that Americans are overwhelmingly in support of his plan and “that’s the part that a lot of our friends on the other team kind of miss.”
The other team begs to differ.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and some outside groups decry what they call Biden’s “spending spree,” and McConnell has said big spending is “the last thing American families need.”
A core group of Republicans are interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects, about $600 billion in new funds, and say they just need more time to negotiate with the White House.
Biden has been in touch with both Democrats and Republicans for several days, and his outreach will continue “until he has both pieces of legislation on his desk to sign them into law,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
While Biden proposes paying for his proposals with a tax hike on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has been working almost around the clock to figure out a compromise way to pay for its package, having dashed ideas for boosting the gas tax drivers pay at the pump or strengthening the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax scofflaws.
Instead, senators in the bipartisan group are considering rolling back a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates that could bring in some $170 billion to be used for infrastructure.
Ten Republicans would be needed in the evenly split Senate to join all 50 Democrats in reaching the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill past a filibuster to formal consideration.
Republicans are reluctant to open debate as the bipartisan bill remains a work in progress.
At a private lunch meeting Tuesday, McConnell and others urged Republican senators to vote no, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the session.
“We’re not going to vote to proceed to a bill that doesn’t exist yet,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said afterward.
Some senators want to delay the vote to Monday. “We’re making progress, but we need more time,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the members of the bipartisan group.
By setting the vote now, Schumer is trying to nudge negotiations along, a strategy both parties have used before. If it fails Wednesday, he can set another vote to proceed to the bill later.
Many Republicans are wary of moving ahead with the first, relatively slim package, fearing it will pave the way for the broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under special budget rules that only require 51 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been working to keep restless Democrats in her chamber in line, as rank-and-file lawmakers grow impatient with the sluggish Senate pace.
Liberal Democrats, in particular, are eager to make gains on Biden’s priorities — with or without Republicans.
“Time’s a wasting, I want to get this work done,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters Tuesday.
Jayapal warned against giving Republicans too much time to negotiate the deal away. “We have all the history in the world to show that this is what Republicans do time and time and time again,” she said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, dismissed the Senate’s bipartisan effort as inadequate. He wants more robust spending on the transportation elements and said, “We want an opportunity to actually negotiate.”
Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said if the bipartisan effort fails in the Senate, Democrats will simply include some of the infrastructure spending in the broader package they are compiling with Biden’s other priorities.
Democrats hope to show progress on that bill before lawmakers leave Washington for their recess in August.
The legislative maneuvering marks a major test of Biden’s ability to deliver on a massive package of economic promises and reforms he made during his campaign.
Biden is making the case that America needs to make up for lost time with fresh federal outlays to shore up its aging infrastructure and households struggling to recoup from a shifting economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economy has come back to life as more Americans have gotten vaccinated and Biden’s earlier $1.9 trillion relief package has coursed through the country. Employers have added an average of nearly 543,000 jobs a month since January, with Federal Reserve officials anticipating overall economic growth of roughly 7 percent this year that would be the highest since 1984. Yet there also is uncertainty as employers say they’re struggling to find workers at the current pay levels and inflation concerns have yet to abate.
As Galveston County residents get used to socializing again, they might notice more of their friends and family members falling ill with common respiratory illnesses than in summers past.
The return to socializing and more lax hygiene habits has led to winter-like levels of common respiratory illnesses that typically are less active in the summer. That’s prompting area hospitals to resume more active COVID testing of patients with flu-like symptoms.
Although some people might feel like they have influenza, that’s not what area doctors are seeing, said Dr. Janak Patel, director of infection control and healthcare epidemiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Locally, people more commonly are getting infected with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, or with rhinovirus, both of which cause cold-like symptoms. Patel hasn’t seen a surge in influenza cases, he said.
“We have had an unexpected huge increase in RSV infections since May,” Patel said. “It’s still going on and still rising. Other winter viruses and spring viruses came back in a significant way.”
Unlike the flu, the RSV virus is typical throughout the year, said Dr. Rami Sunallah, pediatrician with League City Pediatrics, 3831 E. League City Parkway.
But the levels of RSV and other respiratory viruses doctors are seeing are more similar to what’s typical in the winter, not the summer, Sunallah said.
That could be in part because as COVID cases declined, people are forgoing mask wearing, are socializing more and being less diligent about hygiene, he said.
“I think people let loose a little more, including day care,” Sunallah said.
Sunallah is especially concerned about babies who haven’t been exposed to the social situations that can give rise to respiratory diseases, he said.
But others see the surge in viral infections as merely getting back to baseline.
Wearing masks and isolating, people contracted the flu and other respiratory illnesses at far lower rates than typical this winter, said Dr. Edward Zompa, medical director at West Isle Urgent Care, 2027 61st St.
“Everyone got used to a season with no flu,” Zompa said. “Nobody got the flu this year. There wasn’t much of it around because everybody was wearing masks and isolating during the peak of what would have been the flu season.”
But it’s true people have become less diligent about general hygiene, which could be helping the rebound of viral diseases, he said.
“Honestly, the hand-washing probably helped more with the flu,” Zompa said. “Doesn’t do anything for the COVID. The flu virus is much more likely to be altered or affected with the hand-washing.”
The rise in respiratory illnesses doesn’t necessarily correspond to the increase in COVID-19 cases, but coronavirus cases have been rising locally.
Last week, about 439 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, numbers similar to those in early March, according to the Galveston County Health District.
At hospitals, that means doctors and nurses will have to be more vigilant about screening everyone with cold-like symptoms for COVID-19, Patel said.
“At the height of the pandemic, we were screening people with respiratory symptoms,” Patel said. “We were testing at a much higher level with any symptom of a cold. A few months back, we stopped respecting the cold. The delta variant is now causing significant respiratory symptoms in our population right now.”
Despite talk about unmasking and socializing spreading viruses, Patel isn’t exactly sure why the illnesses that typically only emerge in the winter are spreading now, he said. He’s also not sure why influenza cases still seem to be fairly low.
“We don’t know,” Patel said. “It’s so hard to get molecular, real data. It takes time.”
Four crew members aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Independence of the Seas have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than two dozen other crew members are in quarantine, according to the Galveston County Health District.
The infections have caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put the ship under tighter monitoring procedures, just 12 days before it’s supposed to embark on a safety- proving test cruise from the Port of Galveston.
Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser confirmed the infections Tuesday.
The infected people all are asymptomatic, Keiser said. It’s not clear whether the crew members were vaccinated.
The infections aren’t surprising because of strict monitoring of crew members, rising numbers of COVID-19 cases around the world because of the delta variant and the high number of unvaccinated people, Keiser said.
“The system is catching things,” Keiser said. “But with the rising rates that we have, I worry about any new cases.”
The health district hasn’t confirmed whether cases on the cruise ship were caused by the delta variant, Keiser said.
The confirmation came one day after the CDC updated a cruise-tracking web portal to indicate it had increased its monitoring of the Independence of the Seas because of COVID-19 infection.
The CDC on Monday changed the status of the Independence of the Seas from green to orange. The organization uses a four-color system to track the status of cruise ships that are working to return to business after a 16-month shutdown caused by the pandemic.
Ships without any COVID cases are noted as green and have been given the go-ahead to sail with passengers or to make other preparations to begin their return. Ships listed as yellow or orange in the CDC system have reported COVID cases and are more closely monitored as they continue to make preparations. Ships with a red status aren’t allowed to sail.
The CDC didn’t respond to requests for comment about the status change.
The orange status means at least one crew member aboard the Independence of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days and less than 1 percent of crew members aboard the ship have tested positive. The CDC will begin an investigation if more than 1 percent of crew members report infections, according to the agency’s guidelines.
The Independence of the Seas returned to Galveston June 2. Since then, the ship has carried only Royal Caribbean employees, as it began making preparations for a return to business. Since arriving, crew members have been shuttled into the port from local airports to board the ship.
A Port of Galveston spokeswoman Tuesday confirmed crew members haven’t been allowed to leave the ship and go to locations into Galveston.
Last week, Royal Caribbean confirmed plans to operate a safety-proving test cruise from Galveston on Aug. 1 and announced it would soon begin selecting volunteers from the public to board the cruise. The test cruise is a step required for Royal Caribbean to potentially allow more unvaccinated people aboard its ships.
Under CDC rules, ships can sail with paying passengers if at least 95 percent of passengers are vaccinated. Otherwise, a company has to prove that its safety measures work to stop onboard spread of COVID-19.
Royal Caribbean has contracts with the Port of Galveston and Galveston County Health District allowing the company to sail test cruises, Keiser said. As of Tuesday, the company still had permission to sail Aug. 1, Keiser said.
“We’re just going to see how this plays out,” Keiser said.
Late Tuesday, Royal Caribbean responded to questions about the Independence of the Seas and confirmed there was a case on board the ship. The company said the change in status wouldn’t affect the August test cruise.
The Independence of the Seas isn’t the only Royal Caribbean International ship being closely monitored for COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, seven of the company’s 14 U.S.-based ships were being monitored or investigated because of recently reported COVID cases.
By comparison, only four of Carnival Cruise Lines’ 16 U.S.-based ships were being monitored or investigated because of recent COVID-19 infections. None of those four ships operates from Galveston.