U.S. Rep. Randy Weber and other members of the Texas delegation met with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson this week to talk about progress on getting $4.4 billion in Hurricane Harvey disaster aid released to the state.

The answers the congressmen got from Carson weren’t good, Weber told The Daily News on Wednesday afternoon. It still might be months until the department releases the money, he said.

“It’s unacceptable,” Weber said. “We still have people out of their homes.”

The money was first approved in February 2018 and is meant to pay for infrastructure projects that could repair damage caused by Harvey in 2017, and to mitigate damage from future storms.

But release of that money has been delayed because the housing department hasn’t written rules on how it can be used, Weber said.

The new target for the release of a draft of the spending rules is now April, though Weber urged Carson to move faster, even if that might result in some objections about the department’s proposals, Weber said.

“Whatever they are, good, bad or indifferent, get them out,” Weber said. “Start that pot of money getting released.”

VOTER REGISTRATION

State attorneys and civil rights groups have spent two days this week in a San Antonio federal court arguing over whether to block or allow the review of thousands of voter registrations.

The hearings were the first from a group of lawsuits filed after the Texas Secretary of State’s office identified some 95,000 “potential non-U.S. citizens” on state voter rolls. Among the people ensnared in the lawsuits is Galveston County Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson, who last month sent letters to dozens of Galveston County voters asking them to prove their citizenship.

In court on Tuesday, lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s office argued the agency had not acted wrongly in the efforts to review people’s citizenships.

Instead, they argued it was county election officials who might have acted “contrary to state law,” according to the Texas Tribune.

On Wednesday, the election director for the Texas Secretary of State’s office testified that about 20,000 people should not have been on the initial list of potential non-citizens. Since the controversy began in late January, 43 people have asked to be removed from voter rolls because they were not actually citizens, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

On Friday, some of the same people who have been appearing at the San Antonio hearings are supposed to be in Galveston for a different lawsuit involving the same issues.

While attorneys have asked that the Galveston case be moved to San Antonio, for convenience, the Galveston hearing was still scheduled to happen as of Wednesday afternoon.

CONSERVATIVE PRIORITIES

State Rep. Mayes Middleton joined eight other members of the super conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus to announce their priorities for the Texas legislative session. On the list: restricting property tax increases, putting limits on abortions and fighting any proposed gun control legislation.

Middleton used his part of the caucus’ press conference to talk about gun rights.

“Law-abiding Texans shouldn’t have to pay a fee or take a test to exercise their constitutional rights,” he said. “We also must stop any effort to pass red-flag laws. Gun confiscation from those who’ve committed no crime undermines both due process and our Second Amendment rights.”

Middleton, who was elected to his first term in November, also was named the caucus’ secretary and treasurer.

NOTEBOOK

La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking took a unique approach in making his state of the city address to the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. He sang part of it. Hocking covered The Doors and Petula Clark, among others, to talk about the fire station and downtown improvements in the city. ... There are 95 days remaining in the Texas legislative session. ... There are 72 days until Election Day.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(17) comments

Gary Scoggin

I still don't understand why the Legislature hs to place limits on tax increases. Setting tax rates is the job of local elected officials who are closer and more accountable to the people. If Mayes, Patrick and the others want to proceed with this, fine. Just don't go spouting off about the sanctity of local control or small government.

Gary Scoggin

"The money was first approved in February 2018 and is meant to pay for infrastructure projects that could repair damage caused by Harvey in 2017, and to mitigate damage from future storms.

But release of that money has been delayed because the housing department hasn’t written rules on how it can be used, Weber said."

I agree with Rep Weber here. HUD knew this was coming, and they've administered these types of programs before. Hopefully, Rep. Weber woke Carson up from his nap in his beautifully appointed office.

Carlos Ponce

"43 people have asked to be removed from voter rolls because they were not actually citizens"
The Statesman link is dated February 19. The following is from the Austin American Statesman dated February 20th:
Keith Ingram, head of the Elections Division at the Texas secretary of state’s office, said 43 people on the list of suspect voters contacted his agency and asked to have their voter registration canceled because they were not U.S. citizens.
“I believe some have voted,” he told U.S. District Judge Fred Biery during a hearing into efforts by civil rights groups and an affected voter to halt the investigation as an error-riddled effort that improperly singles out naturalized citizens.
An additional 37 people asked to be removed from the state list of registered voters but gave no reason for the request, Ingram said.
https://www.statesman.com/news/20190220/state-official-defends-voter-probe-says-possible-illegal-activity-found
"Under questioning by opposing lawyer Chad Dunn, Ingram admitted that his agency’s original list of 95,000 suspect voters included about 20,000 people who had shown proof of citizenship to the Department of Public Safety.
Ingram blamed the mistake on the DPS, saying officials originally indicated that the information was not reliable because it was self-reported by the 20,000 people, only to later say that each registered voter had provided the DPS with proof of citizenship.
Ingram acknowledged that state officials were aware that the list included an unknown number of naturalized U.S. citizens because of shortcomings in citizenship data provided by the DPS.
That’s why it was important for counties, which are in charge of voter registration efforts, to check their records for pertinent information, such as people who registered to vote at a naturalization ceremony, he said."
So far, EIGHTY have been removed from the voter registration rolls on their own, 43 of them self-identified as non-citizens. On Jan 30, 2019 10:53am I posted, "But if only ONE is identified as voting as a non-citizen then follow the letter of the law." Continue.

Diane Turski

Ben Carson is just one of many incompetent and unqualified Trump appointees. Who did he put in charge of this project - Eric Trump's wedding planner?

Carlos Ponce

So Diane finds Dr. Ben Carson "incompetent? I disagree.

Gary Scoggin

I would like to see objective evidence that Diane is wrong. He may be a terrific pediatric neurosurgeon but that's a much different skill set than running a massive Federal bureacracy.

Carlos Ponce

https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Main/documents/2018Accomplishments.pdf

Jim Forsythe

Why do we keep rewriting how the money is distributed? Is there that much difference in Ike vs. Harvey as to how the disaster aid should be released? Houston still has money not spent from Ike because Houston, Texas and DC cannot decide what is best.

George Caros

I only hire the best (Dump)

George Croix

If they're still deciding 10 years after Harvey, then they'll be matching the decision making post Ike....
Hope springs eternal....
Maybe they should forget all the competing local interests and just block grant a straight sum each or issue one size fits all like is usually done.....
No more excuses...from anybody at any level....

Gary Scoggin

The block grants are issued by the Feds to the States with a bunch of strings attached. Then our friends in Austin add another layer of bureacracy and another set of strings and then dole the money out locally. I agree with you, George, Galveston County could have done a much better job on its own; our County leaders tried to make this case to no avail. But there is a cautionary tale: Our brethren in Houston and Harris County did get their own wad of money to distribute. But from what I hear, it's a cluster of the highest order. But then as I've often said when comparing Galveston County to Harris County -- it's ten times the size with twenty times the politics.

George Croix

There's always strings attached to money provided by someone else, Gaey, but IMO a LOT of angst and delays could be saved by applying the same rules for getting it to ALL, with no 'customization', another term for political or personal influence.
For instance, recovery money should be used for RECOVERY, not a projects list of things that had zero to do with whatever the money was handed out for.
Post storm aid should come QUICK, as two years later is not very fast, except where snails are king....
Gary, parts of Galveston County are still spending IKE 'recovery' money......to me, that's part of the problem right there.....why prioritize doling out money to a place that drags on forever using it, and often for things that the disaster didn't even effect....
It turns, imo, what should be an altruistic exercise in helping people who need help through no fault of their own into a grab bag of competing interests, where some of thsoe interests made zero effort to help themselves in the first place, or worse are taking advantage of OPM to sue for what it was not intended to eb used for, but 'locally' it's getting, well, 'repurposed'......
It SHOULD be pretty simple...that it is not is NOT all the fault of the people doling out the bucks..........

Gary Scoggin

There is some remaining Ike money but not a lot in the grand scheme of things. Much of what’s unspent is held up in environmental approvals. I think it’s not useful to make that issue bigger than it is.

I agree with making sure that money intended for storm recovery actually goes there. In my little corner of the recovery, mainly dealing with people traitors rebuild, we have case managers who are very in tune with this and can size things up and tell the difference pretty quickly.

Gary Scoggin

Trying, not traitors. I’m sure many of these people are quite patriotic.

George Croix

Gary, 10 1 /2 years later, held up for some 'environmental approvals'.....for some remaining money, for one area....
And people figure an Ike DIKE 70 miles long is a no brainer....
Well, I'd agree with that, but not quite the way it is normally meant....[wink]
I think it would help a LOT down the road to focus on the foolishness of that, and get enough people demanding it not be repeated....

Gary, I'd a LOT rather see somebody like you given money to manage for others to rebuild actual losses under a simple set of rules all must abide by than some federal or state level lifer unelected 'official' doling it out as the rules change by political wind direction changes or hold ups while somebody calculates the number of microorganisms that might be impacted.....

Gary Scoggin

I appreciate that George. Fortunately, we’ve received almost $2 million in grants to do that very thing. As a small non-profit, were pretty good at managing a buck.

George Croix

Sorry, Gary, somebody put the darn E right next to the R on this keyboard....

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