AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Normalcy is returning to Texas,” Governor Greg Abbott proclaimed during his annual State of the State address on Monday — where he outlined his 2021 priorities for Texans.
Speaking for the first time outside of the Texas State Capitol, Abbott addressed the state from Visionary Fiber Technologies in Lockhart, where he immediately gave the latest on COVID-19 and vaccinations.
“Our hearts are with those who have suffered from COVID and we mourn for every single Texan who lost their lives to the virus,” Abbott said. “We pray to God that their families will heal from the hurt of losing a loved one.”
The state of COVID-19 in Texas
While he said that “a comeback is already materializing” in the state, Abbott also fleshed out the latest information on how spread and vaccinations are going right now.
The governor said normalcy is returning to Texas, due to increased vaccinations and immunity over the past month and a half.
“As we continue to battle the pandemic, we do so with better tools, more knowledge, plus: medical improvements that are helping us move beyond this challenge.”
Abbott said that despite Texas being the first state to administer more than 2 million vaccinations in two weeks, the state is still pushing the gas pedal on vaccination speed, especially as additional vaccines are approved.
“We will continue expanding vaccinations across Texas until every Texan who wants one will be able to get one.”
‘Beyond just COVID’
Abbott also pointed out health priorities for the legislative session that aren’t necessarily related to the pandemic.
“Looking beyond just COVID, there is more that we can do this session to ensure that all Texans have better access to health care,” he said. “That includes ensuring that Texans have access to health care coverage without being forced into the Affordable Care Act.”
Employment and the economy
The governor says the state added over 64,000 new jobs as the state continues prioritizing small businesses and getting employees to work. According to Abbott, Texas has added new jobs for eight months straight — in addition to leading the nation in economic development for the past eight years.
“Hard-working Texans are at the forefront of our agenda this legislative session,” said Abbott. “As we build a healthier, safer, freer and more prosperous state.”
Abbott also explained the recent influx of mega companies like Hewlett Packard, Oracle and Charles Schwab fully relocating to Texas, while companies like Tesla chose to expand in the Lone Star State.
The governor said 9 out of 10 Texas businesses are small and that they employ nearly half of all working Texans. Abbott said for yet another year, Texas is Number 1 nationally for business.
“Success like this has been fostered by the Texas legislature. And by leaders like my dear friends Lt. Gov. Patrick and Speaker Phelan. Not like other states, like California and New York — they use heavy-handed government tactics that drive away businesses. The Texas legislature, on the other hand, has built a framework that helps small businesses thrive.”
Additionally, he emphasized workers like teachers, who he says have received “meaningful” pay raises despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Elsewhere at schools, Abbott urged the state legislature to continue funding education, “as we promised.”
‘A law and order state’
The governor didn’t mince words when it came to possibilities of defunding and/or transition funds out of law enforcement, as some Texas cities have done.
“Texas has always been a law and order state — and we are going to stay that way,” he said. “We’re not gonna let cities in Texas fall under the lead of cities like Portland and Seattle and Minneapolis. By defunding the police. That’s crazy. We will support our law enforcement officers — not demonize and defund them. Defunding law enforcement invites crime and chaos into communities.”
Abbott said the state must pass laws to prevent cities from taking money away from law enforcement.
“This issue is so urgent, I am making it an emergency item this session,” he said.
The Damon Allen Act
Texas’ bail system is broken, Abbott said. And he hopes a new act will fix it.
“To fix our flawed bail system and to keep dangerous criminals off our streets, I am making The Damon Allen Act an emergency item this session,” he announced.
Allen, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop on Thanksgiving 2017 — by a man who Abbott said was out on a $15,000 bond despite having previously been convicted of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy and other charges.
‘Keep Texas the Freedom Capitol of the America’
The governor echoed previous statements about keeping Texas from becoming like other states.
“Whether you’re a newcomer to our state, or your family has been here for generations, we all united around the ideals of freedom and personal liberty,” said Abbott. “But freedom is fragile. If left undefended, we risk losing our freedoms one-by-one.”
Freedom of religion — Abbott said religion is under attack by government officials nationwide, who shut down churches to prevent COVID-19 spread. “That is wrong,” he said. “We must ensure that freedom to worship is forever safeguarded.”
The governor said he intends to put forth a law this session to prevent any government entity from shutting down religious activities.
Second Amendment — Abbott alleged politicians both federal and statewide are attempting to take away firearm rights granted under the Second Amendment. “[They] have shouted: ‘Heck yes! The government is coming to get your guns!’ he said. “We won’t let that happen in Texas.”
He said he plans to “erect a complete barrier” this session — one that prevents any government official from stepping on resident gun rights.
“Texas must be a Second Amendment sanctuary state,” he exclaimed.
In the wake of a 2020 Presidential Election riddled with still unproven claims of voter fraud, the governor said nevertheless, the security of elections must be a priority.
“One thing that all of us should agree on, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, is that we must have trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections,” he said.
The integrity of elections will also be an emergency item during the legislative session.
The governor will also make “ending” abortion in the state an emergency item.
“The most precious freedom of all is life itself,” he said. “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their lives every year before they are even born… it’s horrifying.”
Abbott further explained that no unborn child should be targeted for abortion, even based on disabilities.
Civil liability protections
Protecting businesses from lawsuits will also rank at the top of priorities this session, with Abbott explaining that businesses who “operated in good faith” to stay open during the pandemic shouldn’t be afraid of being sued.
“[They] shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “I’m asking the legislature to quickly get a bill to my desk that provides civil liability protections for individuals, businesses and health care providers that operated safely during the pandemic. This is an emergency item this session.”
Abbott’s other emergency item for the legislative session are measures to expand broadband internet access for all Texans.
Texas Democrats respond
In a 10-minute pre-produced video, Texas Democrats expressed frustration with what they say are mixed messages — or no messages at all — from Gov. Abbott and his administration.
The governor’s handling of the pandemic thus far was called out by Democrats, who had strong words, including former presidential candidate Julián Castro.
“No matter what Gov. Abbott says, we have all suffered under his watch because of his actions,” Castro said, but didn’t elaborate on specifics. “We are all hurting. Texans are demanding an end to this pandemic and a fair shot to get ahead.”
Democrats emphasized this disconnect: Governor Abbott’s rosy outlook versus the harshness of the numbers.
At the end of January, the state reported more than 36,000 people had died and more than 2 million cases. So far, about 1.69% of Texans have been fully vaccinated, while 6.27% have been partially vaccinated since vaccines became available in December.
“How does Governor Abbott propose to solving this? He has no plan,” read a statement from Texas Democrats, scathingly titled “This Press Release is More Detailed than Abbott’s “Plan” to Foster Economic Recovery.”