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Abbott talks pandemic, police funding and ‘election integrity’ in State of State speech

AUSTIN, Texas -- Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas is on a comeback from a pandemic that has killed more than 36,000 people here — third-most in the U.S. — and steered America's biggest red state Monday night into a thicket of battles over voting, policing and immigration that are likely to deepen political divides in the months ahead.

In his final State of the State address before he is on the ballot for a third term in 2022, Abbott called for outlawing the cutting of police budgets and ordered the GOP majority in the Texas Capitol to prioritize “election integrity," while making no mention that there was no evidence of widespread fraud during the 2020 elections.

He also demanded more gun protection on the books at a time when the NRA is newly looking to reincorporate in Texas, and more anti-abortion laws in a state that already has some of the most restrictive measures in the country.

Democrats used their rebuttal to narrowly tear into Abbott's handling of the pandemic and paint a bleaker picture than his upbeat assessments, saying an uneven response continues letting cases spread and leaves cities powerless to manage outbreaks.

Abbott declared Texas is “brimming with promise” as it emerges from the pandemic and seeks to return to economic dominance. He pledged “hard-working Texans are at the forefront of our agenda this legislative session as we build a healthier, safer, freer and more prosperous state.”

“Our comeback is already materializing,” Abbott said. “Texans are returning to work. Students are returning to school. Families are re-establishing routines. With each passing day of more vaccinations and increased immunity, normalcy is returning to Texas.”

Abbott urged the Legislature to vote on within the first 60 day of their session, which began Jan. 12, on a list of items that include expanding broadband internet access, changing the bail system and providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic.

The governor also asked lawmakers to pass laws that would strengthen civics education in Texas classrooms, permanently expand telemedicine and to prevent “any government entity from shutting down religious activities in Texas.”

And he called on Texas to again ramp up border security just weeks into Joe Biden's presidency, which follows Texas winning a court order that halted the new administration's plans to issue a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

Abbott gave the televised and streaming address from Visionary Fiber Technologies in Lockhart, eschewing the traditional setting of a joint legislative session inside the House chamber as lawmakers continue to worry about gathering en masse during the pandemic.

Democrats pushed back on Abbott’s speech by accusing him of giving an overly rosy view of the state’s coronavirus response. Calling Abbott the “worst Governor in modern Texas history,” the state Democratic Party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, said that Abbott “buries his head in the sand and pretends like nothing is happening.”

"As the Governor attempts to gloss over the lives that have been lost and the seriousness of the crisis we face, Texans everywhere know things are not right, and they are getting worse,” Hinojosa added. “We must demand more out of leaders or we’ll never get to a point where every one of us has a fair shot to get ahead.”

The State of the State is typically when governors lay out their legislative priorities over the coming year. In Texas, lawmakers meet for only five months every two years, giving legislators only until the end of May to try delivering Abbott's priorities to his desk.

This legislative session in Texas is the first since mass shootings that shook the state before the pandemic, the most deadly of which was a gunman who allegedly confessed to targeting Mexicans when he opened fire at an El Paso Walmart, killing 23 people. Abbott formed a task force on domestic terrorism and extremism following the attack but did not mention the shooting during his address Monday night.

Abbott also did not lay out or endorse any specific policing reforms after George Floyd's death last year sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice. Abbott, who attended Floyd's funeral in Houston, did not mention race while saying lawmakers “must provide law enforcement with tools and training they need to ensure the safety that their communities deserve.

Article Topic Follows: Texas Politics

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