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Nearly 1,000 workers to be hired in Gregg County for 2020 U.S. Census

TYLER — Nearly 1,000 workers will be hired in Gregg County to work on the 2020 U.S. Census — and thousands more across East Texas, the U.S. Census Bureau says.

The U.S. Census Bureau is planning to open a regional headquarters in Tyler to serve 33 Northeast Texas counties.

In Gregg County, the Census Bureau says it will need at least 970 workers, and at least 1,518 workers in Smith County.

Dennis Johnson, the deputy regional director for the Denver/Dallas region, said those numbers are minimums, and the bureau will try to recruit more.

The Tyler office will employ 40 to 50 people who handle administrative tasks like payroll. Thousands more will serve Northeast Texas and report to the Tyler office during the peak of census season.

“We’ll be doing (recruiting) starting December or January, and a lot of those folks will work on some of our operations to work with households that haven’t responded, to make sure we have a complete count of everyone,” Johnson said.

“Some of our workers will be going to places like nursing homes and correctional institutions and places where people live in a congregate situation and assisting those organizations to get a complete count of their residents,” he said.

The U.S. Constitution requires the census survey to be taken every 10 years. The results help determine federal funding for areas across the country, and help officials draw election districts ranging from City Council to U.S. Congress.

Households will receive reminder cards about the census survey in March and will be able to fill out the census survey online, by mail or by phone. The phone survey will be available in 12 languages in addition to English.

“Don’t just answer the census, but be a part of it, whether it’s working for us or putting the word out to any groups or organizations that they belong to,” Johnson said.

“We just want to encourage everyone to take it to heart and do what they can to support the effort,” he said.

Texas House Democrats ask Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session after two mass shootings

Democrats in the Texas House are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a special legislative session to address gun violence — a move designed to place even more pressure on the state’s top GOP official to act in the wake of two deadly mass shootings just weeks apart.

A letter to Abbott was delivered Wednesday morning, hours before the House Democratic Caucus hosted five news conferences across the state to discuss “protecting Texans from gun violence.” The letter, which also included several gun-related legislative proposals, was signed by 63 of the 66 members in the caucus.

The caucus requested Abbott include issues such as “closing the background check loopholes” and “banning the sale of high-capacity magazines” in a special session agenda, along with “enacting extreme risk protective order laws and closing existing loopholes in current protective order laws,” “limiting the open carry of certain semi-automatic long guns” and “requiring stolen guns be reported to law enforcement.”

The request comes days after a gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others while on a rampage in Odessa and Midland. That shooting happened four weeks after a massacre in El Paso left 22 dead and more than two dozen wounded.

The Legislature does not convene again until 2021. Abbott, who has the sole authority to call both chambers back to the Capitol before then, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that he planned to announce “legislative considerations next week & executive action this week.” He added: “Legislators can be part of the process or part of the problem.”

Democrats said Wednesday that waiting another year and a half to address gun violence in the state will endanger Texans.

“This is the kind of thing our constituents are telling us they want us to tackle, and they want us to tackle it now,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said at a news conference at the Texas Capitol. “We should not sacrifice any more Texas lives simply to accommodate a legislative calendar.”

On top of that, Howard said, the next session will be bogged down with fights over redistricting, further polarizing the state and reducing the chance for consensus on gun safety legislation.

As the news conferences played out Wednesday, Abbott’s office responded to the party’s call for a special session, likening the move to a “helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines.

“Governor Abbott made clear in Odessa that all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer,” Abbott’s spokesperson said in a statement. “The Democrats who are part of today’s partisan pitch can be part of the bi-partisan legislative process announced yesterday that is geared toward achieving real solutions, or they can be part of politics as usual that will accomplish nothing. Legislating on tough issues is hard and takes time. If Democrats really want to change the law, they need to stop talking to cameras and start talking to colleagues in the Capitol to reach consensus.”

Later Wednesday, during the Democrats’ press conference in El Paso, members there pushed back on the governor’s assertion that Democrats needed to start speaking with colleagues instead of posturing for the cameras.

State Rep. Joe Moody, the House speaker pro tempore, said the group has been reaching across the aisle on this issue since the Aug. 3 shooting.

“We didn’t ask for cameras to come to El Paso on Aug. 3,”Moody said. “But that’s what happened to us. Our community voice needed to be heard and needed to heal — but we need action.”

Moody, who Wednesday was tapped by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to serve on a select committee to study gun violence and prevention, said the El Paso delegation has been in conversation with Abbott since the shooting happened.

“We appreciate the attention that he’s given to our community,” Moody said. “To bring people together you have to hear what they say. That’s how you get people to come to the middle.”

As Democrats have repeatedly urged Abbott to call a special session on the matter, the governor — along with other GOP leaders — have formed various entities to help explore long-term responses. After the El Paso shooting, Abbott assembled the Domestic Terrorism Task Force and the Texas Safety Commission. And on Tuesday, Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced they had formed interim select committees to study mass violence prevention and community safety.

Bonnen Wednesday announced the 13 House members who will serve on the select committee and directed the newly-formed panel to begin studying an array of issues related to gun violence and prevention, such as evaluating “options for strengthening enforcement measures for current laws that prevent the transfer of firearms to felons and other persons prohibited by current law from possessing firearms” and considering “current protocols and extreme risk indicators used to identify potential threats.”

Walk of Stars panel sets goal of 6-15 honorees next spring

A committee tasked with organizing criteria that celebrates well-known or unsung heroes in Longview held its first meeting Wednesday.

Members of the Walk of Stars Task Force met for a working lunch at the Longview Public Library to give their early thoughts on how to honor people from Longview who have made significant contributions on a local, state, national or global stage.

Their charge is to develop recommendations for a commemorative walk of stars in downtown Longview coinciding with the city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2020.

“It’s really neat to see this come to fruition,” Task Force Chairman Tim Patrick said.

Patrick mentioned the idea of a commemorative walk of stars downtown about 20 years ago, but it fell on deaf ears, he said, until he brought it up more recently to Mayor Andy Mack.

The mayor opened Wednesday’s meeting by asking committee members to not make the process political.

“It’s not about me. It’s about what you all want to do,” Mack said. “I do not want to dictate what goes on with the committee. I just want you to do it and have fun.”

Shawn Hara, the city’s media and tourism manager who is serving as liaison to the task force, asked that members discuss issues rather than names Wednesday. Those issues included the location for the walk of stars, criteria for who gets honored, how it will be funded and who will provide oversight.

Committee members will be placed on one of four subcommittees dealing with physical logistics, selection process/criteria, funding/future organization and celebration logistics. Once determined later this week, those subcommittees will meet on their own at least once over the next month before the full task force holds its next meeting at noon Oct. 2.

The group hopes to present its criteria to the Longview City Council in December.

The consensus of the group was that the initial walk of stars celebration should have a larger number of honorees — from six people to 15 people or more — next spring during the Longview 150 festivities in order to gather momentum.

“We all know who the “quote-unquote” famous people are from here,” Patrick said. “That’s pretty neat, as well, but also those who have contributed in the past and made Longview what it is today. … That’s really what’s important to me today.”

The City Council members created the Walk of Stars Task Force on Aug. 9, the same night that they also created a 2020 Census Task Force that will work to ensure all residents are counted in next year’s census.

Members of the 2020 Census Task Force will hold their first meeting at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 19 at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, according to Community Services Director Laura Hill.

Gregg County issues burn ban, joins other Northeast Texas counties

Gregg County on Wednesday morning joined a growing list of area counties that have issued a burn ban.

The order for the burn ban was signed by Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt.

According to the order, the normal danger of fire in the county has been greatly enhanced by drought, and anyone who violates the burn ban could be fined up to $500.

At least four chiefs of fire departments in Gregg County had reached out to Fire Marshal Mark Moore asking when a burn ban would be called, Stoudt said. Chiefs for Gladewater and Sabine fire departments were among them.

“We’ve had some major fires out there this week,” Stoudt said.

Soils in Gregg County are averaging 675 on the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index, a system from the Texas A&M Forest Service that measures drought conditions on a scale of 0-800, with 0 representing a saturated soil, and 800 an absolutely dry soil.

Any score between 600 and 800 is often associated with more severe drought with an increased occurrence of wildfires, according to the index.

According to an interactive map, Gregg County soils range as high as 733, particularly in the areas south of U.S. 80 and into Rusk County.

“The Keetch-Byrum index has been rapidly moving up 10-15 points a day. It’s way past what we normally pull the trigger, so we wanted to get it done,” Stoudt said.

The burn ban in Gregg County comes on the heels of two other Northeast Texas counties that issued burn bans on Tuesday, along with one municipality.

Harrison and Marion counties Tuesday morning issued burn bans for residents. The city of Daingerfield also issued a burn ban Tuesday morning.

Rusk County issued a burn ban for residents on Aug. 20. Upshur County commissioners Friday agreed to ban burning for 10 days or until sufficient rains for commissioners to consider the risk of wildfire lowered.

The Northeast Texas counties are among more than half the state’s 254 counties under burn bans, according to a Wednesday update from the Texas A&M Forest Service.