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COVID-19 pandemic concerns force Texas Gov. Greg Abbott into a televised State of the State speech

Hour-long program next Monday evening will feature no audience, but a Democratic response and roundtable discussion, says host Nexstar Media Group of Irving.

Gov. Greg Abbott, shown delivering his 2019 state of the state speech in the House chamber of the Texas Capitol in Austin, is having to forego pomp and a large crowd this year because of concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. On live television, Abbott will speak to Texans at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 1.
Gov. Greg Abbott, shown delivering his 2019 state of the state speech in the House chamber of the Texas Capitol in Austin, is having to forego pomp and a large crowd this year because of concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. On live television, Abbott will speak to Texans at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 1.( Eric Gay - The Associated Press )

AUSTIN — The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Gov. Greg Abbott to shed the trappings of a high-profile event and deliver this session’s State of the State speech next week on live TV, from a small business in the greater Austin area.

On Monday, Abbott announced he’ll give his speech on live television on the evening of Feb. 1 as part of an hour-long program being produced and broadcast by Irving-based Nexstar Media Group Inc.

Usually, not long after the start of a legislative session, a Texas governor appears in the House chamber at the state Capitol to deliver what, with all three branches of state government assembled, can be a nearly hour-long stem-winder about Texas’ accomplishments, challenges and priorities.

This year, with no live audience packed on the House floor and galleries because of the risk of coronavirus infections, Abbott’s speech will last 30 minutes.

As aides and producers of the event noted, there will be no applause lines and standing ovations, shortening the speech’s duration.

Abbott’s expected to talk about, among other things, distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, efforts to help small businesses recover from economic hits caused by the pandemic, and how the state will maintain the increased aid for public schools it began in the 2019 session.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our state’s history, and this televised address is an occasion for every Texan to celebrate our state’s exceptionalism and recognize our shared goal for an even better Texas,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Despite the challenges that America has endured over the past year, Texas remains a leader for the rest of the nation, and we have a duty to keep it that way.”

But Abbott’s management of the virus outbreak has drawn criticism from staunchly conservative fellow Republicans, who say he’s overreached, and public health experts, Democrats and independents who say he’s done too little.

Texas has had more than 2.25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 35,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The state’s positivity rate on molecular diagnostic tests now exceeds 14.7%, well above the 10% mark that Abbott used to call a red flag. On Monday, there were 12,785 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, down from a Jan. 11 single-day high of 14,218 but still far above last summer’s record of 10,893, set on July 21, according to state data.

Abbott’s speech will air at 7 p.m. on Feb. 1 on 16 Nexstar television stations serving 14 Texas markets, including KDAF-TV, the CW 33 channel in Dallas.

The Texas Democratic Party will be given 10 minutes to respond to Abbott’s remarks, which are expected to include his list of “emergency items.” A gubernatorial declaration that a topic is an emergency frees the Legislature from a provision in the Texas Constitution that prohibits votes on bills in the first 60 days of a 140-day regular session. That means a governor’s emergency bills can be debated immediately.

Abbott’s release said he’ll also “highlight exceptional Texans from across the state.”

Democrats will showcase more than one person, state party executive director Manny Garcia confirmed.

“Texas Democrats will use this opportunity to lift the voices of everyday Texans and invite viewers to hear directly from their fellow neighbors and coworkers,” he said in a text message.

The rest of the hour will feature a roundtable including Dallas Democratic state Sen. Royce West, a Republican official yet to be determined and three journalists – Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of the Texas Tribune; and KXAN-TV in Austin’s news anchor Sally Hernandez and political program host Josh Hinkle.

The program will be telecast throughout the state, Tim Busch, president of the broadcasting division of Nexstar Inc., said in a news release.

Usually, a joint session of the House and Senate gathers in the House chambers for a Texas governor's biennial state of the state speech, with senators and statewide judges seated on folding chairs crammed onto the House floor, as shown in 2017. This year, Gov. Greg Abbott will forgo an audience because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns and give his remarks as part of a live, hour-long program televised statewide at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 1, he announced Monday.
Usually, a joint session of the House and Senate gathers in the House chambers for a Texas governor's biennial state of the state speech, with senators and statewide judges seated on folding chairs crammed onto the House floor, as shown in 2017. This year, Gov. Greg Abbott will forgo an audience because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns and give his remarks as part of a live, hour-long program televised statewide at 7 p.m. CT on Feb. 1, he announced Monday.

Noting the company feels it has a public duty to do so, Busch said Nexstar will make the live feed of the telecast available to every broadcast company serving Texas. Non-broadcast news outlets will be able to stream it online.

“Nexstar and its television stations across the state are committed to serving the interests of the local communities in which we are located by delivering exclusive local news content that enables every Texan to make informed decisions about such critically important issues as taxes, education and the state’s budget,” Busch said.

“We are proud to harness the combined resources of our local station operations throughout Texas to bring this important live telecast to viewers across the state,” he said.

In This Story

Robert T. Garrett, Austin Bureau Chief. Bob has covered state government and politics for The Dallas Morning News since 2002. Earlier, he was a statehouse reporter for three newspapers, including the Dallas Times Herald. A fifth-generation Texan, Bob earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. He covers Gov. Greg Abbott, the state budget and CPS and foster care.

rtgarrett@dallasnews.com /bob.garrett.39 @RobertTGarrett
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