Looking ahead to 2022: developing stories on the High Plains

State & Regional

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Many of the biggest stories from 2021 on the High Plains grew too large for just one year to hold. Here’s a look at a few of the developing stories MyHighPlains.com will be watching closely in the coming months.

Borger Family Continues Legal Proceedings after Jan. 6, 2021 Insurrection

A Borger family continues to be involved in legal proceedings after unlawfully being inside the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021.

According to previous reports, the Federal Bureau of Investigation located evidence that Kristi Munn, Thomas “Tom” Munn, Dawn Munn, Joshua Munn and Kayli Munn were shown in videos, photos and featured in various social media messages, showing that they had traveled from Borger to Washington D.C. and participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Four of the five members of the family appeared in Amarillo Federal Court in July. According to previous reports, Joshua Munn was arrested in Wisconsin, so he did not appear with the rest of the family. Each of the members were charged with the following counts, according to court documents:

  • Temporary Residence of the President, Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds;
  • Temporary Residence of the President, Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building or Grounds;
  • Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds, Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building;
  • Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds, Parading, Demonstrating or Peting in a Capitol Building.

According to court documents, the Munns last appeared in court in November relating to these charges. A continuation of the proceedings is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 28, 2022.

Aftermath of Bart Reagor Trial

After being found guilty in October on one count of making false statements to a bank, Reagor-Dykes Auto Group co-founder Bart Reagor is scheduled to be sentenced in March; he faces up to 30 years in federal prison. This comes as Reagor’s defense team continues to fight back, making motions in December for Reagor to be acquitted, or for Reagor to receive a new trial.

After a back-and-forth between the defense and prosecution, U.S. District Judge Matthew  J. Kacsmaryk – who oversaw the case – decided to let the original ruling stand, saying that there was evidence for a rational jury to find that the prosecution “met its burden of proving the elements of false statement to a bank beyond reasonable doubt.”

However, Reagor is not the only former Reagor-Dykes Auto Group employee who will face sentencing hearings in 2022. The sentencing hearings for former auto group Chief Financial Officer Shane Smith as well as Steven Reinhart, the auto group’s former legal compliance director, are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20 in Amarillo Federal Court. Smith pleaded guilty in June 2019 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in the auto group’s scheme. Reinhart pleaded guilty in February to one count of “misprision” of a felony – hiding his knowledge of a crime.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

The impact of PFAS chemicals, often used by the United States Department of Defense on groundwater, has been felt through communities across the nation. In the High Plains, the hazardous chemicals contaminated water such as what Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap used for his livestock and business, leading to millions of dollars lost and millions of pounds of milk dumped since 2018.

A part of the recent effort by the federal government to understand the extent of PFAS contamination and its impact on communities, Cannon Air Force Base was among those put under “remedial investigation” for its use of the chemicals. While the full results of the investigation are still developing, official findings paired with the newly passed infrastructure bill may pave the way forward towards clearing water and land of the toxic material and designing measures to prevent future widespread harm.

2022 Elections

Throughout the state of Texas, numerous races will be on the ballot for March’s Primary Election, with the general election scheduled for November.

Some of the races Texas Panhandle residents could participate in include the Texas Governor’s race, races for House District 86, House District 87, and House District 88 the District 31 State Senate race, after incumbent Kel Seliger announced he was not running for re-election in 2022, as well as the District 13 race for the United States House of Representatives.

For Amarillo residents, there will also be a number of judicial-related races on the ballot, with residents being able to vote for the 47th District Judge and the 181st Judicial District Court Judge.

Voting during March’s Primary Election will be the same throughout Potter and Randall counties, with individuals coming to a respective voting center and casting either a Democratic or Republican electronic ballot. However, for Republican voters in Potter County, officials were making a push towards the end of the year for March’s Primary Election to be conducted with hand-marked and counted ballots.

After a late December Potter County Commissioners’ Court meeting, officials with the Potter County Republican Party decided to not continue with the measure after the court failed to vote on a measure that would have withdrawn the county from the state’s Voting Center Program. However, officials still aim to push for this change in future elections.

Redistricting Lawsuits

The way Texas’ congressional and senatorial districts are drawn impact many aspects of day-to-day life in the state, including local representatives, school size and funding, early childhood programs, where grocery stores or housing are built, and which roads are repaired. Those districts were recently redrawn by the Texas State Legislature after data was released from the 2020 Census. But a list of lawsuits against the new maps were launched in the wake of the 2021 legislative session that argued state leaders structured the districts in a way that unfairly harms millions of residents.

Census data showed that 95% of the population growth in Texas since 2010 was from people of color, and half of the total gains were from Hispanic people. Despite that, the new Texas House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanic people make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30, and the congressional map reduced the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven. This has been one of the situations most often cited by the lawsuits against Texas as evidence of unfair treatment.

These lawsuits have the potential to delay or even upend Texas’ upcoming 2022 elections, or otherwise leave voters to navigate what the suits argue is an environment of discrimination that could skew results. However, the exact dates these cases will be heard in court have not been clear, and no verdicts have yet been reached.

COVID-19

Status of COVID-19 cases in Potter, Randall Counties

As 2021 came to a close, the city of Amarillo’s public health department, the entity which reports COVID-19 data for both Potter and Randall counties, surpassed a grim milestone: reporting that more than 1,000 residents of Potter and Randall counties had died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

According to the report card released on Dec. 30, 2021, which served as the last report card of 2021, the city’s public health department reported that Potter and Randall counties had a total of 55,265 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 26,217 cases from Dec. 30, 2020.

The department reported that 50,853 individuals had recovered from COVID-19, an increase of 25,845 recoveries from Dec. 30, 2020. The department also reported that 1,008 Potter and Randall County residents had died from COVID-19, an increase of 519 deaths from Dec. 30, 2020.

Crisis Standards of Care

Health leaders on the High Plains have expressed an array of panic and dread as healthcare infrastructure continues to struggle under critical loads of COVID-19 hospitalizations, a drought in resources and a severe lack of staffing. Patients, COVID-19 or otherwise, have faced dozens of hours waiting in the emergency room or held while staff called hospitals across Texas and in other states in search of places to provide each person with their needed care.

After New Mexico’s healthcare system began to operate through Crisis Standard of Care (CSC) guidelines because of the space and staffing crises in October, hospitals in Texas have not only been working to accept the out-of-state patients flowing in but also have been needing to decide which local patients to prioritize in day-to-day operation.

However, differing from New Mexico’s statewide CSC plan, Texas does not have a statewide policy for crisis, or triage, situations that hospitals may face.

Going into 2022, it may remain unclear what the policy of each individual hospital and healthcare facility in Texas is, and therefore which groups of patients may be prioritized for what kind of care and resources. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the strain on the healthcare system bears down, it remains to be seen how state and local governments across Texas will approach guiding health leaders about allocating resources.

COVID-19 Vaccinations and Booster Shots

Health leaders, both locally and on a broader scale, have continued to express that vaccination against COVID-19 is the best strategy for preventing severe disease and the spread and mutation of the virus. Two years into the pandemic, three major vaccines have been fully approved in the US and booster doses of the vaccine have been approved for those as young as 12 years of age.

As of Jan. 3, 2022, officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services reported the following vaccination data for Potter and Randall counties:

  • 53.87% of Potter County residents ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine;
  • 45.25% of Potter County residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated;
  • 52.33% of Randall County residents ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine;
  • 45.54% of Randall County residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated.

With opinions from national health leaders varying regarding COVID-19 isolation and testing guidelines, as well as what the ‘end’ to the pandemic would look like, the current surge of the virus, and the struggles to minimize loss of life and lifestyle seem set to continue.

COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Infusions, Other Treatments

The latest variant of COVID-19, known as ‘omicron’, has shifted monoclonal antibody treatment offerings across the state of Texas – including in Amarillo – to focus on sotrovimab instead of regeneron or bamlanivimab. Out of the three monoclonal antibody infusion courses currently in use by healthcare workers to treat some patients for COVID-19, sotrovimab has appeared to be the only one effective against omicron.

However, supplies for the infusion centers across the state have been a source of stress for the healthcare infrastructure even before the switch. As of Dec. 29, 2021, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reported that at least five regional infusion centers across the state have run out of treatment and will not receive more until January. Meanwhile, the Amarillo Area Infusion Center shifted towards providing sotrovimab as its antibody treatment for COVID-19 on Dec. 24.

Despite struggles elsewhere with the supply, local health officials from the Amarillo area reported that there had not been a severe shortage of the treatment in the area’s infusion facility, and a new shipment had been planned for Dec. 29, 2021.

Even with short-term supplies in hand, it remains to be seen in 2022 how future shipments of the antibody treatments could be impacted by an ongoing national shortage. The limited supply has already led infusion centers to prioritize treatment for the most vulnerable among patients, and it has remained unclear how any future variants of COVID-19 or further strain on the healthcare infrastructure could impact available care.

Amarillo City Hall Renovation

The City of Amarillo took a step forward, during its December meeting, in its ongoing efforts to fund efforts to move City Hall to the city-owned Amarillo Hardware building.

The Amarillo City Council authorized the issuance of tax and revenue notes for the project, taking a short-term note from a bank for $23.9 million and paying it off over five years. A portion of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, which will consist of approximately $11.2 million, will also go towards the project.

The city council was given two other options to fund the project, including calling a municipal bond election and issuing Certificates of Obligation, a funding route the city of Amarillo previously attempted after purchasing the Amarillo Hardware property in November 2020.

Community members continue to challenge the City Hall renovation project, after Amarillo Businessman Craig Gualtiere filed a lawsuit against the city regarding the previous iteration of the project, challenging the city’s attempt to use Certificates of Obligation.

Gualtiere continues to challenge the city’s current approach to the project, questioning the legality of the action the City Council took to issue the tax and revenue notes. He has claimed the ordinance was not property adopted per the city’s charter as well as Amarillo Municipal Code.

Amarillo Parks and Recreation Developments

The city of Amarillo’s Parks and Recreation Department continues to be at a crossroads going into 2022.

The department, along with its board, is expected to have conversations surrounding the future of the department going into the new year, after the majority of residents voted against a tax measure in November that would have given the department more money for projects and growth.

The department’s board met for the first time since the failed proposition in early December, giving the chance for officials to have a strategic look at potential decisions that could be made in the department’s future, including potential adjustments and closures. 

Some projects, which officials at the time called “low hanging fruit” projects, including various playground improvements, are expected to be voted on by the Amarillo City Council in early 2022. However, as those “low hanging fruit” projects are completed, planning for the bigger projects continues; including goals to increase revenues and reduce expenses as well as having conversations with the area school districts regarding the costs of maintaining the parks which are shared by the two entities. 

Texas, Abortion and the Supreme Court

In the wake of a historic term for the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in which judges heard arguments regarding abortion, guns, and religion, high-stakes cases are expected to have published verdicts in 2022.

Among the most controversial arguments at stake, laws from Texas and Mississippi concerning abortion rights for citizens have taken recent spotlight after oral arguments in December 2021.

One of the two major abortion cases heard involved whether or not Texas Senate Bill 8, the most restrictive abortion law in the country – establishing a civilian bounty system in order to enforce a ban on abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy – could be presented in a federal court for argument. The other involved a Mississippi law that would ban abortion procedures after 15 weeks of pregnancy, directly against legal precedent that has established a person’s right to seek an abortion before the point at which a fetus could be viable outside of the womb – around 24 weeks.

Regarding the Texas ban, SCOTUS formally returned the lawsuit over Texas’ six-week abortion ban to a federal appeals court that has twice allowed the law to stay in effect, rather than to a district judge who sought to block it. However, the justices also cleared the way for abortion providers to pursue the lawsuit at all after the specific language of the ban’s legislation called into question whether or not it could be brought to court in the first place.

While an official opinion has not been issued for the Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson, it is expected sometime in the summer of 2022. However, the Supreme Court justices seemed to signal an intent to allow the ban to stay in place – an action that would effectively end the right to an abortion in the U.S. and cause more than 65 million people in the country to lose access to the procedure.

Texas Public Schools, Sports and Public Policy

2021 was another long, tumultuous year for educators and students alike. From returning to classrooms and debating local district masking policies, May local elections, bills from the Texas Legislature, ongoing staffing issues, and school library audits – education statewide and on the High Plains has become a stampede of stories to follow.

Major policy decisions made in 2021 are set to go into effect in 2022, including a ban on students in Texas from joining school sports teams according to gender identity instead of biological sex noted on documentation “at or near” the time of birth. Despite outreach by MyHighPlains.com, it has remained unclear what officials will be directly responsible for the implementation of this policy or how it will be enforced day-to-day.

A ban on mask mandates from Governor Greg Abbott has also trod a weaving path in and out of district and federal courts, with vaccines and masks in schools and businesses a common topic of argument as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Further, politicians across the nation and now across Texas have taken the content found in school classrooms and libraries into the spotlight. After a letter issued by State Representative Matt Krause that called on larger school districts to audit school library content against a 16-page list of books, the Governor issued multiple letters varied between the Texas Education Association and Texas Association of School Boards with claims that officials had failed to adequately protect students from inappropriate content.

MyHighPlains.com, after multiple requests, had not heard comment on the audit or its process from Amarillo ISD – the local school district that was among those to receive Rep. Krause’s audit request – since November 2021. However, the conversations regarding what material students are exposed to in the realm of public education and how teachers are permitted to present content are ongoing.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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