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  • Sales Tax Holiday for Emergency Supplies, April 24-26

    bre02FILE PHOTO Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar Releasing Biennial Estimate on Jan. 7, 2019

    From the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

    AUSTIN - Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar reminds Texans they can purchase certain items tax-free during the state’s sales tax holiday for emergency preparation supplies, which begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, April 24, and ends at midnight on Monday, April 26.

    There’s no limit on the number of qualifying items you can purchase. These include:

    • household batteries, fuel containers and flashlights priced at less than $75;
    • hurricane shutters and emergency ladders priced at less than $300; and
    • portable generators priced at less than $3,000.

    For purchases made online, note that delivery, shipping, handling and transportation charges are part of the sales price. If the emergency preparation supply being purchased is taxable, the delivery charge is also taxable. Consider these charges when determining whether an emergency preparation supply can be purchased tax-free during the holiday.

    For example, if you purchase a rescue ladder for $299 with a $10 delivery charge, the total sales price is $309. Because the total sales price of the ladder is more than $300, tax is due on the $309 sales price.

    Several over-the-counter self-care items, such as antibacterial hand sanitizer, soap, spray and wipes, are always exempt from sales tax if they are labeled with a “Drug Facts” panel in accordance with federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

    Purchases that do not qualify include:

    • batteries for automobiles, boats and other motorized vehicles;
    • camping stoves and camping supplies;
    • chainsaws;
    • plywood;
    • extension ladders and stepladders; and
    • tents.

    A list of emergency preparation supplies that may be purchased tax-free can be found on the Comptroller’s website.

  • San Jacinto County to receive grant funding

    9a115719052b863acadd43acbc60e24fFILE PHOTO Shepherd logo

    Funds to improve drainage and sewer infrastructure for the city of Shepherd

    Special to the News-Times

    AUSTIN — Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Texas Sen. Robert Nichols and County Judge Fritz Faulkner announced the Texas General Land Office approved funds for flood mitigation projects in San Jacinto County and the City of Shepherd.

    These infrastructure projects will directly benefit residents in a majority low-to-moderate income area that faced repetitive storm damage in 2015, 2016, 2017 with Hurricane Harvey, and 2019.

    The City of Shepherd received $4,200,000 for its Citywide Sewer Infiltration and Inflow Mitigation Project, which will assist with ongoing drainage issues throughout the city by replacing sewer lines, replacing or reconstructing sewer manholes and raising and hardening a lift station.

    Shepherd Mayor Charles Minton said the city is excited about the grant, which will go a long way to improve its sewer plant and lines.

    “I believe this is one of the largest grants the city has received, and will greatly benefit our residents and greatly improve our infrastructure for water and wastewater,” he said.

    The city developed a scope of work in order to qualify for the money, which is part of the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund.

    “With the severe weather we have, our sewer system was reaching an age where it suffered from infiltration and overflow at the sewer plant,” Minton said. “Heavy rains overload the plant, causing function issues, and could back up into homes.”

    The project will encompass approximately 46,872 linear feet of sanitary sewer line replacement, trench safety, connect new main (or new manhole) to existing manhole (or existing main), main line cleanout, connect service to new main, remove existing manhole with standard manhole replacement, driveway repairs, highway and railroad bore, replace one sewer lift station, elevate and rehabilitate 18 manholes, and associated appurtenances.

    Click here to view the locations: 052721_grant.pdf

    “The city of Shepherd has experienced ongoing drainage issues for years, running the risk of loss of life, injury, damage to and loss of property, and suffering and hardship for our residents,” Faulkner said. “This $4.2 million will help us improve our citywide sewer system, including the replacement of almost nine miles of sewer lines, to reduce the impact of future disasters.”

    In May 2020, Commissioner George P. Bush announced the kick-off of the application process for the first round of more than $2.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to protect Texas communities hit by Hurricane Harvey and severe flooding in 2015 and 2016. During the first round, the GLO conducted three competitive application programs from the CDBG-MIT Action Plan. Those programs include:

    • 2015 Floods State Mitigation Competition – GLO awarded $31,426,781 to four grantees.
    • 2016 Floods State Mitigation Competition – GLO awarded 21 grantees with $135,462,438.
    • Hurricane Harvey State Mitigation Competition Round 1 ($1 billion of $2,144,776,720 total)

    “Texas leads the nation in disaster designations for repetitive flooding,” Bush said. “We must work together to help communities across Texas be more resilient against devasting storms in the future. This first round of funding represents an historic investment in protecting lives, homes, and public facilities, as well as minimizing environmental impacts of severe storms, in many of our state’s lower-income communities. The GLO is proud to play a part in addressing this tremendous need.”

    Nichols offered his support from the Texas Capitol saying, "It's impossible to overstate how important these flood mitigation funds are to East and Southeast Texas. Senate District 3 saw severe flooding during the 2015 floods, the 2016 floods, and again during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. These flooding events showed just how vulnerable this area of the state is and how necessary mitigation efforts are. Senate District 3 won over $105 million in the competitive flood mitigation fund award process because the projects in our region are vital to protecting Texans from future flood events. I appreciate the professionalism of the GLO throughout this process and our local officials who worked so hard to make these projects a reality."

    Applications closed for the first round of funding Oct. 28, 2020, and the GLO evaluated all 290 submitted applications in accordance with the HUD approved scoring criteria. Eligible applications with the highest scores were awarded funds. The second round of the competition will award the remaining $1,144,776,720 in mitigation funding to Hurricane Harvey eligible entities.

    HUD defines mitigation as activities that increase resilience to disasters and reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of loss of life, injury, damage to and loss of property, and suffering and hardship, by lessening the impact of future disasters. HUD requires that at least 50 percent of total funds must be used for activities benefiting low- to moderate-income persons.

    The State of Texas CDBG Mitigation Action Plan: Building Stronger for a Resilient Future outlines the use of funds, programs, eligible applicants, and eligibility criteria as required by HUD. The plan was sent to HUD on Feb. 3, 2020, after an extraordinary public outreach effort including a 50-day public comment period and eight regional public hearings, far-surpassing HUD requirements. HUD approved the plan March 31, 2020.

    For more information, visit recovery.texas.gov/mitigation.

  • TEA suspends letter-grading system

    TEA GraphicFILE PHOTO TEA Graphic

    STAAR test will still commence, according to agency

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – The Texas Education Agency announced on Thursday, Dec. 10, that it will pause its A-F accountability ratings for the current school year.

    The ratings system, which has been in place since 2018, is being paused due to the ongoing disruptions associated with COVID-19, according to a news release from the agency. On the other hand, the STARR test will proceed for the school year “In order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow,” according to TEA.

    The letter grade accountability system, which was adopted statewide after being passed into law by the 85th Texas Legislature, gives each school district a letter grade based on a number of criteria. The practice came with controversy from many educators and officials, but proponents argued that the system makes for a simple, transparent way for the public to understand how effective schools are.

    “The issuance of A-F ratings for schools has proven to be a valuable tool to support continuous improvement for our students,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

    Morath said that the past nine months have been “some of the most disruptive of our lives,” as educators and administrators have struggled to find ways to keep students learning while continuing to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. “The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers and students. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools this year, while working to ensure students grow academically,” Morath said.

    Although the letter grades will be paused this year and the STAAR testing will continue, Morath said the STAAR will not be used toward accountability purposes for this school year.

    Morath said the test will serve as a comprehensive picture to demonstrate what might be sweeping impacts of the pandemic upon student learning, and to help policymakers craft solutions for the coming years ahead.

    Morath said in the news release that the test will be administered on school campuses statewide, or at other secure alternative testing sites.

    During the summer, a large group of state lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA to suspend STAAR testing to some degree. One of the lawmakers who spoke out was State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.)

    White, a former educator, said that the first concern for educators should be for the students’ safety and health, and that any rating based on STAAR testing during the current school year would provide questionable results.

    “The Legislature did not devise the current accountability system in the paradigm of a pandemic that has created a bifurcated instructional delivery system…with vast swathes of rural Texas disconnected from the 21st century means of global connectivity,” White wrote in a letter to Morath dated July 16, 2020.

  • White bills address firearms, ballots, and cannabis

    Jas WhiteFILE PHOTO State Representative James White (R-Hillister)

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – It has been a week of legislative triumphs for State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.) A bill that White had a hand in writing pertaining to Constitutional Carry of firearms passed out of the House of Representatives. Another White bill, which would require electronic voting machines to produce a traceable paper ballot also passed to go to the Committee on Calendars.

    White’s House Bill 1927, if passed into law, will allow Texans to carry handguns without requiring a license to carry. That bill gained initial approval from the House on Thursday with a vote of 84-56, with most of the House GOP voting in favor and seven Democrats voting for it.

    White issued a joint statement with the bill’s co-author Rep. Matt Schaefer on HB 1927, which featured comments from several LTC instructors in support of the bill. According to White’s statement, opponents of the bill “are pushing a false narrative that these bills would ‘dismantle’ Texas’ License to Carry law,” which White says is untrue.

    “Experience shows that residents will continue to voluntarily seek out training and licenses in permitless carry states, recognizing the benefits of instruction as well as acquiring and maintaining a license,” White said.

    The bill will allow Texas residents, aged 21 and up, to carry without a permit as long as they are not otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm.

    HB 1708, which is the bill White penned pertaining to electronic voting machines, passed out of a House Committee on Elections with a vote of 8-1 on Wednesday. If the bill is passed into law, starting on Sept. 1 of this year, electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper ballot record cannot be purchased in Texas.

    Another bill that White had a hand in writing would reduce the penalties for the possession of cannabis. HB 3772 is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, April 19 before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

    The bill would reduce criminal penalties for low-level possession of cannabis flower and THC concentrates. It would classify the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor and allow for the expunction of a paraphernalia charge if it is dismissed.

  • White makes statement on light rail project

    JasWhite 102220BETH FAIRCLOTH | TCB State Representative James White (R-Hillister) speaksto the Tyler County Republican Women group last Thursday at the group’s monthly meeting. Terri Simpson (left) and Kathy Hodges-Spoon (middle) of TCRW listen to White.

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – Rep. James White (R-Hillister) is one of several Texas lawmakers who are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to ignore “misinformation” about a proposed high-speed rail project.

    The project, which would be under the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration, if brought to fruition, is a proposed 240-mile high-speed railway system to travel between the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In a TxDOT news release, a private entity, Texas Central Railway (TCR) is funding and developing an environmental study for the project.

    White said that the project does not have any permits, at present, to begin construction, and also lacks public support.

    White and several other members of the Texas House of Representatives sent a letter to Abbott last week with their concerns about the project. The letter claims that information available about the project features “inaccurate talking points and promotion of ideas consistent with the liberal Green New Deal.”

    The Green New Deal, which White referenced, is a proposed package of federal legislation aiming to address climate change and economic inequality.

    Another concern White addressed, which constituents have shared with him, is that eminent domain might be used to strip them from their land and homes. “Judges have already blocked the use of eminent domain and county elected officials have publicly denounced the project,” White said.

    “We don’t need Japan building our infrastructure, or taxpayer-funded boondoggles such as the Green New Deal on Texas soil,” he said.

    Opponents of the proposed high-speed rail have also referenced a letter Abbott wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister praising the project and offering his full support as governor. “I am hopeful that final negotiations of this project with Japan can be concluded so that construction can begin,” Abbott wrote.

    A group calling itself Texans Against High-Speed Rail cited both Abbott’s letter to the Prime Minister of Japan and the legislators’ letter to Abbott in a Facebook post, and stated that the legislators who signed the letter “will be strong advocates” for transparency with regard to the project.

    White said the governor is reviewing the accuracy and legitimacy of the project. “I urge the governor to listen to my fellow legislators and hear our concerns about protecting Texans’ private property rights from foreign governments,” White said.

    According to TxDOT the project, as well as the Dallas-Fort Worth Core Express and Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study may provide alternative methods of transportation within corridors that are experiencing increased congestion due to continued population growth.