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Committees discuss Uvalde reports

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080422 my five cents

By Sen. Robert Nichols
District 3

Sixty-four years ago this month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA and emphasized our commitment to space exploration and manned space flight. NASA later elected to build a new flight-control center outside of Houston, making Texas an essential piece of the space race.
Here are five things happening around your state.

ALERRT, House Committee release reports on shooting in Uvalde

This month, both the Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center and the House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting released reports on their assessment of the tragic shooting in Uvalde.

Each report highlighted different parts of the overall response. The ALERRT center covered the timeline, a physical assessment, and a tactical assessment. The tactical assessment spoke to their expertise on strategies used during the shooting and different strategies that could have been used in this situation.

Their expertise lies in responder training and their report reflected deficiencies in training and execution of that training. To read the report, visit https://alerrt.org/.

The House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting released their report a few weeks after the ALERRT Center’s report. The House report detailed an extensive timeline of the events leading up to the shooting, during the shooting, and after the shooting.

They delved into the attacker’s family life and background, the school’s security and facilities, the law enforcement response, and drew several factual conclusions. I commend my colleagues for their important work on this issue and look forward to working with other House and Senate members to develop recommendations moving forward.

To read the full report, go to https://house.texas.gov/media/pdf/ committees/reports/87 interim/Robb-Elementary-Investigative-Committee-Report.pdf.

Suicide hotline number changes to 988

This month, the Federal Communications Commission implemented a change to the national suicide hotline number. Instead of the old 11-digit number, the new number is just three digits and easier to remember.

Now, calling 988 will give you resources for immediate mental health emergencies, such as people at risk of suicide and other crises. The hope is that calling 988 for a mental health crisis will become just as instinctive as calling 911 in an emergency.

Those who call the hotline will connect directly with a crisis center staffed by trained professionals that offer free and immediate help at any time. The line offers communication options in several languages and is now available.

People in distress can also chat with a trained counselor by visiting www.988lifeline.org.

Universal Service Fund rates will increase

Beginning Aug. 1, telephone customers will see an increase in monthly bills due to a court ruling that state regulators must fully fund the Universal Service Fund. The USF was created to ensure that Texans in rural areas have access to phone services, which is legally a public necessity.

Each telephone customer’s bill has a line item for the USF which has charged a 3.3 percent fee of the cost for intrastate voice service. That percentage is now going up to 24 percent. For many single-line customers, that charge was as low as 30 cents a month. That cost could rise to about $2 per month or more.

This change comes after the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the USF, rejected a more modest increase in 2020, which would’ve brought the assessment to 6.4 percent. In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a measure aimed at addressing the issue, as well.

Tax free weekend for  back-to-school approaching

This year’s sales tax holiday weekend for back-to-school is Friday through Sunday. Texans can save money on tax-free purchases of most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks during the annual tax-free weekend.

Qualifying items can be purchased in-store or online. The exemption applies to each eligible item sold for less than $100 and there is no limit to the number of qualifying items Texans can buy.

Texas Parks and Wildlife accepting drawn hunt permit applications

Texas Parks and Wildlife opened applications for drawn hunt permits for the 2022-2023 hunting season in July. There are almost 10,000 permits in 62 hunt categories.

The permits allow drawn hunts on public and private land, including hunts for white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn, turkey, alligator, dove, and some exotic species. An online interactive map shows all drawn hunt opportunities by category or area.

All applications, fees, and permit issuances are handled online. Permits are open to resident and non-resident hunters. The first application deadlines are in August.

For more information, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/hunt/public/public_hunt_drawing/.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents District 3, which includes San Jacinto County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Take the wheat, leave the chaff lie still

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
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When is a recession not a recession?

When does a curve not flatten?

When it’s found on social media, or sadly, in the mouths of politicians.

President Joe Biden, facing criticism on his economic and national policies, did what any 8-year-old would and countered with, and said there is not recession.

In the background, the administration also changed the definition of a recession so their vaunted leader wouldn’t look like the fop he is.

Which is not so surprising, given that Biden’s 45-plus years in office have been peppered with doublespeak, memory holes and even plagiarism.

Former newscaster Sam Donaldson even questioned if there was any depth to Biden, asking, “What’s behind the words? What’s there? A lot of people’s rap on Biden is he’s just surface.”

In regard to the accusations of plagiarism, Biden’s response was he’s done some dumb things, and he’ll do dumb things again.

One commentator said that if he’s going to do something that’s stupid, as well as immoral, he’s probably too dumb to hold the job of president. Eleanor Clift even went so far as saying he looks like a wind-up doll with someone else’s words coming out of his mouth.

Mind you, this is from as far back as 1987.

But more recently, Biden stood in front of the assembled “news” people and read the latest economic data, which was not good. He then proceeded to tell the crowd that it didn’t look like a recession to him and walked off without taking any questions.
Then most of the national media, along with the administration lackeys, now report how $4 per gallon gas prices and empty grocery shelves are signs of a robust economy.

White House economic adviser Brian Deese was quoted saying, “With respect to food … high prices are hitting Americans very hard, but in a way that is different from some places that are facing famine, for example.”

Painting something bad as something good, or vice versa, has become a hallmark of politics, and because most people don’t bother to use common sense and dig into things a little (preferring to rely on our leaders), our leaders get away with it. That’s proven by the fact that the same people keep getting put into office.

All one has to do is look around and see the results of governmental malfeasance. Supply chain issues, which are blamed on COVID and Putin, have left grocery stores shelves empty and just about every industry, including newspapers, in difficult and dire straits. People are losing jobs and becoming homeless, as evidenced by the streets of major cities across the nation. Gas prices continue to hover at the $4 mark.

Unemployment is listed at a low 3.6 percent, but that definition was decided by the government, which does not count people who have dropped out of unemployment rolls after not being able to find jobs. Then the government, which decimated the workforce through its ham-fisted COVID response, claims that the workers returning are the reason unemployment is so low.

So, when is a recession not a recession? When it’s deemed not a recession by the people who caused it in the first place.

It’s vitally important that whatever you choose to believe it’s based on loads of research, and not just information spoon-fed from dubious sources, and that includes the government.


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Does the future exist?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Seems like a strange question to ask, right? Does the future exist? But whether it exists depends on our point of reference, and for us it is rooted in our biological nature. Our belief about the future is an existential one. Every choice we make, or don’t make, nudges the outcome one way or the other. Do we have any responsibility for the future?

 We are biological beings with a limited lifespan. As Oliver Burkeman observed in his book Four Thousand Weeks, if I live to be 80 years old, I have about 4,000 weeks. If you are 20 years old, that seems like forever; but, from my perspective as a 71-year-old, my life has seemed astonishingly short, with only a few hundred weeks left. From a purely personal perspective, beyond my physical life, there is no future. Once I die, the past, present, and future no longer exist.

The theologian will insist, though, that I’m wrong about that, that I am more than just my physical body and mind, and when my body dies that part of me that exists outside the physical realm, call it the soul if you are in the Judeo-Christian tradition, will transition, intact, to a different realm of existence and continue forever. I am, from that perspective, immortal.

Others argue that I don’t need to worry about the future of the physical world because, when it gets bad enough, God is going to redeem it, creating a new heaven and a new earth. When the last tree dies, he will simply hit the reboot button, creating a better world than the first one, that cannot be corrupted by corrupt mankind, and warn us not to screw it up again.

Many people seem to be willing to gamble on the prospect that our planet, culture, and society might be saved at the last minute with the intervention of a heavenly cavalry. Maybe. But we have been waiting on that for thousands of years. As Christians, we clearly don’t understand the scale of God’s timeline. And we don’t agree on God’s intention for not only this planet, but the universe.

My belief from studying the Bible is that it teaches God is not going to fix our mess for us. I’m an amillenialist and believe that in the moment we die we are redeemed, that there is no corporate resurrection of the dead on a new physical earth. From the perspective of the dead Christian, that is a good thing. But for those who must live out their lives on earth waiting for that personal redemption, I believe we have a responsibility.

Yes, I believe we have a responsibility to the future to protect the environment and even if that means short term pain for us today, we should create sustainable practices, capitalism be damned. But it goes well beyond that.

We must create a future where people are valued beyond their economic output. From a purely Christian position, we can’t value one person more than another. Jesus’ most fundamental teaching contradicts that view. But even from a purely humanistic position, it also makes no sense. We say the words that all people have value, even to the point that we argue a fertilized egg is a person and should be protected by the state yet will try to make the lives of those who are hungry and living on the street even harder than it already is.

We routinely hold beliefs that people that are different from us have no place in our society (while declaring loudly that we do not). And we use the power of the state to marginalize “others.” We have a religious right that openly support Christian Nationalism and believe that their religion should rule this country. None of this is Christian. It’s not even human.

We owe the future a society with the primary goal of providing health care to everyone, a roof over their heads and enough food to eat. These should be core values of society. And, yes, we owe future humans an unpolluted earth, with air they can breathe, water they can drink, and land they can grow food on. Our obsession with Capitalism will not allow that. The result of Capitalism is always the same. The wealth of the country is shifted to a very few individuals at the very top, people only have value to the extent they can produce wealth for those few, and the environment exists only to exploit for their financial benefit.

What do we owe the future? What do you owe your children? The future depends on the choices we make now.

Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Polk County Publishing Company or its owners.

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‘Protect All Texans’ hearing held

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072822 robert nicholsThe Special Committee to Protect All Texans heard testimony stating improvements need to be made to Texas’ mental health system.

By Sen. Robert Nichols

Committee to Protect All Texans hearing

This month, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick appointed me chair of the Special Committee to Protect All Texans. The committee was formed in response to the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School. We were charged with examining school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety. As such, we held two hearings on back-to-back days. We heard testimony from the Texas Department of Public Safety walking through the timeline of events in Uvalde. We then heard from various law enforcement agencies including the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, the Texas Police Chiefs Association, and others who all spoke on the state of police training in Texas and school-based law enforcement programs. We also heard from the Texas Education Agency, the Texas School Safety Center, and the Texas Association of School Administrators regarding school safety and recommendations they had to improve school safety.

The second day was focused on mental health and firearm safety. We heard extensive testimony from the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Council of Community Centers, and others about improvements that need to be made to Texas’ mental health system. We also heard from Texas Gun Sense and Sandy Hook Promise regarding policy changes that could be made to improve firearm safety in Texas. Now that we’ve heard testimony from a wide array of voices, the committee will develop recommendations for the Legislature to consider in the upcoming session.

US Supreme Court upholds football coach’s right to pray

Last week, the US Supreme Court ruled that a former Washington state high school football coach has the right to pray on the field following games. The court held that the school violated the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the First Amendment by telling him he could not pray so publicly on the 50-yard line after the games. The coach was put on administrative leave and suspended from the program after players began to join him on the field to pray. He filed suit the next year. This is a victory for free speech and freedom of expression. It guarantees that public employees are not limited in their private religious expression.

Business and Commerce Committee and Finance Committee hold hearings

This week, the Senate was busy with several hearings in Austin. The Senate Finance Committee met to hear testimony on the mental health delivery system. The Committee discussed the state’s Comprehensive Plan for State-Funded Inpatient Mental Health Services and the Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan. We also examined current state investments in mental health and how to reduce waitlist for state services.

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee also met this week to conduct oversight of the implementation of House Bill 5, also known as the Broadband Office Bill, and discuss anticipated federal funds for broadband initiatives. In the last special session, the Legislature appropriated $500 million in Federal funds to the Broadband Development Office to assist with broadband deployment. We anticipate Texas could receive between $1 billion and $4 billion in additional federal funds over the next year to help close the digital divide.

Severe drought forecast across Texas, burn bans in some areas of East Texas

The US Drought Monitor indicated this week that nearly 65 percent of Texas is under severe drought conditions. Burn bans have been implemented in many counties across the state to mitigate wildfire risks. Much of East Texas is only considered to be in moderate drought, but many East Texas counties have put burn bans in place. Those counties in Senate District 3 include Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Henderson, Houston, Liberty, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler.

Continued progress on Battleship Texas project

Earlier this month, the new dry dock from Gulf Copper arrived in Galveston. This dry dock will be used to repair Battleship Texas later this summer. The Battleship Texas Foundation anticipates the ship will depart using the dry dock in mid-August. This is a huge step forward in repairing and restoring the Battleship. To read more about the Battleship restoration project and see photos of the progress, please visit www.battleshiptexas.org.

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Staying in the know is important

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072822 staying in the know

By Rhonda Oaks

I immediately noticed the elderly lady on a cane when she walked in the door. She walked upright, tall and straight with her chin held up high and looked to be in her late 80’s. We were on the second floor of a convention center holding an open house for a future project and we don’t usually see visitors her age attend.

My guess was the lady with her was probably her daughter. They both seemed very interested in looking at the maps of the proposed project that were spread across long tables in the room. Properties were marked by numbers or property owner’s names so those interested could easily find their parcel of land and determine whether the project would affect them. These types of meetings usually require many TxDOT employees to attend. You will find designers, engineers, right-of-way experts, and all of them are ready to answer the public’s questions.

As I watched the older lady and her daughter trying to get a look at the maps through those already gathered around, I could tell they couldn’t understand the map. The daughter was trying to explain to her mother various locations, but mom acted oblivious to her remarks as she kept easing alongside the table to get a better view.

I imagined the elderly woman owning a beautiful farm or ranch that maybe had been in her family many years. She was dressed neatly, not a hair out of place and looked as if she were the matriarch of a large family. Her purse hung from the bend of one elbow. In her other hand she held her cane, tapping it on the floor as she looked at the maps, as if to say she had always had the final say on everything.

I approached the pair to ask if I could help them or direct them to an engineer who could explain the project and locate their property for them. They were appreciative as I introduced one of the project designers and a right-of-way agent who could explain the process if any of her property would be required for the project.

I left them studying the maps and listening intently to TxDOT engineers visit with nearby customers. Many of the people who attended just wanted to see how the roadway was being designed and, for the most part, were excited to see the expansion and improvement that was being planned for the area.

I thought how TxDOT open houses and public meetings and hearings go a long way in answering the public’s questions about future expansion. Project transparency is something we strive for when we plan projects and open communication between TxDOT, the public and our stakeholders is an important part of the success of our work. Many times, based on public input, designs have been altered to better accommodate the traveling public.

You can find out all we do to involve the public on our website, txdot.gov. Our Public Involvement professionals work daily to get you involved and keep you informed. The Lufkin District has some major projects underway and more to come that will impact East Texas. We want to hear what you have to say. We are committed to improving the transportation system through public participation.

After close to three hours and more than 100 people having viewed the plans and given their opinions and written comments, I saw the elderly lady still milling around the maps. I wondered what in the world could have her attention so long and how was it that she was able to stand on her feet all this time. After all, my feet were killing me.

I eased close enough to them that I could tell the daughter was worn out and ready to go home. As she shuffled behind her spry mother, I overheard her say in a bit of an aggravated tone, “Mom, I have already told you this is not going to affect us at all. Why are you so interested in it?”

And quick as a whip, mom turned and said, “Because I want to know. I know it won’t affect me, but I want to know how it’s going to affect my children, my grandchildren and their children.”

I smiled and eased back across the room. How I wished everyone felt that way. I invite you to get involved with us as we plan the transportation projects that will be designed and constructed to create a better future for all of us and those generations who will come after us.

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