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House committee in charge of natural resources

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072122 ashby updateThe House Committee on Natural Resources has been tasked with examining a comprehensive list of projects and initiatives related to our state’s water infrastructure.

Capital Update
By Rep. Trent Ashby

The House Committee on Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the conservation and development of water resources across our state. The 11-member committee also regulates all local water-related entities, such as groundwater conservation districts, and oversees several critically important entities such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board.

The Natural Resources Committee, like most interim committees, will oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed during the session last year. One bill of focus, SB 1160, created the Gulf Coast Protection District, which will be responsible for developing and constructing coastal barriers and other improvement projects designed to protect coastal communities from severe damage caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. The Texas Coast is a major economic force in our state and country and it’s crucial we continue to make improvements along our coastline to protect communities, industries, wildlife, and our bays and estuaries from future damage.

The Committee has also been tasked with examining a comprehensive list of projects and initiatives related to our state’s water infrastructure. Some examples include the condition of water and flood mitigation infrastructure capabilities, exploring sustainable funding options to further enhance the state’s water project development, assessing federal regulations relating to Texas water, and evaluating the accuracy of surface and groundwater reporting throughout the State.

Additionally, with drought conditions being experienced across most of the state, I fully expect the Committee to closely monitor this situation. After the most severe drought experienced by the state in 2011, the Legislature responded by enacting a number of measures to bolster water supplies, create a funding mechanism to help governmental entities improve their aging water infrastructure, and provide a roadmap for better preparing for future droughts.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at (936) 634-2762. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my Official Facebook Page, where I will be posting regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and sharing information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

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Big Tech steamrolling America’s newspapers

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072422 stemrolling big newspapers

By Brett Wesner
Guest columnist

Google and Facebook have enormous economic and political power in society — especially over the news industry. Many ask if they have played a role in the misinformation that erodes our free press and plagues our democracy.

Google and Facebook have a duopoly of the distribution of digital news content, which drives people to their platforms where they make money. The platforms hoard critical data and use clever tactics, like reframing stories in rich previews, to keep users on their sites — siphoning off the advertising revenue that small and local publishers need and weakening their ability to be rewarded for their own content.

Google and Facebook generated $4 million in U.S. advertising revenue every 15 minutes during the first quarter of 2022. That amount could fund hundreds of local journalists in every state in the country.

It’s no wonder that, despite record news consumption, local newspapers across the country have seen diminished revenues — leading many to lay off journalists or go out of business. Local newspapers simply can’t compete with these national platforms, Google and Facebook. The imbalance of power between these platforms and local newspapers — let alone any single local paper — is so vast that newspapers cannot negotiate the exploitation of news. But antitrust laws shield Google and Facebook from the possibility of news publishers working together to demand better terms.

No company should have this much control over the news. Congress must take action to curb undue influence of Big Tech on the news media industry — and the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act aims to do just that.

The JCPA is specifically designed to address Google’s and Facebook’s anticompetitive practices. The proposed legislation would provide a temporary, limited antitrust safe harbor for small and local news publishers to collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for fair compensation for the use of their content. The policy also incentivizes and rewards publishers who invest in their journalists and newsroom personnel, awarding outlets with demonstrated investments in their staff a larger portion of the funds that result from the negotiations.

By addressing Google’s and Facebook’s monopoly power and ensuring more subscription and advertising dollars flow back to publishers, the JCPA not only protects and promotes quality news, but also encourages competition.

In today’s partisan political climate, it is rare for Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything — but the JCPA is one important exception. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree: we need to pass the JCPA to ensure that publishers — especially small and local publishers — are treated fairly and can serve their communities.

Brett Wesner is chair of the National Newspaper Association, and president of Wesner Publications in Cordell, Okla.

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Lone Star ‘Reefer Madness’

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072155 refer madness

By Chris Edwards

Last week, it was announced that a medical marijuana dispensary opened in our region. Texas Original, the provider, is one of 14 across the state, opened in Nacogdoches and the company stated in a news release that it provides the “highest quality of medical cannabis products to qualifying patients in the state.”

It is a step in the right direction, but Texas is still home to some of the most restrictive cannabis laws in the nation. Medical cannabis is approved to treat conditions such as epilepsy, cancer, PTSD and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Despite an evolving, actual conservative/pro-liberty stance on cannabis among the Texan population, which has become an opinion shared across the country, Gov. Greg Abbott still appears stuck in the “Reefer Madness” era, when jazz musicians were demonized due to their love of the weed and racist caricatures of smokers did abound, via propaganda.

Abbott stated that his position has not changed, that cannabis would not be legalized on his watch.

However, two challengers to Abbott’s throne have expressed views in line with the majority of Texans on the subject. Both Democrat Beto O’Rourke and Libertarian Mark Tippetts indicate that they would, if elected, change the nonsense surrounding the topic.

According to polling, an overwhelming percentage of Texans who are registered to vote support the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use.

The polling results show that 91% of registered Democrats; 85% of independents and 74% of Republicans, back the idea that marijuana should be made legal within Texas’s borders. Most other polls on the topic reveal a similar trend.
In a past life, when I taught college freshmen how to frame arguments within the context of essays, there were two topics I pretty much embargoed: abortion and marijuana.

I did not care if an argument was being made for or against either of those topics; I just got tired of seeing them hashed out one way or the other within the marketplace of ideas.

Yet here we are, and much ink has been slung over the former topic, due to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, so I won’t plow that ground.

Instead of pouring valuable taxpayer money into non-violent pot offenses, Texas could be benefitting from a booming agribusiness. Our great state has always been a leader in this field, but on one cash crop, it is far behind.

On Friday, Sid Miller, the state’s secretary of agriculture, released an op-ed piece to the state Department of Agriculture website. Miller called for the state to stand up for compassionate use of cannabis and called the prohibition of cannabis a failed experiment that arose from fear, and “not from medical science or the analysis of social harm.” Furthermore, he states that the roots of cannabis’s illegality were wrapped up in racism, classism and an authoritarian bent from the federal government.

Now I’m no fan of Sid Miller, but you all know what they say about a broken clock.

Since paving the way in 2012 and legalizing cannabis, Colorado has benefitted greatly. Last year, it reported earnings in excess of $423 million from tax revenue from the simple plant, with more than $12 billion in sales, reported, and $2 billion in tax and fee revenue.

Thirty-seven states, three territories and the District of Columbia, have allowed the medicinal use of cannabis, while 19 states, two territories and D.C. allow for recreational use.

Texas, however, still has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the entire country, with recreational use illegal and medical usage heavily regulated. Penalties for use, possession and sale fall under penalty group two of the state’s Controlled Substances Act, which range from 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to life imprisonment and a $50K fine.

All of that is absurd to me, and it should be to anyone paying attention. Locking people in cages for long periods of time because they set fire to a plant and inhaled its smoke into their lungs is ludicrous.

Wasting valuable law enforcement resources on pursuing such nonsense is unconscionable. From patrolling officers tasked with arresting folks who are carrying or consuming a plant to the prosecutors and district attorneys tasked with handling such offenses, the amount of money and resources put toward this that could go into combatting real crimes is mind-numbingly outrageous.

Our state government needs to learn to leave people alone. Prohibition, as our ag commissioner noted, did not work out so well in the 1920s with alcohol, and it has not worked since the ‘30s regarding cannabis.

Cannabis has been scientifically shown to treat a variety of conditions that make existence hard for many individuals, however the “rebellious”/”cool” façade of the plant that “the establishment” has kicked hard against for decades is a thing of the past.

With its pervasiveness in our culture, pot is about as “cool” as the gin martinis that most working-class Jims and Joes would enjoy after a long day at the office. There’s nothing cool, either, about the continuation of criminalizing the plant here in Texas.

That is just beyond square, man.

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Here come the birds back home to roost

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The headline of this column is a paraphrase of the title of a story by my favorite writer, Harlan Ellison.

Without too many spoilers, it deals mostly with the subject of karma, or, if you prefer, the consequences of actions.
Seems this dandy played it fast and loose with the ladies, and cycling backward, he was accosted by his former flings and relationships and treated in the same manner as he had treated them.

I was reminded of this story in a very graphic way based on a video that going viral around the internet these past few weeks.

The video shows children, some clad in diapers and not much else, accosting and even assaulting police officers foul expletives and wishing them harm. The officers, to their credit, ended up walking away, without really engaging the youths.

A second reminder comes from the land of Starbucks, which will be shuttering stores, particularly in Washington, because of safety reasons, and will provide story managers more leeway into creating safe spaces for their customers and employees.

There’s more, like people fleeing metropolitan areas because of safety concerns, prosecutors not going after minor crimes because of staffing problems, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

This all started with the defund the police movement and is striking the areas that embraced that ignorant philosophy the hardest, such as New York, Minneapolis and Seattle. The Seattle Police Department, according to new reports, is staffed at a little more than two-thirds of its force because of its cutbacks, and the results are predictable.

Further, since the majority of the population with little skin in the game, the ones that rely upon and revere the state, have adopted that same philosophy, parents have been teaching — actively as well as via example — hate for law enforcement, and children will do as mommy and daddy say.

Who could see this coming? If you’re not raising your hand, then you’re kidding yourself.

When there is no enforcement of laws, then there is anarchy, as was evidenced by the summer of riots across the nation. Couple that with the societal need for perpetual victimhood, a national media that eschews facts for ratings, and legislators who rush to pander to the pandered while outright ignoring the good and law-abiding, you end up living, a la “Stranger Things,” in the Upside Down.

Think about that. Lawbreakers are revered while law enforcement is reviled. This also applies to pretty much any issue facing our country today. Bad is good, right is wrong, and any sort of terrible behavior is condoned, and in many cases lauded, if there is a good enough excuse to play the victim card.

The results were predictable, and were predicted, yet still they come as a surprise. That’s ridiculous, and it’s karma, or the birds that were let loose are now coming home to roost.

This issue is dear to my heart, since I grew up the son of a police officer. I hate to think that in his 45 years of policing all the good he did and all the lives he touched are now deemed hateful.

Legislators can easily fix some of the problem by putting more funds into law enforcement for hiring and training. The damage done to the officers, though, will be years, if not decades, in repairing.

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‘Protect All Texans’ hearing held

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071422 robert nichols

By Sen. Robert Nichols

This past weekend our nation celebrated the Fourth of July, commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776.

Here are five things happening around your state:

1. 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.

2. US Supreme Court upholds football coach’s right to pray

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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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