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There is climate change, and it’s not the weather

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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The woke tide that crashing on the shores of our society is growing larger.

Recently, one of Texas’ own has stepped into the fray with a bill that on the face of it would be laughed out of Congress, but because of the idea that wokeness trumps common sense is gaining traction, and prompting different adherents to take wild swings.

Such is the case with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who filed a bill in Congress making it a crime to incite violence based on rhetoric related to “white supremacy.”

The subtext here deals with racism, and Lee’s fear that words will without a doubt cause white supremacy-inspired hate crime or hatch conspiracies to commit white supremacy-inspired hate crime.

According to the bill, white supremacy-inspired hate crimes are born when white supremacy ideology has motivated planning of or actions that constitute a crime. It empowers the Justice Department, which lately has been given a bloody nose for its ineptitude and partisanship, the task of investigating and prosecuting the “crime.”

On the face of it, this is an issue with free speech. Even if you don’t like what is said, there is nothing that the government can do to limit it, even if said speech inspires some whackjob to do something monumentally stupid and heinous.

The bill doesn’t even make a distinction between printed, spoken or even reported words, so it could be applied in a broad manner, even to newspapers. My nightmare scenario is one that a story I’ve written is deemed to have caused a crime, and off to the hoosegow I go.

That may sound far-fetched, but another thing the bill doesn’t do is identify what exactly white supremacy hate speech is made of. It doesn’t define the boundaries, nor does it give any examples, leaving it to the prosecuting agency, and whatever victim, to decide if what was said that inspired a crime was indeed hate speech.

See the dilemma? Without parameters, then everything is hate speech.

So the other rub is the race part, as this only deals with “white” supremacy. Granted, the history of things doesn’t look good, what with the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Skinheads, etc., that push the nonsense of white supremacy, but that’s not to say that similar groups don’t exist in other areas and with other races.

It boggles the mind that a sitting U.S. Representative, sworn to uphold the law of the land which does include equality statutes, would write legislation that would single out a race for practices that exist across the spectrum of society.

It also boggles the mind that this legislation was introduced after the House pendulum swung toward a Republican majority, when it easily could have been introduced when the Democrats were in charge, giving it a better-than-even chance of squeaking through.

It’s been said in discussion groups that the point of this bill wasn’t to right any wrongs, but for political grandstanding. There’s merit in that argument; I believe Lee thinks this is a good thing. But it’s another step toward control the kind of which the woke crowd hopes for — limiting speech to what is approved.

The social climate is becoming one that progressive ideals are becoming more and more acceptable, which will end up taking away the one thing free speech was designed to protect — liberty.

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Hegar releases map identifying areas eligible for broadband funding

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Broadband Stock

AUSTIN — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced the release of the Texas Broadband Development Map last week, which uses data collected from internet service providers (ISPs) to show the availability of various types of high-speed internet access across Texas.

The process for creating the map follows the process used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create the national broadband map and meets the statutory guidelines established in House Bill 5 passed in the Regular Session of the 87th Legislature. The map will be updated biannually to incorporate additional information and data gathered by the Comptroller’s Texas Broadband Development Office (BDO).

“For this initial batch of data, we leaned heavily on coverage information provided by ISPs, and we followed federal guidance for speed and eligibility,” Hegar said. “However, the ISP advertised speeds submitted to us don’t necessarily match test speeds on the ground, which is a prime example of the types of flaws that are now more apparent in the federal mapping process and in the definition of broadband services. This is most apparent when you review the speed range layer of the map and see significant areas of the state ineligible for funding under state law, but that clearly have insufficient high-speed broadband service to be competitive in today’s modern world.

“That’s why we are committed to regularly updating the state map, so it reflects recent and accurate data. There will be multiple opportunities to challenge the accuracy of the data, and I encourage the public, stakeholders and legislators, as well as service providers and other vendors, to engage with us on the Texas map so we have the most accurate information available.”

The Texas map is an interactive tool that identifies areas of the state that are eligible for funding broadband expansion projects as defined by state law. State law defines a designated area as eligible for funding if less than 80 percent of serviceable locations have access to internet at speeds of 25 megabits per second (mbps) downstream and 3 mbps upstream.

While statute established a definition of high-speed internet that mirrors the definition used by the FCC, the Comptroller and the BDO understand those speeds are not sufficient to meet the needs of many communities. The quality and reliability of internet service technology can differ greatly. Similarly, the law was intentionally technology agnostic to provide the flexibility needed to achieve widespread broadband expansion in a large and geographically diverse state.

“The FCC’s current definition of high-speed internet as 25/3 mbps is becoming rapidly obsolete,” Hegar said. “One of the things we learned talking to stakeholders around the state last year was that to be truly competitive, communities need internet that is faster than the FCC’s definition of high-speed broadband. For that reason, we designed the map to show coverage at various speeds. We also heard that reliability was a constant concern for certain types of technology, so we want to show stakeholders and lawmakers what type of technology is available in their areas. This functionality will be crucial as lawmakers and the BDO work to prioritize funding in the coming year.”

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Join me in recognizing school board members

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby

As part of School Board Appreciation Month, I invite parents, teachers and students to join me in recognizing our local school board members who have dedicated their time to serve our Texas students and communities. With over 5 million students throughout the State of Texas, these local leaders deserve our gratitude for their leadership and devoted service on behalf of our school districts, administrators, teachers and students. The school board appreciation theme for 2023 is “Forward, Together,” which, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulates our shared commitment to the success of our public schools and a brighter future for Texas students.

With that, here’s an update from your State Capitol …

In my most recent column, I discussed the comptroller’s announcement of the biennial revenue estimate, which outlines funds available for the legislature over the next two years. Against that backdrop, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, leadership in both the House and Senate filed a preliminary base budget, which will serve as a starting point for the legislature to begin budget negotiations. House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 reflect the priorities of each chamber and will be debated throughout the session to arrive at a final budget for the 2024-2025 biennium. While the priorities for each chamber are reflected in the fine print of their respective proposals, there a quite a few similarities. Both chambers have proposed to spend roughly $130 billion in general revenue over the upcoming biennium, which is well below the constitutional spending cap.

Without wading too deep into budget minutia, I want to highlight some of the priorities that are clearly defined in each of the filed budget proposals. For example, both versions dedicate $15 billion for property tax relief, including an additional $3 billion to buy down local school and property tax rates. This is welcome news, as skyrocketing appraisal values combined with record levels of inflation have shouldered too many Texans with an exorbitant property tax bill. I’m pleased to see that both chambers are prioritizing property tax relief in their base proposals, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to find additional solutions to help provide meaningful relief to Texas property owners.

I’m also pleased to report that House Bill 1 makes significant investments in public safety and criminal justice by dedicating over $17 billion to support the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, correctional officers, rural law enforcement, and bolstered border security efforts. I applaud the Texas House for prioritizing the brave men and women who help keep our communities safe.

Additionally, both chambers are proposing to make strategic investments in public education. As school districts across the state struggle with teacher shortages, learning loss, and countless other challenges that have arisen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, both chambers’ proposals feature a $36 billion investment to help address these challenges. These resources will be used to increase teacher incentives, raise the basic allotment, enhance technological and instructional materials, and importantly, strengthen our school safety initiatives. Our public school classrooms are the bedrock of our communities, and ensuring our educators and students have the resources necessary to provide a quality learning environment is vital to the success of our children and the future of Texas.

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 post regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and share information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

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Both chambers file budgets

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My Five CentsThis week we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a visionary leader and made an invaluable impact on our country. Here are five things happening around your state:

Budget filed in both the House and Senate

Now that the members are sworn in and both the governor and lieutenant governor are sworn in, the legislature can begin the work of the people. The first step is the filing of the budget by both the House and the Senate on their respective ideas of what the budget should be. This week, Rep. Greg Bonnen and Sen. Joan Huffman each filed their versions of the budget in their respective chambers. The senate budget, Senate Bill 1, includes $15 billion for additional property tax relief, including $3 billion to increase the homestead exemption to $70,000, fully funding public education, $3 billion in additional funds to invest in the state’s mental health resources, $600 million for school safety initiatives, $500 million for Gulf Coast Protection District projects, and much more. This document highlights the priorities of the legislature. The process of building the final budget takes weeks of committee hearings and deliberations between the Senate and the House and will likely take most of the session to complete. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the budget for the next biennium.

Houston Astros honored in Senate

This week, the Senate hosted the Houston Astros to celebrate their World Series championship. Members of the team were honored with a resolution on the Senate floor and they also brought the World Series trophy. The Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to win their second championship. The final game of the series was played at Minute Maid Park in Houston last November. The series was also notable for having the first World Series no-hitter since 1956. A combined effort from four Astros pitchers achieved the feat in Game 4. Congratulations on an amazing season and World Series win.

TxDOT makes $250million available for transportation alternatives

TxDOT announced the agency is making $250 million available for sidewalks, bike lanes, shared-use paths, and other projects to enhance walking and biking transportation options across the state. The federal funding is aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, which have risen in past years. The funding will help communities plan and build walking and biking infrastructure. TxDOT is hosting virtual workshops to help municipalities and organizations as they apply for this funding. To learn more, visit


State parks celebrating 100 years

This year is the Centennial Celebration of Texas State Parks. To commemorate 100 years, every state park will host at least one special event in 2023. In January, many state parks in North Texas and on the coast are hosting fishing events for kids. There is also a photo contest with a new theme for each season of the year. Participants have the chance to win a State Parks Pass, a $100 HEB gift card and more. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is also hosting a new traveling art exhibit that features more than 30 Texas State Parks. Thirty notable Texas artists were commissioned to create works celebrating parks across Texas. The exhibit runs in Austin from January 7 to April 30 and will then travel to several museums later this year and next year. It will be on display in Tyler in 2024. There is also a commemorative book that highlights the collection and is available online to purchase. For more information on events happening at parks near you, visit www.TexasStateParks.org/100years.

DETCOG helps challenge federal broadband map

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission released a broadband coverage map that suggests most of Deep East Texas has access to broadband. Members of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) have encouraged the community to challenge the maps, as they are misleading and do not accurately reflect the reality of broadband access, especially in rural areas. The map was compiled by using data from internet service providers in the area. The coverage map will help determine how much funding states receive from the federal government for broadband projects. It’s important that the maps accurately reflect access in the state. Challenges can be issued based on whether if a provider denies your request for service, has a waiting list longer than 10 days, or requires extra fees for installation. For more information, to see the map, and to verify and challenge coverage areas, go to https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents Senate District 9, which includes Polk County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Senate opens session with money in bank

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Money Stock

By Richard Lee
Senate correspondent

AUSTIN — Lawmakers working on the next biennial budget will have more revenue to work with than ever before thanks to strong sales tax collections and a record-breaking budget surplus.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar laid out his biennial revenue estimate on Monday and it was another upward revision for the remaining cash balance from the current ‘22-’23 budget: $32.7 billion.

Sales tax collections were up an astonishing 26 percent, doubling the previous record. In all, Hegar said that legislators will have a little more than $188 billion in discretionary general revenue as they work on budgets for state services.

“The disruption of the pandemic gave way to vigorous economic growth that kept our state in a national leadership role, helped drive record revenue collections, provided an astonishing cash balance, and left us poised to fill Texas’ rainy day fund to the brim for the first time since that fund was created 34 years ago,” he said.

The comptroller attributed the excellent fiscal situation to the state’s business-oriented conservative fiscal policies.

It’s very likely that a large portion of that surplus will go towards property tax cuts, a consistent goal of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who sets the agenda for the Senate. Property tax relief was at the top of the list of session priorities Patrick laid out in at a November press conference.

In past sessions, Patrick has presided over a chamber that has increased the homestead exemption, that amount of value a homeowner is able to write off before taxes, up to $40,000. Patrick said he’d like to see another increase in that exemption, but that there’s more the state can do.

“We need to do more than just the homestead exemption, whether that’s a one-time dividend paid to taxpayers — that’s a little difficult to do constitutionally — but we need a robust property tax cut for everyone in the state,” he said.

Other priorities laid out by the lieutenant governor include funding for school safety, improving electric grid reliability, and continued funding for state border security efforts.

Despite the numbers on the positive side of the state ledger, Patrick said the Senate would stick to its conservative budgeting philosophy.

“It may not be the largest surplus ever, I think California had a larger one, but they weren’t very smart,” Patrick said. “They spent all the money and then they ended up in a big hole. We’re going to be smart.”

Also this week, the members of the Senate drew lots to determine term length. Senators serve four-year terms, but staggered in such a way that only half of the chamber’s seats are up for election in a given cycle. This changes after the decennial census when all districts are up for election.

In order to restore the two-year stagger, every 10 years members draw for terms. Drawing envelopes from a glass bowl next to the Secretary of the Senate’s podium, members learn if they are guaranteed a four-year term or if they must decide whether to stand for election in just two years. It’s fairly high stakes for a single roll of the dice, but the members have traditionally greeted it with good humor, with cheers for the winners of four-year terms and light ribbing for members who are less fortunate.

In committee news, the Senate will reopen the redistricting process completed by the legislature in the October ‘21 special session. Pandemic-induced delays pushed the release of census data back months, making it impossible to draw maps before the 87th regular session ended in June.

Because the constitution requires that redistricting take place in the first regular session following the US Census, there is some concern that the maps used for the ‘22 elections might face some legal peril.

Redistricting Committee chair and Houston Sen. Joan Huffman said that out of an abundance of caution, they are going to repeat the process, including public hearings, to ensure that the new maps meet the letter of the Texas constitution.

The first of these hearings, which will permit Texans to testify virtually, are slated to begin on Jan. 25 and run through Jan. 28.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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