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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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House committee in charge of natural resources

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072822 trent ashby

With Summer in full swing and most of East Texas experiencing moderate drought conditions, water is a popular topic right now. Several Texas communities in North and West Texas have already begun curtailing water usage and without some good rain in the near future, water restrictions and curtailment will become commonplace. Closer to home, many are praying for rain on our gardens and hay meadows, and trips to the lake or a nearby swimming pool are becoming more frequent. With so much attention on water these days, I thought it would be appropriate in this column to cover the House committee that’s primary focus is on our state’s water – the House Committee on Natural Resources.

With that, we’ll dive back into our examination of House interim charges.

House Interim Charge: Natural Resources

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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Investigation is partisan, pointless and polarizing

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FromEditorsDesk TonyWhile everyone is watching the economy go up in flames, our government running around approving bills that guarantee things already guaranteed, and our president, after floundering around the world accomplishing nothing, being sequestered because of a COVID diagnosis, there’s a kangaroo court being conducted.

I’m of course referring to the Jan. 6 committee hearings, which is purporting to get to the bottom of the worst insurrection ever, or at least since the Boston Tea Party, or something to that effect.

While that may seem a tad bit sardonic (it was meant to), the gravity being attached to the events of that day is, to my mind, completely overblown, particularly by those of liberal bent and their carnival barking friends in the national media.

The mostly Democratic makeup of this “fact-finding” committee seems intent on proving that Republicans, in a fit of rage at the results of the 2020 election results, attempted to overthrow government at the behest of outgoing President Donald Trump.

A final hearing was supposedly held on Thursday.

I condemn any lawbreaking with all my heart, but I’m puzzled as to why this event, in which people were expressing outrage at what seemed to be an injustice, are being excoriated by their elected officials and an obviously biased press, when the summer of 2020 saw the country in turmoil over instances of police brutality, in some cases for months.

In Washington, D.C., people at a rally stormed the Capitol Building, and according to the New York Times, seven people died as a result. Of those, however, most committed suicide, and others died of natural causes (which are being tied to the events of the rally).

Testimony also has been given regarding Trump’s complicity, such as egging the rioters on and even assaulting his own security to get to “his people.” This has been refuted by recordings and other witnesses, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good spectacle.

What’s most problematic here is the partisan nature of the hearings and its subject. Only because it was connected with Trump does this seem to merit scrutiny, because apparently mean tweets are cause for alarm. The lives lost, businesses destroyed, police protection gutted and other results of months of rioting are beneath scrutiny, as they were done for the right reasons. I equally find it problematic that the powers that be feel the edifices of government are more important that the buildings and livelihoods of the people of this country.

To me, this also has the stench of “bread and circuses,” a show to keep the masses, especially the liberal masses, entertained and frothing at the mouth over their political Baba Yaga instead of listening to the opposing side, which is saying that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Heaven forefend the cognoscenti have to recognize that skyrocketing gas prices, empty grocery store shelves, 9 percent-plus inflation and a governmental approval rating that is closing in on single digits, and they just quite possibly backed the wrong horse.

For a group that preaches equity, parity and equality, focusing on one issue without the other belies their intent, and as the Bible points out, prophets are known by their works, not their deeds.

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Moral intuition and the Internet troll

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” Marcus Aurelius

Moral intuitions are beliefs that we hold that are strong, stable, and immediate. In common parlance, we know when something is right or wrong when we see it. It’s our immediate response when confronted with a moral question. And while there is endless discussion among ethicists about where our moral intuitions come from, most of us, whether religious or not, hold them.

We might, for example, hold core moral beliefs that we should treat people fairly, that we should treat all people with dignity and value, or that we shouldn’t cause harm to innocent others intentionally. Most of us expect ourselves and others to be honest, to tell the truth, to be peaceable and care about others.

But the Internet in the 21st Century has, for many of us, interrupted our moral intuitions. By placing a screen between us and other people, it has freed us from the immediate personal impact of our words.

We are more willing to attack, devalue and even lie about others. This is not inconsequential. Platforms like Twitter have normalized and given voice to vicious, immoral people who spend much of their time online tearing down others. More consequentially, that kind of behavior has become so common that we have come to accept it, excuse it, and even celebrate folks for their creativity who get pleasure from trolling others online.

We can’t survive as a country if we have abandoned civility, compassion, empathy, and truthfulness as an ideal to strive for. If we lift up leaders who model the very worst of society instead of the very best, then we become just like them. If we model leaders who no longer represent the moral values that we claim to hold, we will lose our culture and our souls. Calling people names, spreading lies about them, bullying them and marginalizing them is the stuff of elementary school yards, not of adult society. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of that concept.

We are stuck with each other if we want to remain a republic. And while I’m not optimistic that we won’t devolve into anarchy soon, our last, best chance is to reject any politician that works to divide us rather than unite us. There are 360 million of us with varying hopes and dreams, and beliefs. We must stop trying to force our beliefs on others, stop lifting up leaders that are only interested in power, and lift up those who are pursuing peace and inclusiveness. We don’t have a binary option; we can’t divide this country into two countries. We’ve already tried that, and the result was civil war.

An Internet troll is a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, untruthful attacks on ideas and other people. They are the scourge of the Internet and have made comment boards and social media sites a nasty, unpleasant place to be.

The New York Times has compiled “The Complete List of Trump’s Twitter Insults (2015-2021).” There are thousands. If you don’t have a subscription, I’ve excerpted just those aimed at Former President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

John Bolton FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER “one of the dumbest people in
Washington,” “so stupid,” “one of the dumbest people in government,” “A sullen,
dull and quiet guy,” “added nothing to National Security except, ‘Gee, let’s go
to war’,” “illegally released much Classified Information,” “A real dope!”
“Wacko,” “such a jerk!” “dumb warmonger,” “one of the dumbest people I’ve met in
government and sadly, I’ve met plenty,” “with the exception of Hillary, by far
the worst offender of them all!” “lowlife dummy,” “a war mongering fool,”
“really dumb,” “Washed up Creepster,” “a lowlife who should be in jail,”
“Crooked Hillary,” “was incapable of being Senate confirmed because he was
considered a wacko,” “was not liked,” “turned out to be grossly incompetent,” “a
liar,” “Wacko,” “was all washed up until I brought him back and gave him a
chance,” “He likes dropping bombs on people, and killing them. Now he will have
bombs dropped on him!” “Wacko,” “A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go
to war,” “Never had a clue,” “was ostracized & happily dumped,” “What a dope!”
“incompetent!” “Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he
is!” “Wacko,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “set us back very badly with North Korea,” “was
very publicly terminated,” “He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!” “couldn’t
get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for
anything since,” ““begged” me for a non Senate approved job,” “many more
mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we
would be in World War Six by now,” “He was holding me back!”

Don’t model the worst in our society.

Don’t be a troll!

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