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House committee looks at investments

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby

House Interim Charge: Pensions, Investments & Financial Services

With the 88th Legislative Session just around the corner, our tour of interim committees will soon come to a close. For our final stop on our tour of interim charges, we’ll examine the House Committee on Pensions, Investments & Financial Services. This nine-member committee oversees the financial obligations of all public retirement systems within the state, the state banking system, and the regulation of securities and investments. The Committee also has purview over several state agencies, such as the Texas Department of Banking, the Texas Emergency Services Retirement System, and the State Pension Review Board.

During the Interim, the Committee will continue to monitor the agencies under its jurisdiction and monitor the implementation of relevant legislation passed in the most recent legislative session. For example, HB 1585 made several changes to the Texas Retirement System of Texas (TRS) to effectively make it easier for TRS retirees to return to work, which was especially important during the pandemic. Another bill, SB 1444, allows local school districts to choose their healthcare plans to save employees money on premiums and deductibles. The bill also requires regional education service centers to establish an advisory committee to conduct a study assessing health care needs and health coverage options currently available to employees of school districts. 

The Committee on Pensions, Investments & Financial Services has also been charged with reviewing several retirement funds to ensure proper governance and financial oversight. The review includes evaluating the Employees Retirement System (ERS) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension funds, the Texas Local Fire Fighters Retirement Act, the Law Enforcement and Custodial Officer Supplemental Retirement Fund, and the Judicial Retirement System of Texas.

The Committee has also been tasked with evaluating public retirement systems and other trust funds in businesses controlled by the Russian government or Russian nationals. The Committee will determine the need for investment restrictions and consider the impact of any proposed investment restrictions on fund performance. 

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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Ready to watch your own funeral?

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Danny Tyree ColumnTyrades! by Danny Tyree

My cousin’s husband owns a funeral home, so I’m anxious to hear his take on a front-page article from the November 4 “Wall Street Journal.”

According to the article, morticians are innovating ways to put the “fun” in funeral (including burial plot raffles and “open house” family events featuring food, live music and bouncy houses) – or maybe it was putting the “monument” in monumentally screwed up ideas! I get those mixed up.

The article talked about undertakers enticing their potential customers to deal with the elephant in the room (their own mortality) and be more proactive about end-of-life planning. This will take the burden off your loved ones, so they will be tanned and rested and in a positively chipper mood as they fight over your estate. (“Step back from the Hummel figurines or I’m snatching you bald-headed…bless your heart…”)

A funeral industry convention workshop was titled “How to build your pre-need customer pipeline,” which, I’m sorry, dredges up too many memories of my dearly departed childhood goldfish.

Many undertakers report positive feedback for the laid-back attitude, but traditionalist customers are adamant that recent experiments in funeral marketing are disrespectful. (“We’ll talk more when I get back from the King Tut exhibit. Need any souvenirs?”)

Some of today’s off-the-wall customized services leave me with mixed emotions. I can handle a funeral sanctioned by the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, but not one sanctioned by the Board of Ouija.

I suppose some ways of jazzing up the funeral experience are more tolerable than others. I could see a Grim Reaper with a tie-dyed robe, or a magician sawing someone’s ashes in half. I’m cool with a standup comedian whining, “Hey, I’m dying up here.”

Tequila is probably a counterproductive libation for promotional events. It’s a real buzzkill to think about the worms biding their time to get their revenge.

Whacking a pinata filled with organs some bozo failed to donate to medical science? Let’s not and say we did.

And a mime trapped in an invisible box is probably not going to sell many funeral packages – unless you get to nominate the mime as your “plus one.”

One of the wildest innovations is “living funerals.” You can attend a dry run of your own funeral, complete with casket, mourners, funeral procession, etc. You can witness the lavish proceedings without having an “out-of-body” experience, just an “out-of-disposable-income” experience.

This supposedly gives you peace of mind, but it sounds more anxiety-producing to me. (“I knew it – Ralph came just for the free calendars, not for me! And why isn’t Mike hitting on my ‘surviving spouse’? Does that conceited jerk think he’s too good for her?”)

Seriously, this is all artificial and skewed. Past performance is no guarantee of how your actual funeral will be in five, 10 or 20 years. A “living funeral” is like the “air guitar” of shuffling off this mortal coil, except the groupies are all hanging around the undertaker, who is raking in extra dough.

As my son noted, this is a brilliant way to get consumers to pay for a service twice. Maybe other professions will follow the funeral industry’s lead. (“Just drink this awful liquid and sit on the potty all day. Then come back when you’re 40 and we’ll do all that again PLUS run a scope inside you. Let’s put endless co-pays in colonoscopy!”

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A cup of digital detox is good for the soul

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Chris MetitationsBy Chris Edwards
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I recently did something that seems like an extreme aberration in 2022-going-on-’23: I unplugged from the world for a bit.

Yep. No emails, social media, phone, etc., etc. Robinson Crusoe of the 21st century right here.

Gentle readers, as a reporter and occasional op-ed scribbler for this website, you can probably imagine that there are a lot of places upon which my digital footprint is required.

Not checking Facebook or emails seems like an act of extreme rebellion these days, but sometimes a body just needs a break from it all. 

As someone who feels largely out-of-place in the era of viral TikTok watercooler talk and seemingly every single retail transaction being predicated by a question of “do you have our app?”, the 24/7 connectedness only works to make my already considerable anxiety worse, and henceforth, exhausts me.

It’s also become disheartening to think that to many, I’m just a name on a screen, or a sobriquet on social media; more an idea than a person. At my core, I’m a low-tech kind of man, and I like it that way.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things about being plugged-in. I am, as you might guestimate, a news junkie, so having 24/7 access to current information at my fingertips is a nice convenience to have, but not being able to get to sleep because I’m waiting around to see what sort of strange thing Marjorie Taylor Greene will tweet next or going down a rabbit hole of U.S. foreign policy, circa 2001, just to fill mental space is not doing anything good for me.

Sensory overload is very real, and the resulting fatigue is, as well. Being glued to one’s smartphone screen, just mindlessly scrolling, is a vampire of time. A recent study showed that about 61% of the people surveyed admitted that they are addicted to the internet and to their digital screens.

Worse yet, another study I came across unveiled that about 25% of smartphone users surveyed between the ages of 18 and 44 could not recall the last time their phone was not right next to them.

The problems of internet addiction can manifest in troubling psychological and resulting physiological ways. All of that time online can cause sleep problems (because, of course, scrolling through image galleries of orange cats until 2 a.m. is certainly conducive to sleep, right?); self-image problems and can add to depression and anxiety.

After a few days of being on my digital detox, I started to feel even more exhausted and stricken with migraine-level headaches. Withdrawal symptoms, I suppose. Not being plugged-in, however, it was nice to not hear a symphony of R2-D2-esque noises emitting from my phone at all hours of the day.

A recent headline on a CNN.com story stated that self-care is not a “luxury,” but a matter of survival. This is all-too-true, and something I’ve neglected for many years.

A constant overload on one’s senses takes a toll on quality of life, and taking a break from everything might be just what is needed for one’s mental and physical health. Sometimes one might even need to disconnect completely to be able to come back to living again.

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Free speech is just exactly that

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

My occasional cohort on these pages did an experiment with a chatbot, assigning it an essay on free speech.

I know that it’s ironic that a program was writing about freedom, but hey, it’s an experiment.

The upshot of the four-paragraph screed was that freedom of speech wasn’t absolute and needed to have limits placed on it for the public good.

It’s the “Your right to swing your arms ends at my nose” argument, saying individual and national safety trumps individual rights.

I get the reasoning, having grown up hearing that I couldn’t scream “Fire” in a theater; but unless your intent is chaos, no one really would do that, because the end result would make the perpetrator criminally and civilly liable. Besides, it would be just as easy to pull the fire alarm, and speech wouldn’t be brought into it.

The reasoning that other people’s safety is my responsibility before the fact is where my problem lies in the scenario. It was the same with vaccine mandates and being told your health is my responsibility.

The problem here lies also with the determination of what actually constitutes a violation of public safety, and who or what makes that determination.

The other problem is the U.S. Bill of Rights, which states that Congress shall make no law abridging free speech, which mean it can’t be done, not even a little.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that limits aren’t being placed on speech in certain arenas, most particularly the realm of social media.

After Elon Musk bought Twitter, it was found, to virtually little surprise, that there was a large-scale effort to surreptitiously keep certain information away from the public. The variety of information in question cut quite a wide swath — from presidential corruption to medical opinions regarding vaccinations and the efficacy of drugs, etc. — and anything deemed remotely offensive, against the current zeitgeist or politically incorrect was banned, or at least quietly downplayed.

Then, there seems to be a matter of the possible interference of federal agencies, which have been “suggesting” that certain posts be removed or downplayed, such as the Hunter Biden laptop or COVID shots. If this couldn’t be done, then the nuclear option of locking a poster out of the account.

It wasn’t just Twitter, either. I myself have been hit with the censor bat on my personal Facebook account over something as silly as the teeny tiny garter snake I slayed to save my queen. Many of my friends who share my political outlook have been placed in social media jail for their posts on all things political.

The issue here again is that what was banned was decided by someone, and mostly because it offended the current thinking, or someone’s moral code was crossed, and almost always involves conservative thoughts and comments.

This leads us to the premise that limits — any limits — not only cross the threshold of abridging speech, but also sets up the government to be that arbiter; either speech is free, or it is not, because once someone can decide what speech is wrong speech, then soon all speech will be wrong.

For instance, very recently the senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin, said that hate speech isn’t protected under the First Amendment. In this day and age, pretty much everything written or spoken will offend someone, so all you have to do is call it hate speech and boom! No more talking from you, hate boy.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok et al are non-government entities and should be able to moderate their platforms. They also should make sure that is well understood, so that users can proceed appropriately. They should not now nor ever bow to the will of a government bent on controlling a narrative, because speech either is free or it isn’t.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times and Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Why bringing the law into this or that is wrong

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas

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In yet another trip down the road to superfluous nonsense, earlier this month our vaunted federal leaders decided that since they respect marriage, that there needed to be a law forcing everyone to do the same.

It makes sense, I guess, since 26 years ago these (mostly) same people passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. This, in turn denied same-sex couples the same latitude as traditional couples, such as employment benefits, inheritance, etc.

Since wokeness is an even more epidemial nightmare than the latest strain of COVID, Congress and President Biden succumbed and now there is the Respect for Marriage Act, which takes the Defense of Marriage Act and stomps on its bigoted little heart.

Champagne corks were popped, people were clapping and there was much rejoicing, since now the government is on the side of truth, justice and moral integrity, and anyone can marry anyone else they want, because marriage is sacred etc., etc.

Even though there were naysayers, nowhere in this debate that I can find did someone ask the real obvious question, “Why does this (or any other) government need to interfere in this?”

Many of you can attest to this: In my first marriage, I was required to not only get permission in the form of a license (?) to get married, but I was also required (??) to submit the results of a blood test. A state-ordered and -sanctioned medical procedure.

As of 2019, there are no states left that require the blood test, but every state (probably every country as well) requires a prospective couple to get a financed permission slip from the county (based on state law) to get hitched.

My concern here isn’t that the feds yet again waded into the middle of something as personal as a marriage, but that the government has anything at all to do with this.

Why are we required to get permission to get married? This is a civil institution, usually blessed through a religion. Would my current wife, whom I love dearly, be any less my wife if I didn’t have the proper paperwork? Would my vows be any less heartfelt, or my commitment any less intense, if I didn’t have a signed, stamped and filed license?

There are only two reasons I can think of for a government to need this kind of information, and they are control and money. Money is obvious, in that in order for you to get permission to get married, you have to pay for it.

Control is incredibly insidious, but even more pervasive. The government now has access to your information, and has the final say on yes or no. There are even states that suggest — very strenuously — that you attend marriage classes to learn how to be married.

The people that perform the ceremonies must be authorized for that. If you want your benefits to include your partner, you must conform to the laws which govern businesses (including insurance companies), and the license is required if you want to pass on your inheritance to your partner.

All of this is not the purview of our government, and completely unnecessary, and given that government causes more problems when it is in charge of things, it should step aside.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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