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Energy picks up around state capitol for new session

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby

As we say goodbye to 2022 and welcome 2023, my family and I want to wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.

While most folks are winding down after the holidays, the energy has picked up around your State Capitol, as the 88th Legislative Session will officially begin on Tuesday, January 10. With that in mind, I’d like to remind you of some of the resources our offices provide to make sure that you remain the most important part of the process. Should you have any questions about a bill or want to voice your opinion on a proposal under consideration, our Capitol Office can be reached at (512) 463-0508. Our Capitol office can also help set up Capitol tours, reserve meeting rooms, or give recommendations on places of interest around Austin. Lastly, I invite you to visit your Capitol office which is located in room E2.806. It’s always a pleasure to have constituents in town while we’re hard at work in Austin, and I want to encourage you and your family to pay us a visit if you find yourself in Austin over the next 140 days -- our doors are always open!

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

What to Watch For:

88th Legislative Session

Given the fast pace of session, keeping you informed about what’s going on at your State Capitol is a top priority for me. As such, the column will transition from a bi-weekly schedule to a weekly update to keep you up to speed with the best and most current information. With the start of the 88th Legislature upon us, perhaps it’s most appropriate to offer a primer on the basics of the Texas Legislature and highlight a number of key issues that legislators will aim to address.

The Texas Legislative Session begins in January of odd-numbered years and lasts 140 days. During this time, the Texas Legislature, comprised of a 31-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives, will consider policies on a myriad of issues and pass laws that seek to address the most pressing issues facing the state. And while there are many issues that need to be addressed, adopting a balanced biennial budget is the only act the Texas Constitution requires of the Legislature.

The State of Texas will enter the 88th Legislative Session with a significant surplus in revenue, which will play a major role in the upcoming session. As I’ve stated previously, the Legislature has the unique opportunity to use our budget surplus in a way that prioritizes taxpayers. Whether dedicating surplus funds to provide meaningful property tax relief, fully funding our public schools, or making strategic investments in infrastructure and technology, I believe the Legislature has an obligation to meet this moment of opportunity by crafting fiscal policy solutions that achieve the goal of prioritizing our fellow Texans while protecting and promoting future prosperity.

Aside from budget policy, other areas of focus will be addressing the teacher shortage, securing the border, increasing access to healthcare in rural areas, and generating economic development through the creation of meaningful jobs.

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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Given up on your 2023 reading list yet?

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Danny Tyree ColumnBy Danny Tyree

“Time Enough at Last.”

The new year reminds me of that classic “Twilight Zone” episode starring Burgess Meredith as a put-upon bookworm.

(No, he wasn’t reading on the wing of an airplane! Get your episodes straight, with “The Twilight Zone Companion,” for Pete’s sake!)

True bibliophiles are all the same. Whether our preference is studying the rise and fall of empires or the rise and fall of heaving bosoms, we eagerly anticipate how many volumes we can absorb in the pristine, wide-open next 12 months.

The lucky few exceed their wildest expectations. The rest of us find one obstacle or another curtailing or demolishing our plans.

Some readers persevere and come up only a few chapters short when New Year’s Eve ends. Other poor wretches finish the year woefully short of even scaled-back goals. (“Maybe next year I’ll find out if Thing One and Thing Two get out of that box!”)

Sometimes kowtowing to political correctness is the cause of our failure. (“No, you’re not going to be reading anyone’s ‘Collected Works.’ Works implies a meritocracy! Down with systemic Dewey Decimal System!”)

Family obligations put reading on the back burner. Even if you’re full-blooded Cherokee, you’ll find relatives from “the old country” magically arriving unannounced to spend three weeks!

Sometimes totally unexpected family tragedies intervene. (“Who could have guessed that my ceiling-high stack of backup encyclopedias would somehow bury Grandpa alive? Say, I wonder if Guinness has a record for Most Harrowing Non-Coalmine Rescue Attempt?”)

Finite hours and competition from podcasts, streaming services and video games chip away at good intentions of curling up with a good book. (“Tonight’s true-crime podcast: it’s truly a crime what you’re doing to your poor spine as you curl up with…”)

Sometimes your enthusiasm wanes when you realize no one outside your book club cares about the milestones you pride yourself on. (“Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Aren’t they the guys who invented pickleball? Grab a seat and I’ll tell you about the Volley from Hell…”)

Longer commutes, mandatory overtime and stressful promotions can all cut into precious reading time. Say goodbye to Louis L’Amour and John Clancy. Now all you have time to read is “100 Clients You Must Suck Up to Before You Find the Sweet Release of Death.”

Even good news such as grandchildren moving closer can be detrimental to your reading goals. (“Grandpa, why didn’t Stephen King autograph this first-edition book with ink that could withstand peanut butter and jelly?”)

Don’t get me started on social obligations and household chores. Sometimes you just can’t help going into Beastie Boys mode. You gotta fight for your right to paaaaage turn! (“Yes, I could use this pressure washer to clean the vinyl siding or…I could use it to hold you at bay while I finish these brain teasers.”)

Me? With the hope that springs eternal within the heaving or non-heaving human breast, I aspire to finish reading “The Roswell Legacy,” Garry Marshall’s “My Happy Days in Hollywood” and “The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon” this year.

I hope that you can meet all your own reading goals this year. Maybe you’ll even order my second self-published book from Amazon. (Search “Danny Tyree Why.”) Hint hint.

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of Tyree being encouraged to hold onto his day job…”

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Copyright 2023 Danny Tyree, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”

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

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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