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Legislature hits second gear

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby

It was a busy week at your State Capitol, as the House and Senate worked diligently to make up for the previous week’s work that was missed due to icy conditions in Austin.

One highlight from the week was seeing some familiar faces from House District 9 at the State Capitol. I had the pleasure of welcoming friends from our local electric cooperatives, members of the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and a number of local community leaders from Tyler County.

I also had the opportunity to present a resolution honoring the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and recognized the tribe from the House Floor for their day at the Capitol.

It’s such a privilege to help make constituents feel welcome at their State Capitol and having the opportunity to interact with folks from back home while working on their behalf at the Capitol is one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.

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

The workload at the Capitol is starting to increase, as members of the Senate Finance Committee began the budget-writing process by inviting state agencies to provide testimony on their Legislative Appropriation Requests, which outline each agency’s “wish list” of programs and initiatives for which they’re requesting funding.

Members of the Committee have the opportunity to ask questions of each agency to help inform the Senate’s final budget proposal, and this process will be repeated in the House Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks.

As you may have heard, the Speaker recently released his highly anticipated committee assignments for the 88th Legislative Session. I was fortunate to be appointed as the Chair of the House Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism, which has jurisdiction over our state parks, the regulation of hunting and fishing, historical sites, and the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office.

The Committee also oversees a number of state agencies, such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Commission on the Arts, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Preservation Board.

The Speaker also sought fit to reappoint me to the House Transportation Committee, where I will have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of rural Texas to improve our roadway infrastructure and ensure that we’re receiving equitable infrastructure funding from the state.

I’m grateful to the Speaker for providing me with the opportunity to serve House District 9 through two committees that specialize in policy areas that are vitally important to our region.

I look forward to working on your behalf in both committees, as well as through my work in other policy areas, to deliver meaningful results that will allow the folks in my district to continue to thrive and prosper.

The mobile office is on the road again and looks forward to seeing you on the following dates, in the following locations: Feb. 15 at the Houston County Courthouse Annex in Crockett from 9-11 a.m., or at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton from 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 1 at the San Augustine County Courthouse from 9-11 a.m.; March 8 at the Polk County Commissioner’s Court Room in Livingston from 9-11 a.m., or at the Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

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/.

Trent Ashby represents District 9, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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An open letter to our ‘visitors’

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Dear “weather balloon” UFO occupants:

We’re awful sorry if we, the citizens and the military of the United States of America, have killed and/or injured you and/or members of your family/pod/tribe/clan.

See, when objects of unusual size/shape trapse over our airspace, we, as an enlightened and woke society bent on embracing any and all beings coming to our melting-pot society, we’ll shoot first and ask questions later.

Quite frankly, given your level of technology, you should have been aware that there actually is a process for newcomers, be they visitors or, quite possibly in your case, beings interested in becoming citizens.

For instance, we need to qualify you, meaning find out if you actually can come here. That would mean either you’ve been granted asylum from an oppressive regime, such as Romulus, the Borg, Centauri or Harvesters; or refugees, such as those escaping slavery such as Newcomers. In such cases, you’d be a shoo-in.

Following that, fill out an application, and pay the application fee. You’ll need to give us some sort of idea of the exchange rates for money, but we’ll gladly take precious metals and/or technological advances that can better our society and protect us from all things foreign and domestic, cause nothing says “back off” like being vaporized.

Once your application is processed, which could take anywhere from 6 months to 6,000 years, because we have one of the most efficient governments that cares deeply about the citizenry, please gather any documentation with proper government stamps and translation while you wait for your interview.

The interview will be scheduled, and you’ll be asked a few questions, and be subject to a biometric process, and hopefully you’ll have things like fingerprints that can be scanned. Once all of this is compiled, it could take anywhere from 6 months to 6,000 years for the process to finish and you become a citizen.

In the future, should you still wish to visit or immigrate to our really, truly fine country, may we suggest you travel to any other country south of our southern border, and walk across with the rest. This way, you’ll be sure to be allowed in, and quite possibly be given a free bus ride to one of our great tourist spots, like New York City, Denver, Chicago or even Los Angeles.

Of course, this assumes that you intended to come to this country; we would hope that you do. Just don’t go to Canada.

On the off-chance that all you were doing was verifying our horrible, no good, very bad treatment of the planet and the effect that has on the climate, well, we apologize for blowing up your test equipment. Surely you would know how to legislate weather regulation, which is something we’re so desperately trying to do here.

We will, of course, pay for the damages, once we get done arguing about the raising the debt ceiling so we can pass a budget, something we haven’t done in decades and something that we really look forward to, provided we get all the other things put in there, like funds for studying drunk fish or supporting a war in the Ukraine.

Please let us know at your earliest convenience what we can do, as we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.

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Governor tabs new Texas border czar

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My Five CentsPunxsutawney Phil saw his shadow last week, indicating six more weeks of winter; unwelcome news after ice storms covered much of the state this week. The iconic groundhog made his 137th appearance and records of his predictions go back to 1887.

Here are five things happening around your state.

Abbott names new border czar

This week Gov. Greg Abbott named long-time Border Patrol agent Mike Banks to be the new Texas Border Czar. He will report directly to the governor and ensure border security strategies are fully executed in Texas. He will work collaboratively with the Texas Military Department, the Department of Public Safety, and other relevant agencies to continue Operation Lone Star.

Mike Banks was the Border Patrol Weslaco Station Patrol Agent in Charge. He has over 30 years of federal law enforcement experience. He’s worked in multiple stations stretching the length of the US-Mexico border.

Before joining the Border Patrol, he was a member of the US Navy Military Police. The unprecedented crisis at our southern border demands action and Governor Abbott has stepped up to the plate to address it. I appreciate his continued leadership on this issue.

SFA Board of Regents approves changeto salaries

At a recent meeting, the SFA Board of Regents approved mid-year salary increases for university employees, an increase in non-resident fees, and an increase to university meal plans and housing.

Employees will receive a six percent increase to their base salary after the board approved the $3.5 million expenditure. Interim President Dr. Steve Westbrook said the board requested this increase from the University of Texas System after they decided to affiliate. The SFA board voted last year to affiliate with the University of Texas System rather than remaining independent.

The transition requires legislation, which I am excited to carry with Rep. Travis Clardy this session. The legislation will ensure that the university retains the name Stephen F. Austin — a measure of great importance to the university, the community and to me.

Comptroller receives $363 million in grants for broadband

Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced this week that the agency will receive $363 million in federal grants to increase access to affordable, reliable broadband to more than 150,000 homes and businesses in Texas.

The U.S. Treasury’s award will go to the Bring Online Opportunities to Texas program. The BOOT program is a competitive grant program administered through the Texas Broadband Development Office. The program is designed to fund broadband infrastructure projects that cover the last few miles to your home or business.

Qualified projects will be located in a designated areas, invest in capital assets, and address critical needs in the community it serves. The office will begin accepting applications for the funds later this spring.   

Caleb’s Law filed in Senate

Senate Bill 129, also known as Caleb’s Law, was filed by Sen. Drew Springer recently. The bill would strengthen penalties for offenders who possess child pornography. Child pornography laws have not been updated since 1989 and the current laws are ill-equipped to handle changes in modern technology.

The changes will work to keep kids safe and strengthen punishments for those convicted. The bill includes degrees of punishment based on the amount of materials possessed. It also has enhancements for materials depicting children under the age of 10 and for those taking care of children and receiving money from the state.

The law’s name comes from Caleb Diehl, a high school senior who went missing in March 2015.

Winter weather resources, TDEM resources

Winter Storm Mara swept through much of Central and Northeast Texas, causing dangerous driving conditions and power outages across the state. Ice accumulated on roadways, tree branches, and power lines, which caused some outages and many fallen branches.

Many state agencies monitored the ongoing weather situation and worked to keep Texans safe, including the Public Utility Commission, Texas Division of Emergency Management, and ERCOT. It is important to note that any power outages experienced during this storm were not a result of lack of capacity on the grid. Those were due to power lines being down due to the storm.

We appreciate the hard work of all our first responders and everyone who worked around the clock to keep Texans safe and warm. For more information from TDEM about resources available to you, visit https://tdem.texas.gov/disasters/january-2023-winter-storm.

Sen. Robert Nichols represents District 3, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Ice storm slows work of the government

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby

This past week, cities and counties all across the state experienced a winter storm that caused serious property damage and dangerous road conditions.

While, thankfully, most of our area avoided the brunt of the winter storm, I hope you’ll join me in praying for those who were affected and for the dedicated first responders and the utility and electrical workers who are working around the clock to assist our fellow Texans.

While the most recent winter storm caused its fair share of destruction, I think it’s important to highlight our state’s overall grid performance throughout the last week.

Due to the numerous reforms enacted during the previous legislative session in response to the winter storm in 2021, I’m pleased to report that throughout this most recent storm, our electric grid had more than enough supply to meet heightened demand.

Though many areas in Central and North Texas experienced widespread power outages, these outages were local in nature and were the result of downed power lines caused by fallen trees and heavy ice accumulation.

The grid’s performance and enhanced resiliency serve as a testament to the effectiveness of the policy changes made to ensure the safety and well-being of all Texans during major weather events.

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

The winter storm covered Austin in sleet and ice this past week, causing the Legislature to delay its regular order of business. As the ice thaws and road conditions improve, members will be back next week and resume normal operations.

One item of interest that will occur in the very near future will be the announcement of committee assignments from the Speaker, which will create the framework for the first step of the legislative process. Once committee assignments are released, each respective committee will begin receiving bills for its committee members to consider.

A bill has to be heard and passed out of committee before it can be set on the House calendar to be considered by the full House membership.

Another hallmark of the legislative session on the horizon is the Governor’s State of the State Address, where Gov. Greg Abbott will outline his priorities for the session and provide the Legislature with our “emergency items.” Although the State of the State has not yet occurred, the governor’s recent inaugural address offers a good barometer for what might be on his list of priorities.

The governor, in his third inaugural address, emphasized that the historic budget surplus would be the focal point of this legislative session. The governor emphasized the importance of enhancing our infrastructure.

Whether making improvements to roads and bridges, our aging water infrastructure, or our technological capacity to connect with the rest of the world, I’m confident that infrastructure will be a priority this session.

The governor emphasized the need to improve public safety, including the prioritization of school security and mental health, bolstering our border security efforts, and supporting our local law enforcement officers and first responders.

The mobile office is on the road again and looks forward to seeing you on the following dates, in the following locations: Feb. 8 at the Polk County Commissioner’s Court Room in Livingston from 9-11 a.m., or at the Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville from 1:30-3:30 p.m.; Feb. 15 at the Houston County Courthouse Annex in Crockett from 9-11 am, or at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

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/.

Trent Ashby represents District 9, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Brother, can you spare an excuse?

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Cartoon Tyree

Danny Tyree ColumnBy Danny Tyree

Middle-class philanthropy may be dying.

Citing a study released by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, “National Review” magazine says the share of American households donating to charity nosedived from 66 percent in 2000 to 50 percent in 2018.

And only one-third of the decline was directly attributable to economic hardships, with the remainder coming from decreases in interpersonal trust, decline in empathy and an unfortunate “give until it hurts” loophole that lets people identify as the Princess and the Pea. (“Ouch! I got whiplash signing that donation. This lawsuit will pay for a heck of a lot of pea-free mattresses.”)

Sure, millionaire donors and prestigious foundations are doing a bang-up job of funding museums, metropolitan hospitals and trendy causes (“I’m pledging one million dollars to the Make A Wish Foundation For Endangered Mussels, just as soon as the mussels, um, develop enough of a brain to actually make a, you know, WISH”).  But local charities such as animal shelters, soup kitchens and libraries are continually tightening their belts and dealing with neighbors who mutter, “I gave at the Zoom meeting. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

(Ever notice that the people who insist “charity begins at home” are the same jokers who grab the last piece of chicken, hog the blanket and leave a trail of dirty laundry? But I digress.)

No matter how many veterans need rides or parks need beautifying, we find ways to create even more dilemmas. (“Ow! I detached my retina and walked into traffic while trying not to make eye contact with fundraisers. A little help, please?”)

Some analysts connect the dots between the erosion of community involvement and the decline in religious affiliation. In 2004, 46 percent of households gave money to churches or other religious organizations. As of 2018, that had dropped to just 29 percent of households. (“What Would Jesus Do? YOU say he would volunteer at the homeless shelter. I say he would change water to Roth IRAs. Agree to disagree.”)

I know there are highly motivated, civic-minded young people out there; but by and large, there is a discernible difference in the work ethic and charity ethic of different generations. (“But, like if the old dude dies because he can’t pay his heating bill, he can buy another life, can’t he? What? For real?”)

Let’s all keep our eyes open for opportunities and dig a little deeper for good causes to which we can contribute our money, time, talents or hideous sweaters that we can convince great-aunt Hilda need dry cleaning every time she inquires about them.

Widespread giving has been described as the “lifeblood of civil society” and we must brainstorm ways to get the blood pumping again.

I know it won’t be easy. The law of inertia has worked mightily to chip away at traditional dedication to charity. People got out of the habit of giving because of a temporary economic setback or because government agencies seemed to have things under control, and it’s hard to get back in gear.

Unfortunately, identifying that problem leads to other problems. Since it’s the law of inertia getting the blame, some rabblerouser will inevitably lead a group of volunteers to desecrate the grave of Sir Isaac Newton.

(“I’m not too keen on the law of universal gravitation, either. And his fig bars stink.”)

*Sigh* Anybody want to volunteer as a tutor?

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