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Coffers brimming with budget surplus

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby
Representing District 9

At the beginning of the 88th Legislative Session, our state coffers were brimming with a budget surplus of nearly $33 billion. Fortunately, the Legislature put some of this money to good use. Through the budget-writing process, the Legislature appropriated money to bolster border security, strengthen the electric grid, expand mental health access, and improve our state’s road, water, and broadband infrastructure. And while I certainly support funding for these initiatives, I felt a sense of disappointment when the Legislature adjourned on Monday, May 29, because I felt that we had not adequately addressed two of our state’s most pressing issues – property tax relief and a pay raise for Texas teachers.

Upon adjourning Sine Die, I drafted a letter to Governor Abbott requesting that he call the Legislature back for a special session to pass legislation that would provide our dedicated educators with a well-deserved pay raise and deliver meaningful property tax relief to Texas taxpayers. Little did I know that a few hours later, Governor Abbott would issue a proclamation to notify the Legislature that the first called special session would begin at 9 p.m. that evening and that the agenda would include legislation related to property taxes and border security.

While I was disheartened that the first special session did not include a teacher pay raise, I was pleased that Governor Abbott shared my view that the Legislature had more work to do.

The next day, the Texas House went to work. In a matter of hours, the House had crafted and overwhelmingly passed several pieces of legislation to provide meaningful property tax relief and establish stronger penalties for criminals involved in human trafficking at our southern border.

The House’s property tax plan, HB 1, and HJR 1 provide Texans with the largest property tax cut in history. This legislation significantly compresses school district tax rates, while providing a historic $12.3 billion in state funds to buy down property taxes across the state. This proposal will provide savings to all property owners, including commercial property, rental property, and individuals who own their primary residence. To enhance border security operations, the House passed HB 2, which severely increases penalties for criminals involved in the operation of stash houses or human trafficking.

I’m proud of the Texas House for taking swift and decisive action to answer the Governor’s call for the first called special session. While I appreciate the Governor’s recognition that more work needs to be done, it is my hope that he will call another special session to address teacher pay. Until then, I remain committed to providing our dedicated educators with the pay raise they deserve, and I stand ready to return to Austin to begin working on this policy initiative at the Governor’s convenience.

With both the regular and the first called special session behind us, I’ll be adjusting our column schedule from every week to every other week in order to keep you updated on the latest from Austin and around the district.

The mobile office is on the road again and our District Director will look forward to seeing you on the following dates, in the following locations: June 7 at the San Augustine County Courthouse from 9-11 a.m.; June 14 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.; June 21 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.;

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 and our capitol office at 512-463-0508. 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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Corporations, government never the answer

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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One of the hallmarks of a weak argument is deflection, in that when a problem is identified, attention is redirected toward some other bugaboo — real or perceived — that may not be of any consequence, but so much can be made of it that discussion of the original problem is forgotten.

For instance, there has been quite a big fight in Washington, D.C., over increasing the debt ceiling and the possibility of the nation defaulting on its ever-increasing, massive debt.

The nation, however, is embroiled in other issues, such as book-banning, gay bashing, Trump, acceptance of trans people, Trump, Tucker Carlson, Trump, gun control, climate and even Republicans and their hate for all of humanity, society and puppies.

With any of these issues, including the one about debt, is the idea that someone else caused this problem, and the government must step in and bring whatever to ground.

Aside from the problem that government is not, nor should be, the answer, there’s also the mischaracterization of the issues themselves. What the government is responsible for, though, is its overspending problem, caused by the mischaracterized bugaboos that seem important, but not government important.

That’s a pretty important distinction, by the way; what the government can and can’t do. Ultimately, since we’ve abdicated our — meaning personal — responsibility in holding our elected officials responsible, they have in turned made our jobs theirs, and through the force of law, become arbiters of society.

This has happened for so long, that it’s become the accepted form, and that it is a scarier problem than debt. Once an elected body assumes the mantle of control, it keeps it, and then broadens it, mostly without the benefit of lawmaking and instead using regulation. The recent ruling against the EPA, which slapped down the agency’s overreach into controlling navigable waters by classifying any standing or running water, including underground.

A second tactic used to shut down arguments and opposition is transference, in which one group that practices a certain tactic accuses its opposition of practicing that very same tactic. The most glaring example of this is in race relations; claiming white people are inherently racist, and demonizing them, not understanding that this is racist.

Christianity gets a bad rap, too, as I pointed out recently, but gets labeled as something akin to a hate group for not accepting certain ideas, such as transgenderism.

Forcing a group of people to forfeit their beliefs to accept current zeitgeist is anathema, yet Christianity is constantly bombarded with such demands. Freedom of speech or religion doesn’t come into play, and the government, who is asked to protect subclasses of society, is asked to not protect Christians, since the mantle of unacceptable beliefs has been transferred to them.

Debt has nothing to do with any side issue, such as AI, capitalism, gay pride month, tire tread wear patterns, tea in any country, or climate. Debt has everything to do with government overspending on things like a surfeit of unconstitutional government agencies, unnecessary and frankly illegal regulations (that are passed by said unconstitutional agencies), bloated bureaucratic requirements (try applying for a grant and see what happens), overstaffed programs and departments, subsidies, foreign aid, baseline budgeting — you see where this is going.

It’s been said so much that it should be an adage, but to fix a problem, you must first identify the problem exactly, and then face it, work it, and as a friend and psychology professor once said, bring it to ground. Grasping at straws or straw-man arguments only shows that solving the problem is not a priority.

As I’ve said numerous times, too, government is never the answer. We as parents, residents, citizens and frankly the government (of the people, by the people, for the people, remember?), must reclaim our responsibility for our own destiny.

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This cake it don’t have icing

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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I received several responses to my recent column on the Debt Ceiling, which generally called me a part of a socialist takeover attempt in the U.S, pointing out the advantages of Capitalism as an economic system.

First, I would like to make it clear that the U.S. is about as far from Socialism as a country can get. Corporations are so exalted in the U.S. that they have been declared to be persons, with all the rights and freedoms of persons. Through shifting billions of dollars into the campaigns and pockets of politicians, they exert tremendous control over the decisions our governments make. It’s, by design, not a level playing field.

The biggest danger to our country, though, is not through these corporation’s direct hold on our representatives, but their malevolent manipulation of our social structures and direct attack on the minds of Americans. The most concerning attack is on the minds of our children through social media and AI.

These companies are baking a cake for our children “that don’t have icing”. This metaphorical cake, comprising social media platforms and AI-driven content, is consumed by the majority of our young people, and it is increasingly clear that this content is causing a crisis of confidence among them.

A recent advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General has cast a spotlight on this issue. It sounds the alarm on the profound mental health risks social media presents to our kids. We are in a situation where a generation's mental health is under siege, and the role of social media and AI algorithms cannot be understated.

Social media has become ubiquitous among our children, with 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds reporting its use, and more than a third confessing to being almost constantly online. The dark underbelly of this digital ubiquity is the toll it takes on our children's mental health. Studies reveal a direct correlation between social media use and a host of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, poor sleep, online harassment, and diminished self-esteem, particularly among girls.

Pointedly, the design and mechanics of these platforms have been finely honed to keep users engaged and glued to their screens. With push notifications, auto play videos, and infinite scroll features, the platforms are as addictive as they are pervasive, stimulating the brain's reward centers in a way that is frighteningly akin to substance addiction (TikTok is a prime example).

Children aren’t silent about this. They have voiced their experiences, reporting feelings of self-deprecation and dissatisfaction with their friendships, yet they find it challenging to break free from the seductive pull of these platforms. They are not on a level playing field.

A bigger problem is the fact that our children are not just passive consumers in this scenario. They are the targets. The consumers. The victims. Social media platforms and AI algorithms are not merely neutral technologies, but powerful tools wielded by corporations, with the explicit goal of selling products and services to a vulnerable demographic.

This is a call to arms. Our role as protectors of our children's wellbeing is more critical than ever. The Surgeon General's advisory provides some guidance for families, suggesting strategies like creating family media plans, fostering in-person friendships, and demonstrating responsible social media behavior. But this alone is not enough.

We must demand more from corporations and government. Policies and legislation must be enacted to shield our children from this digital onslaught. The responsibility lies not only with parents but also with the policymakers and technology companies that have so far abdicated their responsibilities in the name of profit.

Our children must not become mere statistics or consumers. They are individuals with potential and creativity, deserving to grow up in an environment that respects and values their inherent worth. In this digital age of deliberate illusion, we must remind them, and ourselves, that the cake they are being offered - this world of social media and AI - often lacks icing.

It's time to help them appreciate the value of the cake itself, and more importantly, their inherent value as individuals. They must learn that there is far more beauty within themselves than in any product they can buy from a Facebook, TikTok or YouTube influencer pushing some corporation’s merchandise.


Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His opinions are his and don't necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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Making race a thing of the past

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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I grew up in a time when you either had three or 13 channels of television, and finding something to watch after school meant it sounded like a fast snare drum when you changed channels.

During that time, there were public service announcements and after-school specials that put out information on just about everything, including race relations and similar items.

One commercial that still to this day rings in my ears is one where a father and son were talking about a friend who was mad at the son, who did not understand why. When the father got to the nub of the problem, it was because the son introduced his friend as his “black” friend.

The father said if they truly were friends, his son should have said only that, and leave the adjectives behind.

Every time an argument shows up in the press, or there’s a riot somewhere because a member of a minority race was killed, that commercial comes forward in my mind.

Simplistic as it may sound, I honestly believe the best way to combat racism, both real and perceived, is to stop using it as a basis of classification.

I’m not saying that discrimination doesn’t exist, because it does. Having been a victim of it more than once, it’s a pretty heinous treatment, and it should be eradicated.

(I worked at a place where there only were six white people in a staff of 50. Even as a supervisor, the names I was called and the insults that were levied at me were harsh. I also lived several years in another country and know first-hand about being considered inferior.)

Everyone should be on the same page about eradicating racism and discrimination. The federal government, along with the states, mandated things like race, color, creed, etc., but as with everything that has the touch of government on it, it was not enough.

More and more efforts are being used to eradicate what now is view as a systemic problem — in society, the justice system and hiring practices — and more and more ridiculous programs are cropping up in response.

Take critical race theory, for instance. Because it’s believed that racial issues are not being and have never been addressed, educators at every level have designed a curriculum to study this. Problem is, it’s really just a theory, and one that isn’t applied in a manner that addresses any changes.

Because of the perception of racism being ingrained everywhere, it’s being blamed for minorities being behind in education; it’s the culprit that has led to sentencing disparities in criminal cases; it’s the cause listed for income rates being less for minorities; it’s even being blamed for higher rates of illness and lower life expectancies for minorities.

Similar programs such as DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) exist precisely because there continues to be a perception of injustice, and while this, CRT and other programs are currently grass-roots level, if the trend continues, the government will begin mandating equity. Affirmative Action is a primary example of the government mandating equality, yet as always, there will be no equality when one group is knocked down to prop up others.

That there is the rub. These programs, while probably well-meaning, perpetuate racism by their very existence. If you continue to dissect society into its relative parts, then society will continue to look at each other in that manner, and people like Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Michelle Obama and the like will continue to hustle race issues.

From the top down, any reference to race, religion, etc., just needs to go away. There’s no need for race questions on job applications, grant applications or the annual Census.

Children, and even adults, can be taught respect, and learning about the sins of the past as a cautionary tale will provide context and information and not stoke the fires of discrimination. Continuing down that path will instead put targets on the backs of people who are not minorities, and the process begins anew.

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Abbott’s resistance leaves Naskila Casino outside of law that regulates most tribal gaming

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RickySylestineBy Ricky Sylestine

In 1987, the United State Supreme Court issued its seminal decision in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, in which the Court found that because California state law regulated but did not prohibit gaming, tribes in California could offer gaming on their lands free from the state’s regulatory scheme. In response to the Cabazon decision, in 1988, the United States Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”), the regulatory structure under which nearly 240 tribes in 28 states have been offering gaming on their federal trust lands for over 35 years.

Although the traditional Kickapoo Tribe of Texas has operated a gaming facility in Eagle Pass under IGRA since the mid-1990s, a 1994 decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the other two federally recognized tribes in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (Pueblo), were not permitted to game under IGRA and the two Nations could only offer gaming that strictly followed Texas’ gaming laws and regulations.

Last June, the United States Supreme Court found that Congress intended to only bar the Pueblo from offering gaming activities Texas fully prohibited. Where Texas merely regulates a game, like it does with bingo, the Court ruled that the Pueblo – and therefore the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas – could offer the game. Further, the Court determined that Congress did not provide for state regulatory jurisdiction over tribal gaming. This was a massive victory for our tribe because the Supreme Court affirmed our right to offer electronic bingo – the game we have offered at Naskila Casino for seven years.

What the Supreme Court left unclear is whether that gaming is subject to regulation under IGRA. Legislation clarifying once and for all that we are under IGRA has passed the House of Representatives twice unanimously, but Texas Senator John Cornyn has blocked passage of the legislation, asserting that he is doing so at the behest of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. It is disappointing that Cornyn and Abbott, both former state attorneys general, cannot see that our tribe should be under the same regulatory framework as others.

In fact, last November Governor Abbott sent a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell asking that they not permit the Senate to vote on the legislation placing the Nations under IGRA. Abbott asserted that placing the Nations under IGRA will lead to expansion of gaming in Texas, an expansion that would violate the right of Texas to determine the scope of gaming within its borders. Such a claim is misleading at best. If the Nations were placed under IGRA, we would be permitted to offer the same electronic bingo they are currently offering, which is the same form of bingo the Kickapoo Tribe has offered in Eagle Pass since 1994. Under IGRA, the only way that the Nations can offer any other form of gaming, for example Las Vegas style gaming, is pursuant to a Tribal/State gaming compact. So long as Texas is unwilling to negotiate such a gaming compact, we will be limited to playing electronic bingo.

The governor knows this to be true since he and his predecessors in the governor’s mansion have steadfastly refused to negotiate a gaming compact with the Kickapoo Tribe for decades. Unfortunately, we cannot get a fuller explanation from him because for years he has refused to meet with our tribal leaders in person.

If the governor is sincere in his concern that the current gaming footprint in Texas does not expand, he should want to ensure that the tribe and Pueblo are covered under IGRA. Under the decisions in the Eastern District of Texas and the Supreme Court, we can offer any gaming that is not otherwise strictly prohibited under Texas law. If Texas permits the expansion of gaming in the future under the current state of the law, the Nations will be free to offer that same gaming and to do so without regard to state regulation. Additionally, it is IGRA that limits tribes to gaming on land it held in trust prior to Oct. 17, 1988. If the Nations are not subject to that restriction, we will be able to offer gaming on any land held in trust. For example, we have land in Leggett that is presently eligible for gaming purposes but would not be eligible if we were under IGRA.

In asking to be placed under IGRA, we are willingly surrendering some of our sovereign rights regarding gaming. Further, such legislation ensures that Texas will have a say if the Nations wish to expand the type of games they offer and IGRA will limit the location of that gaming. If Abbott continues his unprincipled opposition to legislation clarifying that the Nations are eligible to game under IGRA, there may come a time when the tribe and Pueblo decide to fully exercise our gaming rights as established by the federal courts.

Ricky Sylestine is Chairman of the Tribal Council of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

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