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Penalties for fentanyl, illegal voting

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Fentanyl STOCK

By Richard Lee
Senate correspondent

AUSTIN — Those who make or distribute fentanyl illegally would face decades in prison under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston said that the powerful synthetic opioid has become the leading cause of death for adults under the age of 45.

“It’s a fact that fentanyl is flooding our borders, it is absolutely, without a doubt, killing our citizens on a daily basis, and it’s time that we take a comprehensive approach to combating this deadly drug,” Huffman said.

Of the more than 100,000 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2021, 1,600 were in Texas. Her bill, SB 645, would lower the threshold for felony distribution or manufacture of fentanyl to less than one gram. It would enhance the penalty from a state jail felony to a third-degree felony, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

If someone dies from fentanyl made or sold by a defendant, then the penalty enhances to a second-degree felony, and in extraordinary circumstances, said Huffman, prosecutors could charge dealers with murder, a first degree felony that can mean life in prison.

Huffman also passed a bill that would give law enforcement and first responders immunity from certain health privacy laws so that they can participate in a national fentanyl overdose mapping program, in order to quicker identify problem areas and direct resources to where they’re needed most.

“You can look on this and see in real-time where the overdoses are occurring,” said Huffman.

The Senate also approved a bill this week that would return the crime of illegal voting to a felony after it was lowered to a misdemeanor in last session’s election integrity bill. According to author and Mineola Sen. Bryan Hughes, the crime had been a felony for nearly 50 years before it was changed in 2021.

Elsewhere, the Senate State Affairs Committee considered a number of measures that concern controversial gender issues.

The panel heard SB 15 by Galveston Sen. Mayes Middleton, which would require that collegiate athletes participate in sports leagues that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Middleton said that the advantages biological males have over females are insurmountable.

“When we consider the physiological difference between men and women in the context of athletic competitions, biological men and women cannot fairly compete against each other, and that invariably takes away opportunity for female athletes,” Middleton said.

On Thursday, the committee heard hours of testimony on measures that would restrict what is known in the medical community as “gender affirming care” for children, banning puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery for minors.

SB 14 author and New Braunfels Sen. Donna Campbell said that these treatments can cause lifelong consequences that minors aren’t able to understand.

“To apply permanent changes or give medications that can easily, if taken long enough, be permanent for an image that may be temporary, I think is careless and is not in the best interest of a child,” she said.

The bill would not apply to adults.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the chamber’s plan for property tax relief in the form of SB 3 and SB 4. These bills raise the homestead exemption 75 percent to $70,000. It would also triple the special senior exemption, giving the 2.2 million Texas homeowners aged 65 or older a total exemption of $100,000.

At a press conference introducing the legislation, bill author and Houston Sen. Paul Bettencourt said that will translate to an annual tax savings of almost $800 for the average homeowner and more than $1,000 for seniors.

“It’s important to know that we’re touching every taxpayer, every homeowner, every business owner with needed tax relief,” Bettencourt said.

Along with a third measure that will cut business inventory and personal property taxes, the Senate so far has $16.5 billion in tax cuts set aside for the next state budget.

The Senate reconvened Monday.

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Shepherd handles personnel matters

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City Of ShepheardBy Tony Farkas
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SHEPHERD — The Shepherd City Council appointed an investigator to do a background check on its prospective police chief.

City Secretary Debra Hagler said that at its regular meeting on March 13, the council hired Ray Atchley, San Jacinto County Precinct 2 constable, to conduct a background check on Clint Headley.

The background check will be done once the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement assigns a number to the fledgling department, which Hagler said should be done within the next two weeks.

The council also hired Matthew Greer as Public Works director.

Hagler said Greer, who is a resident of Coldspring, previously worked for Cleveland, and has a Class B wastewater license and a Class C license in ground water, as well as management training.

Greer will start March 27 at a salary of $53,000, she said.

In other business, the council:

•hired Raymond K. Vann & Associates to administer application and management services for the city’s 2023-2024 Texas CDBG-CD grant;

•hired Goodwin Lassiter Strong . This grant is for engineering services related to the grant;

•abandoned a portion of the alley in Block 64 of the Shepherd Townsite and approved the sale of it to Jefferson C. Langham Sr.;

•approved an ordinance regarding false alarms, which requires good contact information and communication with owners to cut down of officers responding to a false alarm;

•denied a variance request from Lindsey Davidson to place a portable building on Highway 150 to be used as a barbershop, as city ordinances state no portable buildings can be used as commercial property;

•delayed appointing a new Municipal Judge to replace Harris Blanchette, who resigned to focus on his duties as Justice of the Peace; and

•approved the installation of streetlights on new poles installed by Entergy on Finger Street.

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Coldspring council handles grant business

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coldspringcityBy Tony Farkas
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COLDSPRING — The Coldspring City Council approved measures relating to grant funds at it regular meeting on March 6.

Mayor John Benestante said that they are moving along on a $630,000 grant that will be used to install a sewer line along FM 2025, and will seek additional information from the residents along that route.

Since the grant is related to low-income homeowners, the city is asking the residents along the route to disclose their income bracket.

Benestante said they have more than 100 responses, but need more to show the percentage of low-income owners is correct.

By adding the line and additionally customers, sewer bills will ultimately be lower, since operational costs will be spread further out, he said. Currently, the plant is operating at 20 percent capacity, but have to operate as if full.

In related matters, the council approved resolutions approving policies for Fair Housing, excessive force, codes of conduct and civic participation, and hired Goodwin and Lassiter for engineering services.

In another related matter, the city was approached by Central States Water Resources with a plan to purchase the city’s wastewater treatment plant; Benestante said he brought it before the council, which turned it down.

In other business, the city:

•vacated a planned election for May, as all incumbent alderman had no opponents;

•discussed changes to Hotel Occupancy Tax exemptions;

•heard a complaint from the Rev. I.P. Runge about trailer house storing pile of trash bags on property, a violation of health ordinances. City Attorney Greg McGee will notify property owner of the violation;

•discussed retirement and health plans for city employees; and

•discussed food trucks rules, which state the vendor must be mobile to qualify for a license. Benestante said some are starting to be permanent, and there are no specific regulations to ensure proper disposal of grease.

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SJC residents beware of different scams

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BewareScams STOCK

GregCapersSheriffAs Sheriff, when I want to notify my partners in law enforcement that I’m looking for someone I put out a what we call, a “BOLO” (be on the lookout).

Today I’m putting out a BOLO for you to address some common challenges in your everyday life.

These are some common examples of scams and schemes that you need to be aware of.

Online Auction Site Scams

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Items sold at drastically reduced prices are often stolen. Example:

•You make a purchase online and agree to meet in person to pay with cash. The seller could rob the victim of their cash and potentially causing bodily harm and obviously the receipt of the item never occurs and fortunately the only thing you’ve lost is your money.

•You find a rental property online and meet with the person who placed the ad. Typically, you sign a bogus rental agreement, turn over your cash money and get the key to the house that the individual never had possession of who is a scammer with the potential of causing you bodily harm if things don’t go his or her way.

Identity theft and
theft of information

•You fill out an online form or handwritten credit card application, rental agreement, etc., from a company or an individual you are not familiar with. Potentially, the form is fraudulent, and you have just provided enough information for you to become a victim of identity theft.

•Credit card information can be stolen during an online hack or through devices placed on legal machines like ATM’s that are designed to extract personal information linked to your credit or ATM card. Be very suspicious of devices that are affixed to ATM machines that appears to be an “add-on” to the machine. If you suspect one exist, contact the bank or the retailer where the machine is placed.

•Once a suspect steals your personal information, they can create accounts, obtain credit in your name, or create fraudulent credit/bank cards and you may be held responsible. It’s not uncommon for an unsuspecting homeowner to have second mortgages obtained on their property or even listed for sale in someone else’s name.

Advance pay scams

Advance pay scams are one of the most common types of confidence tricks. You are asked for a small sum of money with the promise of a large pay out in the end. The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money in return for a small up-front payment, which the scammer claims will be used to obtain the larger sum. If the victim makes the payment, the scammer simply disappears with your money.

Ponzi/pyramid schemes

•Ponzi is a form of fraud that lures many investors and pays profits to “early investors” with funds from “more recent investors.” Named after Italian businessman Charles Ponzi, the scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from legitimate business activities, product sales or successful investments and they remain unaware that early investors are the source of profits. A small amount of money is taken from many people with the promise of a higher-than-normal rate of return. The victim will be asked to solicit funds from friends and family members.

Telephone scams

People lose a lot of money to phone scams, sometimes their life savings. Scammers have figured out countless ways to cheat you out of your money over the phone. In some scams they act friendly and helpful, and others, they may threaten or try to scare you. One thing you can count on is that a phone scammer will try to get your money and or your personal information to commit identity theft as well.

•Telemarketers offer great vacations or discounted products, and once the victim provides credit card information or bank details, the nightmare begins. Unfortunately, you are not likely to receive anything in return. As a bonus to the scammers, you have just provided them with enough information for identity theft as well.

•The caller might say you were selected and you’ve won a lottery. But you must pay some amount up-front to get the prize. It’s not a prize, it’s a scam.

•Scammers might pretend to be a member of law enforcement. They might say you will be arrested or fined for a crime you have no knowledge of if you don’t pay over the phone with a credit or debit card right away. If not, you should expect to be arrested.

•Scammers might identify themselves as IRS agents requesting a credit card or bank information to satisfy an old tax liability. Remember, the IRS never contacts taxpayers requesting payments over the telephone. Request of this nature are always through the U.S. Postal Service.

•You don’t need to decide now … Most legitimate businesses will give you time to think their offer over. Most often they will, upon request, provide you with written information about the offer before asking you to commit. Take your time don’t get pressured into deciding on the spot.

•Scammers will often ask you to pay in a way that makes it hard, if not impossible, for you to get your money back. Wiring money, putting money on a gift card, prepaid card or using a money transfer application is probably not a good idea. Anyone who asked you to pay that way is potentially a scammer.

To further assist you and your family in protecting yourself against unwanted phone calls and solicitations, consider the following:

“The National Do Not Call” registry was created to stop unwanted calls. It’s free to register your home or cell phone number. If you’ve already added your phone number to the registry and you are still getting unwanted calls, odds are the calls are potentially from scammers. To learn more about the National Do Not Call registry go to the following who U.S. Government website at www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 where you will also be able to register if you have not already done so.

Scammers are criminals and if you think they are above physically injuring you or your family, think again. Their ambition is to steal your money at all costs and the use of physical force is in their playbook. Be very cautious and suspicious in dealing with strangers.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to call my office’s non-emergency telephone number (936) 654-4367 for assistance or in any emergency immediately call 911.

Greg Capers is sheriff of San Jacinto County.

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Focus on style coming up

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DidYouKnow ColumnHeadI am trying to make up for my lost hour of sleep after we moved the clocks forward. We have a lot coming up on San Jacinto County in the next month. Here are some of the events.

Women’s League will hold its Annual Style Show on April 13 at the Coldspring Community Shelter. Tickets are available at Coldspring Senior Center, call (936) 653-4175. Cost is $25 each and includes a splendid lunch catered by India Love.

This year the models will show fashion from Chico of Kingwood. This event is open to all and always has a wonderful silent auction. There will be a wide variety of items on sale as well as a bake sale section. If you live in Shepherd, you can call Mary Ann Pittman at (713) 823-6820 for tickets.

•The Coldspring Garden Club will make a field trip on April 6 to Rustic Ridge Garden in Willis. This business aims to help the gardener with plants and materials as well as inform gardeners about designing their gardens, smart ways to water and more.

Rustic Ridge Gardens have Butterfly Gardens, Fruit Trees, container gardens and a Gift Shop. Members who have not yet signed up or who want to include a friend, please call Wanda at (936) 891-1145. A box lunch will be available for $15, please reserve it if you want one. Meet at the Community Center at 10 a.m. Rustic Ridge has a website.

•Shepherd Library will have several interesting events in the next two months courtesy of a generous donation to the Friends of Shepherd Library by Marvin Green. You may remember I wrote about his new Shepherd Super Center ribbon cutting last week?

Mr. Green visited the library and talked to Director Terri McIntire about upcoming programs. She mentioned that some of the ideas she and assistant Crystale Thompson had would cost more money than they had, so he donated a generous amount to enable the Library to move forward with these ideas.

Registration is requested, call (936) 628-3515 or call in at the library.

The first event will be on March 17 from 2-3 p.m. Spring Break Lego Competition will be a build your own idea with Lego and win a prize if you are lucky. Remember this is St. Patrick’s Day so there may be plenty of luck around.

The next event will be on March 31 from 1-4 p.m. It’s an Easter Egg-Travaganza at the Library. The Easter Bunny will pay a special visit for photo ops, pictures will be $5. Games and prizes will be held through the afternoon. Please register so that the library can plan for the event goodies and games.

Tiny Tales Story Time is on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. through March and April. The Friends of Shepherd Library thanks Marvin Green for his making these and future events possible.

The Friends of Shepherd Library met this week and one of our new members is Marsha Brown. I met Marsha at a Coldspring Chamber of Commerce meeting some time ago where she talked about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. I wrote about this at the time.

If you missed the details, Dolly Parton started a Foundation to encourage very young children to learn to read. Parents can register their child at Shepherd or Coldspring Libraries. They can be registered at birth and will receive books every month till they are 5 years old. The books are free. Parents read to the children and then help them to learn to read.

The saying goes, “ From one to three years old we learn to read. From then onward we read to learn.”

Marsha Brown is a very interesting woman. I decided to talk more to her about herself and to learn how she became a valued part of our community. Born in Arkansas, she became an educator. Her husband worked all over the country and at one point they lived in El Paso while she taught in Juarez Mexico through the day.

Everywhere they worked, she found the library. I did the same thing, we both found how we could find out what was happening in the area at the local library, be it in a city or small town.

Marsha lived in Houston for 20 years. She became a widow and sometime later COVID struck and changed the way we lived. Her son lives in Coldspring, so she moved here and of course, joined the Coldspring Library.

She learned about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and asked the Library Board if they would consider joining the program. Of course, they agreed, and she became the representative for it. She came to Shepherd Library, and they joined. She now has 112 children registered into the program in our county and is working on adding more.

Marsha soon became a member of the Friends of Shepherd Library and also a Board member of Coldspring Chamber of Commerce. She is a wonderful addition to our community.

Contact the Shepherd Chamber at (936) 628-3890 or the Coldspring Chamber at (936) 653-2184.

Yvonne Cones is president of the Greater Shepherd Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Coldspring Chamber of Commerce.

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