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Comptroller releases broadband plan

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062322 broadbandCensus data collected in 2020 indicates as many as 7 million Texans — nearly one-fourth of the state’s population — do not have broadband access

By Gary Borders

Texas Press Association

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar last week released his agency’s plan to support the expansion of broadband internet access to areas with limited or no access. Hegar and his agency’s Broadband Development Office received feedback through a series of town halls, virtual discussions and more than 16,000 responses to a survey.

“An important, recurring theme has been the reminder that though high-speed internet may once have been a luxury, it is now a necessity,” Hegar wrote in a letter to Texas legislators. “Texans need reliable, high-speed connectivity for a wide range of potential applications including public health, safety, education and modern agriculture.”

Census data collected in 2020 indicates as many as 7 million Texans — nearly one-fourth of the state’s population — do not have broadband access. The issue disproportionately affects rural communities, low-income families and communities of color, the report said.

The report notes the statewide plan will require additional funding. The Legislature provided $5 million to jump-start the Broadband Development Office, and the federal American Rescue Act allocated $500.5 million for broadband expansion. In addition, the recently passed infrastructure bill allocates at least $100 million.

By early next year, the BDO will:

  • Establish a broadband-focused, federally compliant grant program.
  • Publish a broadband availability map.
  • Manage recurring coordination and communication opportunities across stakeholder groups.

“Texas faces a huge challenge: Connecting over 1 million households to high-speed broadband, improving connectivity for over 5.6 million households, improving affordability of broadband for 3.6 million households and assisting 3.8 million Texans with digital literacy challenges,” Hegar said.

Test scores rise slightly in three subjects

Test results released last week by the Texas Education Agency showed modest improvement in three subject areas over last year. However, they still are lower than they were before the pandemic.

High school students took the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness in four subjects required to graduate: algebra, English I and II, biology and U.S. history. Compared to last year, scores rose in all but English I and II, which were largely unchanged.

Test score results are still short of the pre-pandemic results from 2019. In algebra, for example, scores are 16 points lower than spring 2019.

“We have made some progress to date, but there is still work to be done to fully recover from the academic effects of the COVID slide,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said.

Results for STAAR tests taken by students in grades 3-8 will be made public this week.

Texas again leads nation in jobs created

May employment numbers released by the Texas Workforce Commission show the state has added 762,400 nonagricultural jobs since May 2021. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate in May was essentially unchanged at 4.2 percent.

“Texas continues to set records for employment growth with more than 250,000 jobs added from the beginning of this year through May,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “Training and upskilling are crucial to maintain this level of employment growth, and TWC remains committed to offering innovative training programs.”

The job increase is the highest in the nation, with a record 13.357 million Texans employed, according to TWC.

Ex-boy band member wrangling litter

Wearing a cowboy hat, spurs and a fringed vest, singer and actor Joe Jonas is lassoing litter in the latest “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign.

The former member of the Jonas Brothers Band, whose hometown is Dallas, filmed a video in which he goes around the Don’t mess with Texas office, dragging a barrel and gathering trash, according to the Austin American Statesman.

“Joe understands the pride that we have in our state and in keeping it clean for everyone to enjoy its beauty, now and in the future,” said Becky Ozuna, coordinator for the Don’t mess with Texas campaign. “We are thrilled to have Joe join us in bringing attention to our litter-free message through his comedic talent and timing.”

The humorous video with a serious message can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/vp4hfb4x.

State launches nation’s first Driving with Disability program

A collaborative effort between state agencies has led to a first-in-the-nation program that gives Texans the option to identify communication impairments, such as being hearing-impaired, on both the driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

In addition, all Texas law enforcement agencies have access to video training modules to gain a better understanding of people with a communication impediment, which also includes autism, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease and other disorders drivers might have and still legally be able to drive.

“This simple addition to a driver’s license or vehicle registration removes a potential barrier and can give officers the knowledge they need to help make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe,” Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety director, said.

COVID-19 cases in state stay steady

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the past week in Texas stayed fairly steady at 48,073, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. However, new deaths rose sharply to 454, compared to 77 reported the previous week. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,747 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations, up for the second straight week.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Committee oversees insurance, worker’s compensation

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061622 trent ashbyOver the interim, committee members will monitor agencies and ensure that the legislation passed during the most recent legislative session is implemented properly.

By Rep. Trent Ashby

District 57

The Texas House Speaker recently established the Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting to conduct a thorough examination into the circumstances surrounding the tragic school shooting in Uvalde.

This investigative committee has been tasked with collecting and analyzing evidence from law enforcement, making comprehensive findings, and reporting the conclusions as soon as possible to help guide the Texas House’s response to this tragedy moving forward.

Additionally, the Speaker issued joint charges to the Select Committee on Youth Health & Safety and the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee. These committees have been charged with examining strategies that promote firearm safety and reduce mass violence, evaluating the coordination between local and state agencies, identifying technological resources to detect potential threats, and recommending policies that promote school safety and mental health.

Texans, rightfully, have lots of questions and concerns about what happened in Uvalde, and I applaud Speaker Phelan for taking decisive action in establishing these committees so that we can begin the discussions and conduct work that needs to be done prior to our next session.
With that, we’ll dive back into our examination of House interim charges.

The House Committee on Business & Industry has jurisdiction over a number of state agencies, including the State Office of Risk Management, the Division of Workers’ Compensation, and the Texas Department of Insurance.

Over the interim, members of this Committee will monitor these agencies and ensure that the legislation passed during the most recent legislative session is implemented properly.

Members of the Committee will study the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on unemployment trends and industry-specific disruptions, evaluate the state’s effort on data privacy and online consumer protections, and analyze the impact of organized retail crime. Additionally, the Committee will monitor the implementation of legislation with a focus on three specific bills.

SB 22 removes the requirement for first responders to prove to insurance companies that they contracted COVID-19 while on the job to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Another bill under review, SB 581, protects individual and religious liberty by prohibiting a property owners’ association from enforcing or adopting restrictions on homeowners that display religious symbols motivated by their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The final bill within the Committee’s focus, HB 3746, requires the Texas Attorney General to post a comprehensive list of security breach notices on the agency’s website.

During the 86th Legislative Session, a measure was passed requiring entities that experience a security breach affecting at least 250 Texans to notify the Attorney General’s office. HB 3746 makes information regarding these breaches more publicly accessible to further enhance data privacy protections.

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 be posting regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and sharing information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

Trent Ashby represents District 57, soon to be District 9, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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Many anti-gun violence protests held across state

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061622 capital highlightsAnti-gun violence protests were held in multiple cities across the state over the weekend. Courtesy photo

By Gary Borders

Texas Press Association

Anti-gun violence protests were held in multiple cities across the state over the weekend, while the state has imposed additional measures designed to strengthen school security.

Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program will be provided to all Texas school districts. The course is “designed to improve integration between law enforcement, fire, tele-communicator and emergency medical services in active attack/shooter events,” according to its website.

Gov. Greg Abbott also requested ALERRT to provide an after-the fact debrief of the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde once the ongoing investigation is complete.

“We sadly recognize we cannot do anything to bring back the precious lives that were taken; however, we must do everything in our power to prevent the same tragic ending from happening again,” reads the governor’s letter.

In addition, the Texas Education Agency has been directed to create the position of Chief of School Safety and Security. The chief will be a “recognized expert on school security and public safety issues, an effective coordinator of multidisciplinary teams, a resource to school districts and the legislature, and effective at implementing programs,” according to a TEA news release.

Agency releases latest COVID-19 workers’ comp claim tally

The number of workers compensation claims related to COVID-19 claims reached 83,000 in May, with 448 fatalities reported to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Just more than half of these claims and fatalities involved first responders and correctional officers.
Most of the claims paid were to compensate people for lost wages.

Police chief explains delay in confronting shooter

The Uvalde schools police chief explained the delay in confronting the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers by saying he couldn’t obtain a key to locked classroom door.

“The only thing that was important to me at this time was to save as many teachers and children as possible,” Pete Arredondo said in a Texas Tribune report. He said he tried dozens of keys that failed to work.

“Each time I tried a key I was just praying,” Arredondo said. It took 77 minutes after the May 24 massacre began for officers to unlock the door and kill the gunman. Besides the Department of Public Safety, Arredondo is the only other law enforcement official to give a public account of the police response to the shooting.

In addition to the state probe, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a review of the police response.

First monkeypox case in Texas confirmed

A single case of monkeypox virus infection was confirmed in a Dallas County resident who had recently traveled internationally, the Texas Department of State Health Services has announced.

“Monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal. It can also be transmitted from person to person by inhaling large respiratory droplets or through close contact with body fluids and lesions, as well as bedding and other contaminated materials.

Those infected may experience fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes, as well as more serious complications,” the DSHS release said.

The patient is in quarantine at home. DSHS said the virus does not currently present risks to the general public, though it is reaching out to passengers who might have been exposed to the patient on a flight from Mexico to Dallas.

A drier and warmer May for much of state

May brought some rain but not as much as hoped, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist for the Texas Water Development Board.

“This May’s modest rainfall and high temperatures combined to provide only small improvements in drought conditions across our state,” Wentzel wrote. “Every little bit counts, but that little bit of recovery is disappointing considering that May has historically been the wettest month of the year for Texas.”

Drought conditions covered 78 percent of the state by the end of May.

Electricity demands breaking records

As temperatures soared across the state during the first days of June, demand for electricity set daily and monthly records, according to numbers released last Friday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and reported in the San Antonio Express-News.

Triple-digit temperatures were reported across the state over the weekend — several days before the official first day of summer.

ERCOT asked power generators to defer maintenance over the weekend to ensure adequate generating power.

“ERCOT will continue to deploy all available tools to manage the grid reliably and coordinate closely with the Public Utility Commission, generation resource owners and transmission utilities to ensure they are also prepared for the warm weather across the state,” Christy Penders with ERCOT said.

COVID-19 cases unchanged in last week

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Texas during the past week stayed essentially unchanged, with 47,582 reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. A total of 77 deaths were recorded. DSHS reported 1,488 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations, up 27 percent from the previous week.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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TEA directed to make schools safer

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060922 state capital highlights

By Gary Borders

Texas Press Association

Gov. Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Education Agency to ensure school facilities are made safer in the wake of the killing of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

In a letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, the governor requested the agency:

  • Instruct school districts to identify actions to make campuses more secure prior to the start of the new school year.
  • Instruct all school districts to conduct weekly inspections of exterior doors to verify they are secure during school hours.
  • Develop strategies to encourage school districts to increase the presence of trained law enforcement officers and school marshals on campuses.

The state has made an initial $5 million investment to establish a Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde County. The center will provide psychological services, crisis counseling and other health services for those affected by the massacre.

To date, the governor has rejected calls for a special session to consider additional gun control measures. Instead, he has asked legislative leaders to convene special committees to develop recommendations on school safety, mental health, social media, police training, firearm safety and other issues.

GOP donors urge Congress to act on gun control

More than 250 major Republican donors in Texas signed an open letter published in The Dallas Morning News urging congressional action to increase gun restrictions. The letter was published as a full-page ad on Sunday. It endorses the creation of red-flag laws, raising the age to purchase a gun to 21, and expansion of background checks.

“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is leading bipartisan negotiations on possible gun reform measures.

“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”

Among those signing the letter are major financial supporters of Abbott.

Inflation increase is highest in 40 years

A report by the state comptroller’s office notes that inflation increased to 8.5% nationally in March — “the highest year-over-year percent change in consumer prices since January 1982.”

Food and energy prices were the leading contributors, with gas prices reaching record levels. The largest source of inflation in food products were in meat, poultry, fish and eggs, up 14.3% in the past year.

The comptroller’s report said the increase in prices is likely a “confluence of economic pressures related to the coronavirus pandemic stemming from both the supply side and the demand side.”

The pandemic disrupted production and transportation lines in the global supply chains, which are not expected to fully recover until next year. In addition, demand now exceeds production capacity, often leading to empty grocery shelves and nearly empty lots at car dealerships.

Finally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions on that country have contributed to driving up the cost of oil.

Inflation decreased slightly in April.

Emergency SNAP benefits again extended

Once again, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission  has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide nearly $318 million in emergency food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for June.

All SNAP households will get a minimum of $95 in additional food allotments on top the regular allotment. More than $6.9 billion in emergency benefits have been provided to Texans since April 2020.

“We’re here to support families when they need us most,” said Texas HHSC Access and Eligibility Services Deputy Executive Commissioner Wayne Salter. “Providing access to fresh, nutritious foods is essential for healthy families.”

Vehicle deaths reach 41-year high in 2021

The number of people killed in vehicle crashes totaled 1,532 last year, with 6,493 major injuries — the highest level since 1981. More than a third of those deaths involved excessive speed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. With a 16% increase last year in speed-related wrecks, TxDOT is urging drivers to slow down and drive to weather and traffic conditions.

“Speed is the number one factor in roadway crashes in our state, causing 1 out of every 3 traffic deaths,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “When you speed, you increase the risk of death and serious injury in a collision. By observing the speed limit and driving to specific weather and road conditions, Texans can make our roads safer for everyone.”

COVID-19 cases continue to rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas during the past week rose to 46,946, with 42 new deaths reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That is more than double the number of new cases reported a month ago. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state also rose to 1,168, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Gunman walked into school building unopposed

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GaryBordersThe gunman who killed 21 people inside an Uvalde elementary school walked into the unlocked building unopposed, the Department of Public Safety said in a revised statement, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman and other media sources.
After the gunman crashed his grandmother’s truck in a ditch, he walked into the building while firing a semiautomatic weapon purchased just days after his 18th birthday. The shooter was inside a classroom for about an hour. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed before a tactical team got inside the building and killed him.
The massacre is the second-deadliest school shooting in modern U.S. history.

Five Texas refineries exceed benzene limit
Five Texas refineries and one in Louisiana operated by a San Antonio company last year exceeded federal pollution limits for benzene emissions, which is listed as a carcinogenic chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency. Long-term exposure to benzene has caused blood disorders, according to a story in the San Antonio Express-News.
“In Texas, Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay refinery, TotalEnergies’ Port Arthur refinery, Chevron’s Pasadena refinery, Flint Hills Resources’ Corpus Christi East refinery and LyondellBasell’s Houston refinery reported average benzene emissions in 2021 that were above the federal threshold of 9 micrograms per cubic meter,” the Express-News reported.
More than 6 million people in the United States live within 3 miles of an oil refinery, according to the EPA.

Boaters urged to ‘clean, drain, and dry’
As summer approaches and Texans head to the state’s lakes and rivers, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urges boaters and paddlers to do their part to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that are threatening Texas lakes.
“The best way to prevent the spread of many destructive aquatic invasive species is to clean, drain and dry your boats and equipment – every time,” Brian Van Zee, TPWD inland fisheries regional director, said.
Zebra mussels and giant salvinia continue to spread to new waterbodies in the state. Other highly invasive species that can be spread by boaters include water hyacinth, crested floating heart and quagga mussels.
“Boaters need to remove all plants, mud and debris from boats, trailers, vehicles and gear and drain the water from the boat, all equipment and on-board receptacles before leaving the lake. In addition, boats should be dried completely before visiting another lake, preferably for at least a week,” the news release said.

Texas home to most Fortune 500 companies
Texas now leads the nation as home to the most Fortune 500 companies, surpassing New York and California in the 2022 Fortune 500 list.
Texas is home to 53 top companies, with New York home to 51 and California with 50. In addition, Houston and Dallas are in the top five cities in the nation for Fortune 500 companies with 21 and 11 respectively.
Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the nation’s GDP with revenues of $16.1 trillion. They employ 29.7 million people worldwide.
“Thanks to our unmatched business environment, with no corporate or personal income taxes, a highly skilled and diverse workforce, easy access to global markets, and reasonable regulatory climate, Texas has more businesses relocating and expanding here in our state than ever before,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Nearly $5 million in trail grants announced
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission last week awarded $4.8 million in grants to fund 17 recreational trail-related projects across the state.
One million dollars of the amount allocated came directly from state Sporting Good Sales Tax funds dedicated to the Recreational Trails Program through a measure passed in the last legislative session.
The rest of the funding comes from a portion of the federal gas tax generated by gasoline purchases for off-road vehicles. Under the National Recreational Trails Fund, 30% of total grants it awards goes for motorized trails, with an equal amount going for non-motorized trails, while the rest is discretionary.
For a complete list of trail grants awarded, got to tpwd.gov and click the link under TPWD news.

Wildfire risk abates slightly
Recent rainfall has reduced the potential for widespread wildfires for much, but not all, of the state, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. However, hot and windy conditions are expected to return this week, bringing with them the increased risk of more wildfires, particularly in the Rolling Plains, Hill Country and South Texas areas of the state.
As of Friday, there was one active wildfire, in Taylor County. The Mesquite Heat Fire consumed nearly 11,000 acres and was 82 percent contained. There are currently 132 counties with burn bans.

Number of new COVID-19 cases rising
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas rose to 32,778 in the past week, up 22 percent from the previous week, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, with 46 deaths reported across the state, a slight decrease.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 931 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Friday in Texas, up slightly from the previous week.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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