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Wildfire danger continues to rise in state

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072122 captial highlightsThe Austin Airtanker Base will serve as a reload station for aircraft coming and going to wildfires. Courtesy photo

By Gary Borders
Texas Press Association

As we cross the halfway point of July, wildfire danger continues to increase across the state. On Friday, Texas A&M Forest Service firefighters responded to 15 new wildfires that burned 651 acres. As of Sunday, there were eight active wildfires; the largest was the Nethery Road Fire in Kimble County, involving an estimated 3,500 acres. It has been 70 percent contained.

The forest service is taking to the air to augment fire suppression efforts on the ground. It has opened the Austin Airtanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The service has three dozen aircraft mobilized at 17 airports around the state for wildfire response. The Austin Airtanker Base will serve as a reload station for aircraft coming and going to wildfires. It is the only airport in the state set up for what is known as a Very Large Airtanker, or DC-10.

Forest service aircraft can get anywhere in Texas in under one hour. Since being placed in operation in early December, they have flown 4,641 hours and dumped 6.8 million gallons of water and retardant on Texas wildfires.

“This year, we have utilized aviation resources for response in areas experiencing significant wildfire activity,” said Jared Karns, with the forest service. “These aircraft provide support to ground crews and assist in protecting homes as well asother critical infrastructure.”

There are now 212 counties across the state with burn bans — 84 percent of the total number of Texas counties.

Fourth consecutive month with rain deficit
Unsurprisingly, June was warmer and drier for much of Texas, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board. At the end of June, drought conditions covered 86 percent of the state, up 8 percentage points from May.
“That all adds up to the conclusion that Texas is in a significant drought, the worst since 2011, but not worse than 2011,” Wentzel wrote.
The drought predictably is having an effect on the state’s water supply reservoirs, which are at 75 percent of capacity, 10 percentage points below normal for this time of year, according to TWDB.

Six ways to save water in summer heat

TDWB is offering six tips on saving water in a state whose population is expected to increase from 29.5 million in 2021 to 51.1 million in 2070 — a 73 percent increase that will put a strain on water supplies. Water conservation is one of the major strategies recommended in the 2022 state water plan. Here are the tips:

•Water landscape in the early morning and at night when winds are calmer and temperatures lower.

•Design a water-wise landscape with native shrubs, trees and grasses. Native plants have adapted to a region’s climate and conserve water more efficiently.

•Follow local watering restrictions. They’re there for a reason: to make sure a community doesn’t run out of water.

•Manage in-ground irrigation systems and check sprinkler heads. Avoid leaving systems on automatic settings that may come on when it isn’t necessary — like during a thunderstorm.

•Consider installing a rainwater harvesting system. In general, for every inch of rain that falls on a 2,000-square-foot roof, about 1,000 gallons of water can be collected. Find out more here: https://tinyurl.com/mryburys.

•Cover your pool or spa when not in use, since evaporation throughout the summer can add up to the equivalent of a pool’s volume.

TxDOT approves $146 million for statewide transit

Two grants totaling $146 million have been announced by the Texas Department of Transportation to fund transit providers across the state, particularly in rural areas.

“This funding is critical to ensuring everyone in Texas, especially in rural areas, has access to where they need to go safely and reliably,” TxDOT Transportation Commissioner Alvin New said.

Transit agencies can use the funds, which come from both federal and state coffers, to cover maintenance costs, buy new buses, build new facilities and expand services to more people, according to TxDOT. The funding is a 65 percent increase over last summer’s funds, in large part due to federal funds from the infrastructure act passed last year.

O’Rourke outraises Abbott in last four months

Democratic gubernatorial challenger Beto O’Rourke raised $27.3 million from Feb. 20 to June 20, outpacing Gov. Gregg Abbott’s $25 million, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Abbott still has a commanding lead in cash on hand, with $46 million in the bank. The O’Rourke campaign has not released how much cash it has on hand.

The O’Rourke campaign said nearly all its donations were made online, at an average of $54. Teachers gave more money than people from any other occupation.

The latest poll indicates the race for governor has tightened, though Abbott still holds a 6-point lead — 45 percent to 39 percent.

BA.2 variant of  COVID-19 spurs hike in cases

With the highly transmissible BA.2 variant of COVID-19 now the dominant strain, the number of new cases continues to rise in Texas and elsewhere. The Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University reported 107,367 new cases in Texas during the past week, up 27 percent from the previous week. A total of 124 new deaths were reported, just slightly up from the previous week. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations rose slightly to 3,240, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Nearly 60 percent of the state’s entire population is fully vaccinated, according to DSHS, with 7.178 million Texans also getting at least one booster shot.

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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Texas faces severe drought

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070722 robert nichols

By Sen. Robert Nichols
District 3

This weekend our nation will celebrate the Fourth of July, commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776. Have a safe and fun Fourth of July.

Here are five things happening around your state:

Severe drought forecast across Texas

The U.S. Drought Monitor indicated this week that nearly 65 percent of Texas is under severe drought conditions. Burn bans have been implemented in many counties across the state to mitigate wildfire risks.

Much of East Texas is only considered to be in moderate drought, but many East Texas counties have put burn bans in place. Those counties in Senate District 3 include Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Henderson, Houston, Liberty, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler.

Committee to Protect All Texans hearing

This month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed me chair of the Special Committee to Protect All Texans. The committee was formed in response to the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School. We were charged with examining school safety, mental health, social media, police training, and firearm safety.

We held two hearings on back-to-back days. We heard testimony from the Texas Department of Public Safety walking through the timeline of events in Uvalde. We then heard from various law enforcement agencies including the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, the Texas Police Chiefs Association, and others who all spoke on the state of police training in Texas and school-based law enforcement programs.

We also heard from the Texas Education Agency, the Texas School Safety Center, and the Texas Association of School Administrators regarding school safety and recommendations they had to improve school safety.

The second day was focused on mental health and firearm safety. We heard extensive testimony from the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Council of Community Centers, and others about improvements that need to be made to Texas’ mental health system.

We also heard from Texas Gun Sense and Sandy Hook Promise regarding policy changes that could be made to improve firearm safety in Texas. Now that we’ve heard testimony from a wide array of voices, the committee will develop recommendations for the Legislature to consider in the upcoming session.

Supreme Court upholds football coach’s right to pray

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a former Washington state high school football coach has the right to pray on the field following games.

The court held that the school violated the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the First Amendment by telling him he could not pray so publicly on the 50-yard line after the games.

The coach was put on administrative leave and suspended from the program after players began to join him on the field to pray. He filed suit the next year.

This is a victory for free speech and freedom of expression. It guarantees that public employees are not limited in their private religious expression.

Business and Commerce, Finance committees hold hearings

The Senate was busy with several hearings in Austin. The Senate Finance Committee met to hear testimony on the mental health delivery system. The Committee discussed the state’s Comprehensive Plan for State-Funded Inpatient Mental Health Services and the Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan. We also examined current state investments in mental health and how to reduce waitlist for state services.

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee also met this week to conduct oversight of the implementation of House Bill 5, also known as the Broadband Office Bill, and discuss anticipated federal funds for broadband initiatives.

In the last special session, the Legislature appropriated $500 million in Federal funds to the Broadband Development Office to assist with broadband deployment. We anticipate Texas could receive between $1 billion and $4 billion in additional federal funds over the next year to help close the digital divide.

Continued progress on Battleship Texas project

Earlier this month, the new dry dock from Gulf Copper arrived in Galveston. This dry dock will be used to repair Battleship Texas later this summer. The Battleship Texas Foundation anticipates the ship will depart using the dry dock in mid-August.
This is a huge step forward in repairing and restoring the Battleship. To read more about the Battleship restoration project and see photos of the progress, please visit www.battleshiptexas.org.

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

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Three arrested in deaths of 53 migrants

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070722 capital highlights

By Gary Borders

Texas Press Association

Three people were arrested last week by federal authorities in connection with a human smuggling incident that left 53 migrants dead.

The migrants were discovered inside a tractor-trailer on San Antonio’s Southwest Side, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The victims were from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

Eleven other people were rescued from the trailer.

“We are devastated by the news,” Cesar Espinosa, an immigrant advocate with FIEL Houston, an immigrant rights organization, told the Express-News. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last time that it happens as long as we don’t have a pathway for people to migrate safely into the U.S.”

Meantime, Gov. Greg Abbott announced additional truck checkpoints would immediately be established targeting semi-trucks, and strike teams consisting of 20 troopers are being sent to the Eagle Pass region “to detect and defer unlawful border crossings and apprehend illegal migrants.”
The trailer had passed through a federal Border Patrol checkpoint.

More cases of monkeypox reported

Multiple cases of monkeypox have been reported in Texas by the Texas Department of State Health Services and local health departments. A dozen cases have been identified in people who did not travel outside the state, meaning they were exposed in Texas.

“With the sharp increase in monkeypox cases worldwide, it’s not surprising to see the virus spread in Texas,” said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, chief state epidemiologist. “We want people to know what the symptoms are, and if they have symptoms, to avoid the types of close contact with other people that can spread the disease.”

Monkeypox is a viral illness with symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. People who develop a rash should avoid direct contact with other people and contact their health-care provider for next steps.

A vaccine is available and can be given to people within four days of exposure.

Additional funding for school safety, mental health

Abbott and other state leaders last week announced the transfer of $105.5 million to support additional school safety and mental health initiatives through the end of August 2023.

“This additional funding will boost actions the state of Texas has already taken to make schools safer and support the mental health of children, teachers, and families following the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde,” according to a news release.

Roughly half of the funds are going for bullet-resistant shields. Funding is also being provided for mental-health services and other school safety services.

Texans urged to ‘stay dry’ while boating

Boaters are being urged to fight back against the aquatic invasive species that threaten 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,” said Brian Van Zee with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Zebra mussels and giant salvinia remain the biggest threats to Texas lakes, though other invasive species are being spread, including water hyacinth, crested floating heart and quagga mussels.

Zebra mussels are found in 33 Texas lakes, while giant salvinia is present on 23 East Texas lakes and numerous rivers, creeks and marshes between Houston and Beaumont.

“Boaters need to remove all plants, mud and debris from boats, trailers, vehicles and gear and drain all waterfrom the boat, 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,” according to TPWD.

Transporting prohibited aquatic invasive species is illegal and punishable with a fine of up to $500 per violation.

No surprise: It’s still hot and dry

Above-normal temperatures and a lack of rainfall in the past month mean the risk of wildfires remains high across the state.

“State and local first responders have been incredibly busy this year without much reprieve and forecast conditions indicate that we may be facing a very busy summer season as well,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service fire chief. “We urge Texans to be cautious and prevent wildfire ignitions this summer.”

There are three active wildfires, the largest being the Dempsey Fire which covers 11,598 acres and is 60 percent contained. A total of 181 counties are under burn bans.

COVID-19 cases rise once again

COVID-19 cases in Texas during the past week rose to 74,652, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, up 21 percent from the previous week, with 111 deaths reported. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 2,460 up 19.7 percent from the previous week, according to DSHS.

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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State senator sues DPS over Uvalde records

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070322 capital highlightsSen. Roland Gutierrez released a statement saying in the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government.

By Gary Borders
Texas Press Association

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, has sued the Texas Department of Public Safety over records relating to the Uvalde school shooting that have been withheld.

“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.

Both state and local Uvalde officials are contesting releasing the records that could shed light on the botched emergency response to the shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement responding to the shooting waited more than an hour before breaking into the classroom to kill the shooter.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott said his office has been transparent in providing information since the May 24 massacre, in a statement released by his press secretary: “The governor and his office will continue making all available information public, including the full results of the ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI. The governor wants all facts of this tragedy to be made public as quickly as possible and will do his part to achieve that goal.”

Abortion officially illegal in Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade effectively ends all legal abortions in Texas within the next 30 days, many news media outlets reported.

“Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health, with clinics across Texas, stopped performing abortions following Friday’s decision, due to uncertainty about how the ruling will affect the state’s trigger law and a long-standing ban on abortion that predates Roe v. Wade, officials with those organizations said,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“Texas is a pro-life state, and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in an issued statement.
Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November gubernatorial election, said on Twitter, “I will always fight for a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care, and future.”

Wildfire risks grow as heat wave continues

The risk of wildfire across a large swath of Texas continues as the state enters summer after enduring a hot, dry spring.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that last week marked the third week in a row with high-pressure weather systems dominating the state.
Above-normal temperatures and below normal rainfall are again forecast throughout Texas. As a result, the forest service reported responding to seven wildfires that burned more than 1,000 acres as of late last week. All but one had been contained — the Dempsey Fire in Palo Pinto County, which has burned more than 1,000 acres.

A total of 160 Texas counties have enacted burn bans to date.

Drunk drivers cause one in four state traffic fatalities

One in four traffic deaths on Texas roads last year were caused by drunk drivers, while more than 25,000 traffic crashes involved drunk driving — up 9 percent over 2020.

The Texas Department of Transportation has again launched its “Faces of Drunk Driving” campaign to remind motorists of the human toll a drunk-driving crash causes on the lives of both victims and survivors. The campaign features testimonials from both victims of drunk drivers and drunk drivers as well.

“Every crash and every death caused by a drunk driver is 100 percent preventable,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “We hope these personal accounts from real offenders and survivors wake people up to the consequences of drinking and driving. Always get a sober ride through a designated driver, taxi, rideshare app, or calling a friend — or simply stay where you are.”

Applications to become a ‘Bird City’ now accepted

It’s time for cities to go to the birds.

Audubon Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are accepting applications from communities that would like to receive Bird City Texas certification. The program, in its fourth year, recognizes the contributions that communities make to improve nature in and around where people live, work and play.

“All communities, big and small, are eligible to participate,” says Richard Heilbrun with TPWD. “Bird City Texas is a great way to demonstrate that a community values nature, that they’re willing to improve that nature, and that residents are encouraged to get outside and experience nature.”

Certification is based on work in three categories: education and engagement, habitat management and improvement and removal of threats to birds. Community residents are encouraged to be part of the process, Heilbrun said.

Applications for Bird City certification will be accepted through Dec. 2, but applications must be started by Nov. 1. More information can be found here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/wildlife/birding/bird-city-texas.

COVID-19 cases up, deaths down

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University rose once again in Texas the past week, with 61,682 reported — up 28 percent from the previous week, though deaths dropped sharply to 66.

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas hospitals rose to 2,055, up 17.6 percent from the previous week, 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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Abortion officially illegal in Texas

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063022 state capital highlightsGov. Greg Abbott said in an issued statement that Texas is a pro-life state, and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life.

By Gary Borders
Texas Press Association

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade effectively ends all legal abortions in Texas within the next 30 days, many news media outlets reported.


“Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health, with clinics across Texas, stopped performing abortions following Friday’s decision, due to uncertainty about how the ruling will affect the state’s trigger law and a long-standing ban on abortion that predates Roe v. Wade, officials with those organizations said,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.


“Texas is a pro-life state, and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in an issued statement.
Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November gubernatorial election, said on Twitter, “I will always fight for a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care, and future.”

Wildfire risks grow as heat wave continues

The risk of wildfire across a large swath of Texas continues as the state enters summer after enduring a hot, dry spring.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported that last week marked the third week in a row with high-pressure weather systems dominating the state.

Above-normal temperatures and below normal rainfall are again forecast throughout Texas. As a result, the forest service reported responding to seven wildfires that burned more than 1,000 acres as of late last week. All but one had been contained — the Dempsey Fire in Palo PintoCounty, which has burned more than 1,000 acres.
A tot

al of 160 Texas counties have enacted burn bans to date.

Drunk drivers cause one in four state traffic fatalities

One in four traffic deaths on Texas roads last year were caused by drunk drivers, while more than 25,000 traffic crashes involved drunk driving — up 9 percent over 2020.

The Texas Department of Transportation has again launched its “Faces of Drunk Driving” campaign to remind motorists of the human toll a drunk-driving crash causes on the lives of both victims and survivors. The campaign features testimonials from both victims of drunk driversand drunk drivers as well.


“Every crash and every death caused by a drunk driver is 100 percent preventable,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “We hope these personal accounts from real offenders and survivors wake people up to the consequences of drinking and driving. Always get a sober ride through a designated driver, taxi, rideshare app, or calling a friend — or simply stay where you are.”

Applications to become a ‘Bird City’ now accepted

It’s time for cities to go to the birds.


Audubon Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are accepting applications from communities that would like to receive Bird City Texas certification. The program, in its fourth year, recognizes the contributions that communities make to improve nature in and around where people live, work and play.


“All communities, big and small, are eligible to participate,” says Richard Heilbrun with TPWD. “Bird City Texas is a great way to demonstrate that a community values nature, that they’re willing to improve that nature, and that residents are encouraged to get outside and experience nature.”


Certification is based on work in three categories: education and engagement, habitat management and improvement and removal of threats to birds. Community residents are encouraged to be part of the process, Heilbrun said.
Applications for Bird City certification will be accepted through Dec. 2, but applications must be started by Nov. 1. More information can be found here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/wildlife/birding/bird-city-texas.

State senator sues DPS over Uvalde records


State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, has sued the Texas Department of Public Safety over records relating to the Uvalde school shooting that have been withheld.


“In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.


Both state and local Uvalde officials are contesting releasing the records that could shed light on the botched emergency response to the shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement responding to the shooting waited more than an hour before breaking into the classroom to kill the shooter.


Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott said his office has been transparent in providing information since the May 24 massacre, in a statement released by his press secretary: “The governor and his office will continue making all available information public, including the full results of the ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI. The governor wants all facts of this tragedy to be made public as quickly as possible and will do his part to achieve that goal.”

COVID-19 cases up, deaths down


The number of new COVID-19 cases reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University rose once again in Texas the past week, with 61,682 reported — up 28 percent from the previous week, though deaths dropped sharply to 66.


The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas hospitals rose to 2,055, up 17.6 percent from the previous week, 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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