The deadline to file bills in the 83rd Texas Legislature is Friday and Henderson County’s representatives have been busy with legislation addressing a wide range of issues.
Fourth District Representative Lance Gooden, 10th District Representative Jim Pitts and 3rd District State Senator Robert Nichols are the county’s voices in Austin. Each has bills that will be studied by committees to determine whether they reach the floor for a vote.
Gooden said he’s confident the House needs to increase funding for public education and ease the burden brought about by mandatory testing.
“I’m going to be filing a bill that eliminates the requirement that 15 percent of the final course grade be based on the STAR test,” Gooden said. “We’re trying to get rid of the tests that are costing the state money serving no purpose other than burdening teachers and local school districts.”
Gooden said the STAR test has been a complete failure and constituents in Henderson County have asked for relief from its requirements.
“They’ve committed state funds to this test that has grown and grown and grown,” Gooden said. “Somewhere along the line someone convinced the legislature, in the last decade, that testing was the answer and it has failed miserably.
Noteworthy bills Gooden has already filed include House Resolution 1082 which adds the term “intoxication assault causing bodily injury” to the penal code. If passed, the driver of a vehicle that inflicts any degree of physical pain on another in an accident, could be charged with intoxicated assault. The change would be a state jail felony with a penalty of up to two years.
The legislation was filed Feb. 7 and referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Feb. 19. If passed, the law would go into effect September 1.
Gooden has also introduced a bill to place some regulations on the use of drones for unmanned surveillance.
“It says law enforcement can’t just place drones in the sky and film every move,” Gooden said. “It’s about protecting privacy as technology develops.”
As drones get less expensive, they are starting to be purchased by law enforcement agencies around the state.
“There’s a sense that as they get more prevalent, if there is no guidance they’ll be so widely used it’ll be impossible to place any restrictions on their use in years to come,” Gooden said.
Nichols, chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, has filed a bill concerning the allocation of sales tax revenue to the state highway fund. Senate Joint Resolution 20, filed in tandem with House Transportation Chairman Larry Phillips, proposes dedicating the 6.25-percent sales tax levied on new and used vehicle purchases to the Texas Department of Transportation. The money raised would help the Texas Department of Transportation build roads, bridges and maintain infrastructure.
The bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee on February 5. No further activity has been reported.
Nichols also co-authored Senate Bill 567, filed February 14, to transfer the functions relating the economic regulation of water and sewer service from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Nichols said transfer of the responsibility offers potential benefits by aligning most state utility regulation within one agency.
Nichols said the proposed legislation is the result of Senate subcommittee hearings held to discuss steep increases in water and sewer rates imposed by investor-owned water and sewer companies. Orville Bevel of Chandler and C.A. Cockrell III of Murchison were among the citizens who testified concerning rapidly escalating rates in rural Henderson County.
Pitts, as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has the General Appropriations Bill at the top of his list of legislation. HB1 will appropriate $89.1 billion in general revenue and a total of $187.7 billion when all other funds are included. The bill offers a small increase over the 2011 budget which was passed when legislators were looking at a projected $27 billion dollar shortfall.
Legislation aims at water, education
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Volunteers now needed for Athens Soup Kitchen
Athens resident Terry Mayhall walked through the doors of the Athens Soup Kitchen asking if he could just volunteer. Mayhall now spends his Thursdays cooking soup for people who are hungry.
Athens Soup Kitchen, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The mission is to feed those who are hungry. The facility that feeds 30 to 63 people weekly, opened its door in March 2014.
Coston named chamber president
After a diligent search, the Athens Chamber of Commerce Board has named Mike Coston president.
“The chamber board selected a search committee, which consisted of Chamber members, community leaders and business owners,” Ashley Adams McKee, Chairman of the Athens Chamber of Commerce Board, said. “Our committee knew that we wanted to take our time to find the most qualified person to serve as our new president. We had more than 10 applicants and in our first round of interviews we were all equally impressed and excited about Mike's experience and passion for chamber business.”
Update on restaurant projects given
City of Athens officials gave an update on some ongoing projects and financial information at a meeting on Wednesday.
Director of Planning and Development Gary Crecilius said progress on the Cotton Patch Cafe has slowed considerably with the discovery of a possible environmental hazard. The restaurant is being constructed east of the Walmart store on East Tyler Street.
HCPAC announces ‘Mattress’ sales
Why would HCPAC be selling mattresses? Actually, the “mattresses” are tickets to “Once Upon a Mattress,” which opens Thursday, Aug. 7.
The 26th Annual Youth Summer Musical stars 24 very talented area students, ages 10 through college, and tells the “fractured fairy tale” version of the “Princess and the Pea.”
Gearing up for Celebrity Waiter event
The Rotary Club of Cedar Creek Lake is gearing up for its annual Celebrity Waiter event. The Celebrity Waiter committee met on Thursday to discuss last minute items. The event is scheduled for Saturday, August 9 at Athens Country Club. This will be the 18th year the CCL Rotary Club has hosted the fundraiser. For ticket information call Erin Osborn at 903-887-7486.
Paul Harris recognition
Rotary of Cedar Creek Lake President Erin Osborn presents Rotarian Bill Burnett with his second Paul Harris recognition. Rotarians are given a Paul Harris recognition when a Rotarian donates $1,000 or more to the fund outright. Benefactors receive a certificate and insignia to wear with a Rotary or Paul Harris Fellow pin.
Sanders suspended indefinitely
Two University of Texas football players were arrested and charged Thursday with felony sexual assault after a female student said she was raped in a campus dorm room last month.
Wide receivers Kendall Sanders, of Athens, and Montrel Meander were arrested and later released on personal recognizance bonds. According to an arrest affidavit, Sanders and Meander texted each other during earlier interviews with police to "get their story straight" and Sanders also faces a charge of improper photography tied to the alleged assault on June 21.
Thunderstorms take their toll on counties
A line of thunderstorms rolled through Henderson County on Wednesday, snapping tree branches and power lines along the way.
The winds that accompanied the storm resulted in thousands of people in North Texas without electricity and roads broken by falling trees or debris.
Council considering Burton's severance package
The Athens City Council, by a 3-to-2 vote, tabled a budget adjustment on Wednesday to fund a severance package for City Administrator Pam Burton who’s stepping down at the end of the year.
Eustace ISD approves tax rates
The Eustace Independent School District Board of Trustees held its regular monthly meeting Tuesday in the Eustace High School Library.
Several reports and agenda items were considered by the board, and all were passed or approved. Board Secretary Ashley McKee was absent.
The board was presented with the superintendent's reports on revenue, expenditures, payroll and taxes.
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