FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 26, 2014
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
With the results of the November 4th election, there will be several new faces at the State Capitol. This is the first time in many years there has been such a large turnover in both statewide positions and the Texas Senate.
It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve as your State Senator and I am grateful for the opportunity to represent you for four more years.
Here are five things happening around your state:
1. Passing of Proposition 1
Proposition 1 was overwhelmingly approved with an 80% favorable vote on Election Day. This constitutional amendment will allow a portion of the state's oil and gas production tax revenue to flow into the state's highway fund to build and maintain non-tolled roads and bridges.
As more people move to our state and more vehicles are on the roads, the demand on our infrastructure has increased significantly. The passing of Proposition 1 was a great victory and a big step towards solving the problem, but there is still much to be done. During the upcoming legislative session, I will file a constitutional amendment which would dedicate a portion of the existing sales tax on new and used automobiles to the state highway fund. Approval of this constitutional amendment will give TxDOT a predictable revenue stream which they can use to implement long-range transportation plans.
2. New Bills Filed
On November 10, early filing of bills for the upcoming 84th Legislative Session began. I filed Senate Bill 178, which would prohibit state or local governments from taking private land for recreational purposes. I do not believe that any homeowner should lose the roof over their head or property so others can have a place to play.
I have also filed Senate Joint Resolution 14, a constitutional amendment to slow rapidly rising taxable values on Texas homes. Because of escalating tax appraisals, home ownership has become less affordable. SJR 14 will cut the maximum rate of increase in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent on your homestead. When your property value increases, it doesn't necessarily mean you have more money in your pocket. We need to work to keep the maximum increase as low as possible so homeowners can continue to afford living in their homes.
3. Health and Human Services Commission
The Sunset Advisory Commission recently met to discuss recommendations for the Health and Human Services Commission including the suggested consolidation of the five state health agencies. This would be a continuation of the work the Legislature did in 2003, when 12 health agencies were consolidated into the present five agencies. These proposed changes are intended to improve the continuity within the state's health system. A subcommittee has been tasked to further examine the consolidation.
The Office of Inspector General in the Health and Human Services Commission (OIG), whose job is to recover money lost to Medicaid fraud, was also evaluated due to recent trouble in carrying out their tasks. It is estimated more than $1 billion has been overbilled to Medicaid in recent years, but investigators recovered only about $5.5 million. A separate subcommittee has been tasked with studying what changes could be made to improve the OIG.
4. Tightening of Rules
In response to a growing concern that high pressure injection wells can cause earthquakes, the Texas Railroad Commission voted unanimously to tighten rules for injection wells. These rulings would require disposal well operators to research U.S. Geological Survey data for a history of earthquakes within 100 square miles of a proposed well site before they apply for a permit.
The proposal would also give the commission authority to change, suspend or terminate a permit for a well that is believed to have caused earthquakes. These proposed rules create a fair balance between protecting our natural resources and allowing oil and gas production in our state.
5. Happy Holidays!
As we head into the holidays, I am reminded and thankful of the opportunity I had in the 83rd Legislature to sponsor the 'Merry Christmas' bill. This bill protects the ability of those in Texas public schools to use traditional holiday greetings such as 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Hanukkah' on school grounds and to educate students about the history and roots of such holidays without fear of legal action.
This was a step forward in ensuring our traditional values and beliefs are being upheld in our state. If you would like more information on this bill and how it affects your school district, please visit www.merrychristmastexas.com.