FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 19, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
This week we celebrated President's Day. George Washington, who is also known as the "Father of our Country", is one that I admire the most. Through his skills, leadership and longing to live in a country of free people, he helped lay the foundation for our country's future by building a lasting democratic institution. These principles have stood the test of time and guide every decision I make as I represent you in the Texas Senate.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. State of the State
On Tuesday, at a joint session of the Texas Senate and House, Governor Abbott gave the State of the State address. He began by recognizing Texas for leading the country in job creation for so many years. On this foundation of success, he believes the Legislature will be able to build "an even better Texas."
The Governor laid out the emergency items in his budget, which included ensuring we returned local control back to the school districts of Texas and the importance of expanding the university system in Texas. His budget will more than double state spending on border security and add 500 new state troopers for border security. He also spoke about adding more than $4 billion a year to build more roads in Texas without raising taxes, fees or tolls. The sources for his funding plan include money from Proposition 1, approved last year, the end of highway fund tax diversions, and the redirection of one-half of existing motor vehicle sales taxes.
2. Immigration Lawsuit
Recently, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville ruled against President Obama's order to shield up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Two programs which formalized the immigrant status of more than 600,000 people nationwide, since 2012, were set to expand this week. With this ruling, the expansion of this and an additional similar program has been halted.
In December 2014, then State Attorney General Abbott and 25 other states filed a lawsuit which would block the president's executive actions on behalf of Texas. Judge Hanen stated the Obama administration's programs would impose major burdens on states by straining states budgets with an increased number of illegal immigrants. He also stated the administration had not followed the required procedures for changing federal rules. Approximately 743,000 illegal immigrants in Texas qualify for the expanded and new programs, and this injunction takes away their protection from deportation and other benefits provided.
3. Increasing Physicians in State
I have co-authored Senate Bill 18, by Senator Jane Nelson, which would increase funding for Graduate Medical Education (GME) in the state. With the addition of new medical students in existing and new medical schools around the state, there are not enough graduate medical education spots available for every medical school graduate.
This bill would implement new programs to create and maintain residency programs for physicians in critical shortage areas across the state, as well as increase the number of family and primary doctors in rural and high need communities. An endowment would also be created, to be used solely to help grow GME programs starting in fiscal year 2018.
4. Texas Forest Service
This week I had the honor of recognizing the Texas Forest Service in the Texas Senate as they celebrated their Centennial. The Texas Forest Service was created in 1915 by the 34th Texas Legislature as part of the Texas A&M University System. Originally this program was focused on the forests of East Texas, but over the last 20 years they have established a statewide presence in their wildfire prevention and suppression role.
Additionally, they respond to other incidents such as hurricanes and floods, train teams of local emergency response staff, and assist landowners and communities with the management and protection of forests and trees. I am thankful for the services the The Texas Forest Service provides as they are especially important in my district.
5. Oldest Veteran in the Nation
During the State of the State address, Governor Abbott recognized a special guest, Richard Arvine Overton. Mr. Overton, who resides in Austin, TX, is believed to be the nation's oldest veteran at the age of 108 years old. He was born in 1906 and served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. After the war, he worked at local furniture stores before taking a position with the Texas Treasury Department in Austin. It was an honor to meet Mr. Orton and recognize him for his service to his country.