FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 27, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
We will soon celebrate Labor Day and say goodbye to the summer and look forward to the cooler weather of the fall. During this last summer holiday, whether you are among the many who are traveling or staying at home, I hope that you have a safe and enjoyable weekend with your friends and family.
Here are five things happening around your state this month:
1. November 3rd Election
On November 3rd, Texans have an opportunity to take part in one of the most important parts of our political system by heading to the polls to vote on seven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Through its 16 articles, including a Bill of Rights, the Constitution establishes the purposes and limits for our state government.
The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election is Monday, October 5th. Early voting will be from October 19th-30th. If you have not registered to vote or have questions about your registration, I encourage you to go to www.votetexas.gov or call 1.800.252.VOTE (8683) before the October 5th deadline.
2. Interim Charges
As the Legislature only meets in odd-numbered years for 140 days, there is a limited amount of time for all issues to be addressed. Because of this, the Legislature uses interim charges as a way to study and examine the different sides of an issue, provide suggestions for solutions and begin work on potential legislation for the next session. I recently submitted ideas to the Lt. Governor which included studying the long-term needs of state-owned mental health institutions and determining how we can modernize those facilities. I also asked for a review of how small school districts are funded in comparison to others, to ensure accountability and consistency, as well as how the state can be more efficient in purchasing electricity.
3. Redeeming Gift Cards
Have you ever found a forgotten gift card in your wallet? A new law will allow you to receive a cash refund on gift cards and certificates that have a balance of less than $2.50. The transaction must take place in person at the store. The law will not apply to prepaid calling cards, cards issued as part of a rewards program, cards issued as a refund for returned merchandise, cards issued by a bank or airline, or cards initially worth $5 that cannot have value added to them. Retailers are required by the state to send money from unused or expired gift cards to the state's comptroller's office after a certain period of time. Last year it was estimated that the comptroller's office was holding nearly $12 million worth of unclaimed gift cards. While most contain a balance of over $2.50, this new law will help individuals to capture unspent funds.
4. New laws for Sept. 1st.
While many bills passed during a legislative session went into effect the day they were signed by the Governor, most did not. Many are delayed until September 1 of the legislative year, or until the next year to give state agencies and the public time to become aware of new laws or changes to current law. It also marks the beginning of the fiscal year and the new budget cycle, which is important to note as some bills require funding to be put into action.
There are 678 bills which go into effect on September 1, 2015. Some of these you might recognize, including HB 11 which will add additional troops and support on the border and SB 18 which will increase funding for Graduate Medical Education (GME) in the state to address the lack of availability for medical students.
5. Texas Medal of Honor
Recently, Governor Greg Abbott awarded Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle and Lt. Colonel Ed Dyess the state's highest military honor, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. This honor is awarded in order to 'recognize gallant and intrepid service by a member of the state and federal military services."
Kyle, who was tragically killed in 2013, served as a Navy Seal sniper in Iraq with an admirable record. After retirement he worked with non-profit foundations to improve the lives of veterans in Texas. Dyess, who served in the Air Force, was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and held in captivity during the Bataan Death March. After the march, he led the war's only large scale prison break in the Pacific Theater. Governor Abbott stated in his speech "These two men lived decades apart, but they shared the common bond of uncommon valor."