FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 24, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
We have officially moved into the Fall season and with that comes the expectation of cooler weather, the changing of the leaves, time with family and one of my favorite fall traditions…hunting season.
Here are five things happening around your state this month:
1. Propositions 1 & 7
Early election will begin on October 19th and I wanted to remind you of two very important propositions on the ballot. Proposition 7, a measure I authored during the 84th Legislative Session, will dedicate a portion of the state's sales and Motor Vehicle Sales Tax to the State Highway Fund for non-tolled roads and bridges. This will provide much needed funding for the state's aging and congested transportation system.
Proposition 1 will increase the homestead exemption for school district property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000. The increased homestead exemption is expected to save the average Texas homeowner approximately $120 per year. I encourage you to get out and vote on these important propositions. For more information on how to register to vote, or where to vote, you can visit www.votetexas.gov or call 1.800.252.VOTE (8683).
2. The Right to Hunt and Fish
Hunting and fishing has long been a part of Texas' heritage. With the height of the hunting season beginning and as you may be preparing for your next big hunt, I wanted to tell you about another proposition which will appear on the upcoming ballot.
If approved, Proposition 6 would add the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife to the Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution. It would also establish hunting and fishing as the preferred method of managing and controlling wildlife in Texas. By adding this 'right' to the Constitution, we will be able to protect the sporting traditions in our state from groups who would like to ban hunting.
3. School Finance Hearing
After the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion in school funding in late 2011, hundreds of school districts filed lawsuits against the state, stating the way school districts were funded was inadequate and inequitable. In early 2013, state District Judge John Dietz issued a verbal ruling stating that he believed funding for the state's schools was unconstitutional. Later that year, the 81st Legislature restored $3.7 billion of the cut funding for schools. In 2014, Judge Dietz reopened the school finance case in light of the restored funding, but once again found the funding unconstitutional. The State later appealed this decision directly to the Texas Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court began hearing arguments from both the state and school districts in early September of this year on this appeal. If they decide to uphold Judge Dietz's decision, the Legislature will have to come back in either the 85th Legislative Session or in a special session to determine a new school finance system. I will continue to keep you updated as the Supreme Court gets closer to making its own decision.
4. Criminal Justice and Mental Health
The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee met this past month to launch an inquiry into the safety of the state's county jails and the increasing number of suicides in Texas jails over the past few years. The Committee heard from law enforcement leaders and state correction officials on how the state could make jails safer, train staff to identify and help divert people with mental health problems from the criminal justice system, as well as how the state can make meaningful reforms.
Chairman John Whitmire stated that diverting nonviolent mentally ill prisoners into treatment programs would improve public safety while also saving lives and taxpayer's money. The Legislature has seen the need to improve our mental health resources and continues to dedicate additional funding. We must continue to improve access and our facilities, as well as ensure there is enough capacity to house these individuals.
5. Governor Abbott Rides the Rail
This past month, Governor Abbott became the eighth Governor of Texas to ride on the Texas State Railroad (TSR), since its opening as a historical passenger train in July 1976. Before boarding the train for a ride through the East Texas countryside from Palestine to Rusk, the Governor shared that trains had always played a key role in his life and his grandfather had been a train conductor. It was an honor to welcome him to our part of the state. If you have not visited the TSR, I encourage you to go and visit this important piece of Texas heritage. For more information, you can visit www.texasstaterr.com.