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Early voting now underway

October 25, 2023 - 00:00
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Early voting is now underway for the Nov. 7 general election. Voters will decide the fate of 14 proposed amendments, including measures to provide property tax relief and raise the homestead exemption to $100,000.

A nonpartisan explanation of what each proposition entails has been produced by the Texas Legislative Council and can be found at this link: https://tinyurl. com/5n946d32.

There are also bond elections for school districts across the state, as well as municipal and school board elections, depending on where you live. Contact your county’s election administrator or check the county’s website to see what local elections are being held.

House unveils limited school choice plan The Republican chair of the Texas House public education committee has filed a bill that increases education funding with one-time bonuses for school employees as well as education savings accounts on a limited basis, The Dallas Morning News reported.

The Senate has already passed a voucher plan in this third session, but the House has balked, with opposition coming from rural Republicans and most Democrats. State Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, has said he would not call for a committee meeting unless Gov. Greg Abbott includes teacher pay raises and school financing as agenda items for this session. Abbott has maintained he wouldn’t do so until the Legislature passed a voucher plan, or what he terms school choice.

“We continue to have productive conversations with House members,” Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris told The News. “The governor looks forward to reaching an agreement on school choice, at which point he will gladly expand the call.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats last week released their own plan to revamp school funding, which would provide a $15,000 bonus for Texas school employees, admittedly a long shot.

“We have this bill today because it is the opposite of a voucher scam,” said Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “We need the money that’s in this bill because that is the future of Texas.”

The bill would also increase per-student school funding by almost $2,800. The likelihood of passage is slim in the GOP-dominated House.

Vaccine mandate ban passes Senate A ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employees of private businesses in Texas passed the Texas Senate Friday. The ban includes doctors’ offices and other health facilities, though those facilities could still require unvaccinated employees to wear face masks.

The bill passed 19-12 along party lines, according to the Texas Standard. Supporters said the bill allows individuals to make their own health care decisions without jeopardizing their jobs.

“No one should be forced to make that awful decision between making a living for their family and their health or individual vaccine preference,” sponsor Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, told senators during a hearing.

A state law banning governmental entities from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine passed during the regular session and went into effect last month.

Well plugging program receives national recognition After completing a complex project to remove surface casings on four wells plugged in the Neches River for more than four decades, the Texas Railroad Commission’s well plugging program received accolades from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

The casings had posed risks to boaters as the river’s depth decreased due to recent droughts.

“The commission has been nationally recognized for our well plugging program and this award is yet another example of the reputation we have gained in our commitment to protecting Texans and the environment,” said Wei Wang, executive director.

The RRC has received more than $300 million from the federal government to plug, remediate and reclaim orphaned wells across the state. The money came from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress during the first year of the Biden administration.

Summer heat wave slows state economy Besides making outdoor living and work miserable, last summer’s record heat wave possibly cost the state’s economy $24 billion, according to economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Their analysis found extreme heat reduced the state’s gross domestic product by 1 percentage point, the Texas Tribune reported.

Extreme heat reduces agricultural production, slows down construction projects, and keeps people from going out to shop or dine, the analysis indicated. The sectors most affected by extreme heat were leisure, hospitality, and retail.

“The economy will need to adapt,” Anil Kumar, an economic policy advisor and senior economist at the Dallas Fed and one of the authors of the analysis, told the Tribune. “Communities may adapt by adopting more technology to be more sustainable and other ways to mitigate the effects of heat waves.”

The heat wave was also life-threatening. At least 97 Texans died from heat-related illness, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress. com