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My Five Cents

April 29th, 2024 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

On April 21, 1836 the Battle of San Jacinto was fought and won by Sam Houston and the Texas army in a matter of minutes. Only nine Texans were killed while 630 Mexican soldiers died in the battle. Santa Anna was captured after the battle and with the victory, the Republic of Texas began.

Here are five things happening around your state:  

  1. East Texas law enforcement agencies receive grants

The Comptroller’s office announced this month it has delivered nearly $126 million in grants to rural law enforcement and prosecutor’s offices as part of a program designed to provide additional support to these offices. That’s about half of the total funding provided for the program by the Legislature last year. Over 500 qualified counties and prosecutor offices applied for the grant funding. The funding supports minimum salaries, raises, hiring additional staff, or purchases of safety equipment for rural sheriff, constable, and prosecutor’s offices. Supporting rural law enforcement is imperative to ensuring public safety in every part of our state. I was proud to support this legislation and am thrilled that our communities have taken advantage of this opportunity. 

  1. Rural hospitals eligible for millions in broadband infrastructure grants

The Texas Rural Hospital Broadband Infrastructure Program is open to receive grants. The program, facilitated by the Texas Department of Agriculture, is designed to improve the connectivity of rural hospitals to meet the needs of the patients they serve. The funding will support general broadband network upgrades and improvement. Requirements include strict standards for broadband speeds, installation of wi-fi infrastructure and network equipment to provide free internet coverage in the hospital for use by patients and the public, and certification that any project will not duplicate any investment from other sources of funding. Applications are due by Midnight on May 2. For more information visit https://texasagriculture.gov/Grants-Services/Grants-and-Services/Texas-Rural-Hospital-Broadband-Infrastructure-Program

  1. Texas Armed Services Scholarship Program applications opening soon 

Senator Nichols will soon be accepting applications for the Texas Armed Services Scholarship Program (TASSP). The program supports students to complete a college degree and become a member of either the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, Texas State Guard, United States Coast Guard, United States Merchant Marine, or a commissioned officer in any branch of the armed services of the United States. Each state senator may appoint one student to receive an initial conditional scholarship award. Awards will be the lesser of $15,000 or an amount not to exceed a student’s cost of attendance annually. Scholarship applicants must: submit an essay explaining why he/she believes military service is important, how he/she would fulfill the requirements of the scholarship and which university he/she would like to attend; submit a résumé, which must include his/her contact information, including his/her full name, mailing and physical addresses, Social Security number, Date of Birth, phone number and email address. Please submit up to 5 recommendation letters. Applicants may send application packets via email to Robert.Nichols@senate.texas.gov.

  1. TWC awards grants to Southeast Texas schools

This month, Governor Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission announced several Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grants totaling over $2 million for Gulf Coast schools. JET grants support career and technical education training programs by helping schools purchase and install equipment to train students for high-demand occupations. The JET program helps support school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, and public community, state, and technical colleges to create new or support existing CTE programs. Two of those grants are going to schools in SD 3, including: 

  • Lamar Institute of Technology – a $343,340 grant to train 90 students as welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers. 
  • Tarkington ISD: a $332,460 grant to train 145 students as welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers in partnership with Lone Star College System. 
  1. Charter Communications deploying broadband in East Texas

Charter Communications has been building out broadband infrastructure in East Texas over the past few years. The company won a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction award from the Federal Communications Commission which provides funding for the deployment of high-speed internet in rural areas. As of this month, Charter says they have served almost half of the locations they were awarded in East Texas through the RDOF process. Served locations are in Anderson, Hardin, Henderson, Jasper Jefferson, Newton, Orange, and Tyler Counties. Future projects are planned for Angelina, Cherokee, Houston, Nacogdoches, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, and Trinity Counties. Those counties should expect activations to start over the next year to year and a half. For more information, visit www.spectrumruralexpansion.com

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My Five Cents

March 31st, 2024 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

For the first time since 1878, Texans will see their first total solar eclipse next month. Total solar eclipses are rare because the sun, the moon, and the Earth must align such that the moon moves in between the sun and the Earth. Only people who are within the path of totality will be able to see the full effects of the eclipse. The path of totality encompasses a large swath of Texas including the DFW metroplex, Tyler, Austin and the Hill Country, and Del Rio. The eclipse will happen on April 8.  

Here are five things happening around your state:  

  1. Maternal Medicaid coverage extended to 12 months

Starting this month, Texas is extending coverage for postpartum care to 12 months for eligible Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) recipients. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which administers the programs, announced that anyone who is enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP who is pregnant or becomes pregnant is eligible for the extended coverage. Services covered by the programs include regular medical checkups, prescription drugs and vaccines, hospital care and services, X-rays and lab tests, vision and hearing care, specialty care, mental health care, and treatment for pre-existing conditions and special health needs. The agency projects approximately 137,000 women will benefit from 12-month postpartum coverage over the next year. Supporting women in the critical months after giving birth is essential to ensuring they can care for the families and themselves. 

  1. Texas Department of State Health Services announces grants for health centers 

The Texas DSHS is offering an additional $40 million for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in Texas that are offering expanded services to underserved and uninsured Texans. Last year, almost $20 million in grants were awarded to FQHCs and similar, eligible heath centers. The grants were used to build new clinics, renovate existing facilities, purchase equipment, and hire staff and health care providers. Grants ranged from $500,000 to $1 million and were awarded to 35 entities. These projects have served more than an estimated 200,000 patients. The continued funding and increase in funding for FQHCs expands access to heath care for communities that are underserved. I was happy to work with the Chair of Senate Finance Joan Huffman to ensure funding for these clinics was included in the budget. 

  1. SFA new president announced:

Last month, University of Texas System regents named Dr. Neal Weaver as the sole finalist for president of Stephen F. Austin State University. Dr. Weaver is currently the president of Georgia Southwestern State University, a member of the University of Georgia System. He has held that position for seven years. Before that, Dr. Weaver has held various positions across four public university systems over the span of his 33-year career in higher education. Dr. Weaver’s candidacy was recommended by a presidential search advisory committee chaired by UT System Chancellor James Milliken. Representatives from the SFA faculty, students, alumni, and community leaders were also on the search committee. Dr. Weaver earned a doctoral degree in organizational leadership from The University of Oklahoma, a Master of Business Administration from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He is originally from Oklahoma City. Welcome to the SFA community, Dr. Weaver! 

  1. Lamar State College Orange breaks ground on new student success center

Last month, LSCO held a Groundbreaking Ceremony for the new Student Success Center. The new center will be in the historic former First Baptist Church of Orange, which will be renovated extensively to support a streamlined enrollment process and other student services. However, elements of the original structure will be preserved, like the stained-glass windows and the building’s exterior. Staff from departments such as student services, financial aid, admissions, recruiting and advising will all have offices in the new center. LSCO is hoping to complete the project by the end of this year. 

  1. Comptroller announces grants to combat opioid overdoses

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced $25 million in grant funding is now available to distribute medication to reverse opioid overdoses through the Opioid Abatement Fund Council (OAFC). Governmental entities, nonprofits, and business entities are eligible to apply for this funding. Last year, a first-round of payments totaling almost $50 million were awarded to political subdivisions from the Opioid Abatement Trust Fund. Naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses, has been lifesaving in communities hit by the opioid crisis. With the ongoing flow of fentanyl across our southern border, Naloxone is a game changer for first responders and other community members. 

 

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My Five Cents

February 29th, 2024 Posted by fromthetrail 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

Next week, voters will make their voices heard in the Texas primaries. Don’t forget to make a plan to vote on March 5! 

Here are five things happening around your state:  

  1. TEA announces opening of Texas Student Heroes Award nominations

This month, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that nominations for the annual Student Heroes program are open. The program recognizes Texas public school students in prekindergarten through high school who do an outstanding volunteer service that benefits their fellow students, schools, or communities. One student from each of the 15 State Board of Education districts is recognized. Nominations can be submitted by anyone, including school personnel, other students, parents, or community members. To nominate a student, fill out the nomination form on TEA’s website and include a brief essay submitted by the nominator describing the student’s work. For questions, please email heroes@tea.texas.gov or call the SBOE support office at (512) 463-9007. 

  1. William B. Travis’ letter returns to the Alamo 

This month, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced that the original letter from Travis written at the Alamo pleading for back up and aid will return to the Alamo for a month to be displayed. The letter is on loan from the Texas State Library Archives Commission to the Alamo Exhibit at the Ralston Family Collections Center from February 23 through March 24. This comes just in time for Texas to celebrate Texas Independence Day on March 2. Because of the brave sacrifices of the men who paid the ultimate price defending the Alamo, Texas went on to win the war for independence from Mexico and the Republic of Texas was born. We celebrate that independence 188 years later. Viewing this historic document, which famously declared ‘Victory or Death,’ is a remarkable opportunity for the public to enjoy. 

  1. Comptroller marks Unclaimed Property Day, $4 billion in unclaimed property

On February 1, the Comptroller joined other states’ unclaimed property administrators to celebrate the fourth annual Unclaimed Property Day. Unclaimed property includes things such as forgotten utility deposits or other refunds, insurance proceeds, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts, and abandoned safe-deposit boxes. The Comptroller’s Office reported it has returned more than $4 billion in unclaimed property since the program began in 1962. The state currently holds more than $8 billion in cash and other valuables through the program. The average value of an approved claim is more than $1,000. To check to see if you have Unclaimed Property, visit www.ClaimItTexas.gov

  1. Wildfire rages in the panhandle, already one of the worst in state’s history 

This week, Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 Texas counties in response to the ongoing and widespread wildfires. The Texas Panhandle is facing losses to life and property as over a million acres have burned. These fires are already considered the worst in state history. The largest active fire is the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which started in Hutchinson County. Firefighters from across the state have been deployed to the region to help contain the fires, as well as the Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Division of Emergency Management, and other emergency response personnel. Our prayers are with our West Texas friends during this difficult time. 

  1. Texas School Safety Center releases District Audit Report on safety and security in school districts 

This month the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) released the 2020-2023 District Audit Report (DAR). The purpose of the DAR is to provide key results of the safety and security audits completed by school districts over the three year period. To be clear, this is a self-assessment completed by districts and submitted to the TxSSC for review. The report reflects insights developed from those audits on an aggregate level. The findings in this report highlight districts ongoing commitment to safety – 99.4% of districts reported completing audits for all of their instructional facilities during this cycle, 99.7% of districts reported having a school safety and security committee, and 98.7% of districts reported adopting a multi-hazard emergency operations plan for use in their district’s facilities. However, there were some key findings that need improvement, namely only 35.8% of districts had not reported their safety and security audit results to their district’s board of trustees and only 40.5% of districts reported conducting an active threat exercise, including an active shooter simulation during the 2020-2023 audit cycle. While much has been done over the past several years to improve school safety, these audit reports show that there are still improvements to be made. 

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My Five Cents

January 25th, 2024 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

One hundred and eighty-five years ago this month, the Republic of Texas passed a piece of legislation that set the framework for education funding to this day. On January 26, 1839, a bill passed that set aside land for public schools in Texas and two public universities. It fulfilled the vision President Mirabeau Lamar had for a public education system endowed by public lands in the state. Though not immediately successful, the program had lasting impacts and earned Lamar the nickname “Father of Texas Education.” 

Here are five things happening around your state:  

  1. Senator Zaffirini becomes first female Dean of the Senate

Sen. Judith Zaffirini officially became the Dean of the Senate with the retirement of Sen. John Whitmire last month. The Dean of the Senate is the position bestowed on the longest serving senator. The dean oversees much of the timing, procedure, and function of the Senate. Sen. Zaffirini was first elected in 1986, making her the first Mexican American woman to serve in the upper chamber. Over her decades in service, she has been a well-respected and consistent member of the Senate. In fact, she has a record 72,132 consecutive votes. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside such a distinguished member. Congratulations on this well-earned honor, Sen. Zaffirini! 

  1. Southeast Texas ports receive $66 million from state to improve safety, infrastructure 

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recently announced $240 million in grant funding for Texas ports. Approximately $66 million of those funds will go to four Southeast Texas ports to split between six projects. The Port of Port Arthur, Port of Beaumont, Port of Orange, and Port of Sabine Pass will all benefit from the funding. The six projects include building a flyover project in Port of Port Arthur, increasing cargo capacity, and adding stop lights in Port of Beaumont, building a trans motor yard and truck queuing area in Port of Orange, and repairing sheet piling in Port of Sabine Pass. Authorities anticipate these projects increasing safety at the ports and promoting economic development in the region. 

  1. Rural law enforcement grant applications now available

The Comptrollers Office announced that rural law enforcement grants became available for departments to submit applications starting January 1. These grants stem from Senate Bill 22, passed during the 88th regular session by Senator Drew Springer. The bill established a grant program within the Comptroller’s Office to provide financial assistance to sheriff’s departments, constable’s offices, and district and county attorney’s offices in eligible counties. The funding is intended to supplement salaries for various positions in rural areas. Eligibility requirements mandate an office or department must serve counties with overall populations of 300,000 or less and certain conditions related to specific salary levels are met. If a county already pays the minimum salary levels for the sheriff, deputies, and jailers, the county may still apply for funds for additional personnel or equipment. To apply or find more information, visit https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/development/grants/rural/.  

  1. General Land Office approves increase to Veteran Home Loan amounts

This month, the General Land Office announced an increase to the Veterans Home Loan amount from $726,200 to $766.550. All qualified veterans will continue to receive competitive interest rates. Veterans with a qualified service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or greater qualify for a discounted interest rate. Veterans utilizing this benefit may be eligible for home loans with no down0payment and no private mortgage insurance. Veterans can also use the program more than once. For more information, visit the Veterans Land Board’s website at https://s3.glo.texas.gov/vlb/loans/home-loans/

  1. Freezing weather delays crawfish season  

According to local boil shops, the weather conditions we have recently experienced are causing a delay in the crawfish supply. Due to a drought in Louisiana last year and the freezing temperatures in January, crawfish are not expected to reach harvest size until March. That is causing many boil shops to delay their opening for at least two months as many were set to open in January. 

My Five Cents

November 30th, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

The year is coming to a close and the holidays are fast approaching. Have a fun and safe holiday season!

Here are five things happening around your state:  

  1. Texas still number one for domestic in-migration

Last year, Texas again was the number one destination for Americans moving to another state, according to State-to-State Migration Flows data from the Census Bureau. The most signification migration flows occurred between Texas and other high-population states, like California and Florida, and geographically close states, like Oklahoma and Colorado. People moving from California, New York, and Oregon represented the highest net gains for Texas. There were some losses for Texas, though at a much smaller scale. States including South Carolina and Rhode Island saw net gains from Texas. Texas has been one of the fastest-growing states over the past several years. Continued population growth helps drive economic growth and development as well. Texas remains an attractive place for people to move because of our strong economy, abundance of opportunity, and low taxes. 

  1. Carbon capture in concrete makes concrete stronger 

New and creative efforts to reduce our carbon footprint are on the horizon, and this one is particularly strong. It’s referred to as “green concrete,” which uses a method of injecting captured carbon dioxide into concrete as it’s being mixed. The result is stronger concrete, less cement used, and a reduction in carbon emissions. Once the concrete is injected with carbon dioxide, the compound will never be released, even if the project is destroyed. Industry continues to develop new and innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions. 

  1. Battleship Texas may have found its new home

The Battleship Texas, one of the most historic battleships in US history having served in both World War I and II, is currently in Galveston undergoing much-needed repairs. The ship was previously located near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. However, as the ship’s condition deteriorated, a bill was passed to fund the repairs. In August of 2022, the ship moved to Galveston, and a plan is underway to dock it in Galveston permanently. The City of Galveston and the Port of Galveston Board of Trustees recently agreed to develop a lease proposal for the USS Texas. The agreement would still need approval from the US Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and an agreement with the Galveston-Texas City Pilots. The Battleship Texas Foundation is also working on an agreement with Landry’s, an organization with world-class operational, entertainment, and hospitality expertise, to enhance the Battleship Texas experience. Meanwhile, the restoration process has shifted to the second phase, titled “Bring Her Home!” This phase is focused on creating an enriching visitor experience with emphasis on restoring 60 spaces with interactive and technology-driven exhibits, guided tours, and other visitor amenities. Saving the Battleship Texas has been an ongoing passion project of mine and I am happy to see things progressing smoothly with the restoration. 

  1. General Land Office approves $48.5M for DETCOG regional mitigation

The GLO announced the approval of over $48 million in new regional mitigation funds for eight projects in the DETCOG service area. The infrastructure projects vary including improving water facilities, streets, and roadside drainage systems, and construction of public community resource centers and shelters. Three East Texas counties have communities receiving funds – Newton, Polk, and Tyler. Newton County is receiving over $13 million to construct a new community center and shelter and the City of Newton is receiving over $2.5 million for water and sewer improvements. In Polk County, Onalaska and Livingston are receiving funds for street improvements, while the county received a total of around $17 million for water facilities, street, and drainage system improvements and road and water control systems improvements at three plants. Lastly, Tyler County is receiving almost $12 million for drainage, water, and street improvements and a Colmesneil area emergency generator. All these projects are federally eligible and are funded with federal dollars. 

  1. School districts begin receiving school safety grants 

During the regular session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 30, the supplemental appropriations bill. That bill included $1.1 billion for school safety initiatives, mostly focused on improving infrastructure at Texas schools. Before session began, TEA drafted updated facilities standards for existing school district campuses. These updated facilities requirements are anticipated to be paid for largely by the $1.1 billion appropriation. Districts filled out a survey regarding how compliant their existing facilities were with the updated requirements. Those surveys served as the basis for the grants awarded and the amount each district received. 

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Texas Sen. Robert Nichols is a devoted husband and father who shares our conservative East Texas values. Sen. Nichols cares deeply about Texas and our country.