Posts in fromthetrail

My Five Cents

March 10th, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

It’s time to spring forward! Daylight Saving Time begins this weekend. Remember to set your clocks forward Saturday night. 

Here are five things happening around your state: 

  1. Bill filing deadline   

This Friday, March 10 marks the end of the bill filing period for the 88th Legislature. After Friday, no more general law bills can be filed. There are exceptions for local bills. After the deadline, the Legislature and the public will have a good idea about the total number of bills filed and what they do. Then, the real work begins. More bills will be voted out of committee and begin to make their way through the process. From now until May 29, we’ll be hearing and voting on legislation at a rapid pace. 

  1. Senate school safety legislation filed, referred to committee  

Last week, I filed Senate Bill 11 which builds on the work of previous legislatures on school safety. The bill is based on the work of the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, which I chaired. There are six main components of this legislation: increasing the school safety allotment by creating a per campus funding formula, establishing the Office of School Safety and Security, delineating responsibility between TEA and the Texas School Safety Center, creating School Safety Review Teams, enhancing truancy prevention tactics, and allowing districts to share discipline records for students who transfer schools. 

During our committee hearings, we heard from school districts that the current school safety allotment rate of $9.72 per student per year was insufficient to meet their needs. For districts that get little funding, maintaining a high standard of safety and security depletes already limited funding for their classrooms. In the bill as filed, each district would receive $15,000 per campus in their district. On top of that, districts would receive $10 per student per year for school safety. The creation of School Safety Review teams is another essential piece to school safety. The team would work with districts on school safety and physically go to each campus and evaluate the school’s safety and security. These important reforms will help enhance our children’s safety at school. 

  1. Supplemental budget bill heard in committee  

This week, the Senate Finance Committee heard Senate Bill 30, the supplemental appropriations bill. The supplemental appropriations bill is used to close out the previous biennium budget process and appropriate any left over funds. Included in the supplemental appropriations bill is $3.8 billion to pay customer rate relief charges associated with Winter Storm Uri, $2.3 billion to expand inpatient mental health care capacity, $600 million for school safety and security grants, and $1 billion for a benefit enhancement for retired teachers, among other things. The funds come from a mix of federal and state dollars. The bill was voted out of committee and will go to the floor soon. 

  1. First bills voted out of Senate  

This week Senate Bill 372 and Senate Bill 728, both by Senator Joan Huffman, were voted on the Senate Floor and sent to the House this week. This marks an important milestone in the legislative session. Senate Bill 372 creates a criminal offense for the unauthorized disclosure of non-public judicial opinions and judicial work product. In the summer of 2021, someone working at the US Supreme Court leaked a draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an opinion which overturned Roe v. Wade. This bill would protect Texas judicial opinions from being leaked. The other bill, Senate Bill 728, brings the state in line with the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This bill would require clerks to report certain information related to juvenile mental health records to the Department of Public Safety, which reports information to the National Interstate Criminal Background Check System (NICS). These records will be part of the background check conducted when a person buys a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee. 

  1. THECB offers new low-interest loan option

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is now offering a new low-interest loan option for Texas students. The Future Occupations and Reskilling Workforce Advancement to Reach Demand (FORWARD) Loan Program is designed to help students who are seeking to obtain a high-value credential in a high-demand occupation. The loan should help reduce the debt burden on students by allowing students to repay the loan over 10 years. The loans are open to students that will be able to complete their program in two years or less and are in high-demand programs like technology, nursing, teaching, supply chain/transportation and logistics, and energy.

My Five Cents

March 2nd, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

On March 2, we celebrate Texas Independence Day! On that day in 1836, a delegate from each of the 59 existing settlements in Texas signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. This document officially declared Texas’ independence from Mexico and created the Republic of Texas. The delegation met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and also organized the interim government, naming Sam Houston commander-in-chief of the republic’s military forces.

Here are five things happening around your state: 

  1. Teacher Vacancy Task Force releases recommendations   

Last week, the Teacher Vacancy Task Force released recommendations to help with teacher retention and recruitment. The task force was established in March of last year by Governor Abbott to examine the challenges teacher’s face and why teachers are leaving the profession. The state is facing a severe teacher shortage and school districts are doing their best with the resources they have. The task force included teachers and school administrators from across Texas. The task force developed three key areas that need to be addressed: compensation, training and support, and working conditions. According to the task force, teacher’s need an increase in overall compensation, including benefits, and additional strategic compensation strategies. There is also a need to improve the teacher pipeline, expand training and support for teacher mentorship, and provide access to high-quality instructional materials. Lastly, the task force identified working conditions that led to a lack of value for teachers’ time and a need to ensure culture and discipline supports. To read more about the task force’s findings, go to

  1. Senate Bill 3 filed, raises homestead exemption to $70,000

This week Senator Paul Bettencourt filed Senate Bill 3 and Senate Joint Resolution 3 which would raise that homestead exemption to $70,000. This would be a 75 percent increase in the current homestead exemption which is currently $40,000. All 31 members of the Texas Senate, including me, have signed on as co-authors to the bill and the constitutional amendment. This change would provide an additional $341 in savings on school taxes for the average homeowner each year. Senate Bill 3 is one of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s top priorities. Delivering property tax relief has never been more important as property values and inflation rise. I look forward to voting for this important legislation and working with our counterparts in the House to pass meaningful property tax relief. 

  1. Jobs and Education for Texans grant application now available 

The Texas Workforce Commission announced the agency is now accepting applications for Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grants. JET grants are given to public junior, state, and technical colleges, and Texas independent school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, and the Windham School District. The funding is for career and technical education programs, including equipment, in those education entities. The education courses lead to a license, certificate, or post-secondary degree and many include dual-credit and technical education programs. The JET program also supports employers by preparing students for careers in high-demand jobs in local businesses. The program currently has $8.6 million available. Applications are now open with a deadline of March 14. 

  1. Senate Bill 2 raises illegal voting penalty

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted out Senate Bill 2 this week. The bill, authored by Senator Bryan Hughes, would increase the penalty for illegal voting from a misdemeanor to a second degree felony, which was the penalty prior to 2021. Illegal voting has been a felony for almost 50 years, and this bill treats it with the degree of seriousness it deserves. This bill is also a priority of the Lt. Governor this session and I look forward to working with the rest of the members of the Senate and the House on this legislation. 

  1. TxDOT developing record $100 billion plan for projects

The Texas Department of Transportation is proposing a record $100 billion unified transportation plan that will increase the number of projects approved over the next ten years. This is projected to be $15 billion more than the 2023 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) and is based on revenue for the state, derived from the growth in Proposition 1 revenues. The projects would improve congestion, maintain roadways, and increase safety across the state. TxDOT currently has more than $33 billion in transportation projects under constructions throughout Texas with more than 7,000 transportation projects underway or scheduled to break ground in 2023. TxDOT will be evaluating projects for inclusion in the 2024 UTP through May. 

My Five Cents

February 24th, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

On February 24, 1836, William B. Travis wrote his famous letter from the Alamo. He wrote the defenders would never “surrender or retreat” and ended with the iconic line “Victory or Death.” 

Here are five things happening around your state: 

  1. Governor Abbott announces emergency items   

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott gave his State of the State address. In that address, he listed his seven emergency items that he is asking the Legislature to address this session. Emergency items identified by the Governor are special because the Legislature can begin to address and vote on them immediately rather than waiting the requisite 60 days for passing normal legislation. The seven items the governor identified include cutting property taxes, ending COVID-19 restrictions, expanding school choice, school safety, continued bail reform, border security, and combatting the fentanyl crisis. Outside of his emergency items, the governor mentioned several other priorities including increasing infrastructure funding, creating new economic development tools, and mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession by criminals, among other things. 

Now that the Governor’s emergency items have been established, the Legislature can begin working on these issues. Committees should also begin meeting in the next few weeks and the bill filing deadline is on March 10. 

  1. Bill filed to move Stephen F. Austin State University to the UT System

This week, I filed Senate Bill 1055 which would formally place SFA within the UT System and sets up a framework for that to happen. The bill directly names the university as Stephen F. Austin State University, a member of the University of Texas System. It was important to the community that the university retain its name, colors, and mascot as part of its identity. An important note about the legislation as filed, the caption reads that the bill is “abolishing Stephen F. Austin State University.” I’d like the community to know that language is necessary for SFA to be eligible to receive certain funds in the UT System. This bill will not alter SFA’s current presence or change much on a day-to-day basis for students and faculty. The transition to the UT System will take place over the summer at the direction of the UT Board of Regents. Both universities are excited about the transition and are working together to ensure a seamless transition. This is an exciting time for both SFA and the surrounding community. 

  1. Senate Finance work groups announced 

The Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Joan Huffman announced work groups for Senate Finance this week. In the Senate, the Finance Committee breaks the entire budget down by article and assigns groups of senators to go through them line-by-line to make decisions on agencies and their appropriation requests. This session I am honored to again chair the work group on Articles 6, 7, and 8. Those articles cover agencies that relate to natural resources, business and economic development, and regulatory agencies. Joining me in our work group are Sen. Royce West, Sen. Charles Schwertner, and Sen. Charles Perry. Together we will oversee billions of dollars in appropriations. I look forward to working with my colleagues on making recommendations to the rest of the Finance Committee and Chair Huffman. 

  1. Texas A&M Forest Service offering grants for volunteer firefighter recruitment 

The Texas A&M Forest Service announced last week that it is offering new Volunteer Recruitment Resources grants design to help rural volunteer fire departments recruit and retain firefighters and enhance public safety. Eligible departments can apply for reimbursement of all of the total costs for recruitment up to $3,000. Those allowable uses include reimbursements for banners, mailouts, billboards, and other promotional items. The fund has a total of $300,000 in federal funds available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Eligible departments must serve a rural area with a population of 10,000 people or less, must be certified by the Texas Division of Emergency Management and have a National Incident Management System, must not be debarred, suspended or declared ineligible, and must be comprised of at least 80 percent volunteer personnel. 

  1. Texas ranked first in Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness

Texas once again came in first as the best state for Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness, according to PwC. In the publications ninth ratings report, the rankings considered key variables such as cost, labor, infrastructure, industry, economy, and tax policy. Texas ranked number one in tax policy and economy and number two in industry. Rounding out the top five were Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana.  Texas is already home to several space-related organizations like Blue Origin, Space X, and NASA. 

My Five Cents

February 16th, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

On February 15, 1876, Texas adopted the Constitution of 1876. The document is the sixth constitution by which Texas has been governed since declaring independence from Mexico. Despite having been amended more than 230 times, it remains the basic law of Texas today. 

Here are five things happening around your state: 

  1. Lt. Governor Patrick releases list of priority bills   

Earlier this week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a list of 30 pieces of legislation that he would like to see passed this session. Included in the list are the state budget, electric grid improvements, property tax relief, school safety, mental health care, and other priorities. These bills will have low bill numbers, which indicates their importance to the Lt. Governor. In his press release, the Lt. Governor made note that several policy initiatives are addressed in the budget and thus will not need a bill. However, those policies are still a priority, including border security funding. Most of these bills will be filed over the next few weeks and will move through the committee process. To see a full list, go to

  1. Stephen F. Austin State University honored for centennial anniversary on Senate Floor

Stephen F. Austin State University President Dr. Steve Westbrook and other SFA respresentatives were honored on the Senate Floor this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the university. SFA’s storied history began in 1923 when 270 students matriculated at the college, which was a teaching university at the time. The State Board of Regents selected Nacogdoches as the location of the new college because of its heritage as the oldest town in Texas. The homestead of Thomas J. Rusk, formerly owned by Sam Houston, was chosen as the site for the new college. Rusk and Houston had each served as the original two US Senators from Texas. Today, more than 11,000 students are enrolled at SFA and the university has expanded its offerings to more than 120 areas of study. Congratulations to everyone who has made SFA the outstanding university it has become! 

  1. Data privacy bill filed in the Senate 

Last week, I filed Senate Bill 821 to continue the work I began last session on data privacy. Last session, I authored Senate Bill 15 which prevented certain state agencies from selling personal data to companies that did not need that data. This session, my work continues in SB 821. This bill would require the Sunset Advisory Commission to evaluate whether or not a state agency is selling personal data, why they are selling the data, what statute authorizes them to sell the data, and to whom they are selling data. The Sunset Advisory Commission is tasked with evaluating the need for and performance of state agencies on a rolling basis. Each agency is required to go through the Sunset process typically every 12 years. That process is lengthy and closely examines an agency’s mission, purpose, programs, and performance and addresses any problems identified. This bill would add personal data privacy protections to the sunset process and leave a lasting legacy of data privacy.  

  1. Angelina County approves $80 million grant for battery construction 

The Angelina County Commissioner’s Court approved an $80 million grant from the Economic Development Grant Program for a the construction of Martinez Energy Storage. The project is intended to build a battery that will store excess energy that Angelina Country can use during peak consumption hours. Energy will be stored when there is excess power and will be redistributed when it’s needed. The deal includes a 10-year tax abatement of 70 percent and the company will hire 50 temporary workers for the construction project. 

  1. State employee maternity leave bill referred to Senate Business and Commerce Committee

This week, Senate Bill 222 was referred to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. This bill, which I authored, gives state employees a paid maternity leave benefit for four weeks after the birth of a child. If an employee adopts a child, has a child via surrogate, or their partner has a child, the benefit is two weeks of paid leave. It is important to support families during the transformative time of welcoming a child into their home. The state should lead on this issue and guarantee family leave for state employees. Now that the bill has been referred, it will get set for a hearing by the chair of the committee. Typically, committees start hearings on specific legislation in mid-March after the bill filing deadline. 

My Five Cents

February 10th, 2023 Posted by fromthetrail, Photography 0 thoughts on “My Five Cents”

Super Bowl LVII is this weekend and, for the first time in history, both starting quarterbacks are from the great state of Texas. Whichever team you support, it will be a win for the Lone Star State!

Here are five things happening around your state: 

  1. Business and Commerce hearing on the electric grid   

This week the Senate Business and Commerce Committee met to discuss possible redesign of the electric market and the electric grid. Representatives from the Public Utility Commission, the grid manager, and the Independent Market Monitor attended to give testimony and answer questions about the PUCs recent decision to adopt a new market design known as the Performance Credit Mechanism, or PCM. Essentially, the PCM is meant to help produce enough power in peak demand hours when electricity production drops due to equipment breakdown or renewable energy sources go offline. It’s designed to incent the creation of new gas-powered generation plants that would produce during critical, “high-risk” hours and would require utilities and retailers that consumed power during those hours to buy performance credits from the generators. Concerns were raised about the reliability of the proposed new system and it’s ability to incentivize construction of plants that produce dispatchable electricity, meaning electricity that can be turned off and on as needed. The committee will continue to discuss options to ensure grid reliability in the market redesign process. 

  1. Online sports betting bills filed in the House, Senate

This week Senator Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Jeff Leach filed bills in their respective chambers that would allow Texans to bet on sporting events. Legalizing sports betting would require a change to the state constitution, so the bills would have to receive a 2/3rds vote in both chambers and then go before the voters in November. If the measure passed in November, Texans could start placing bets in 2024. The bill would require any revenue collected by the state from sports betting to go to education, specifically for property tax relief. The Texas Lottery Commission would be charged with overseeing and regulating the industry. In total, 36 states have approved legalized sports betting, whether through online platforms or in casinos. The bills as introduced here would allow Texans to use online platforms. 

  1. Opal Lee portrait unveiled in the Senate 

The Grandmother of Juneteenth, Opal Lee, was honored on the Senate floor this week during the unveiling of her portrait. The portrait was commissioned by the Texas Senate and created by native Texas artist Jess Coleman. Opal Lee is best known for her work to make Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. President Biden signed a bill to officially recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021. It was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was created in 1983. Her portrait will join the late Rep. Barbara Jordan’s as the only two Black Texans to have portraits in the Senate chamber. 

  1. Governor announces plan to ban TikTok on all state devices 

This week Governor Abbott announced a plan to ensure security on personal and state-issued devices by banning TikTok on those devices, among other measures. The social media app TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, that has been linked to the Chinese government. The app collects data from users that can be sensitive or personal in nature. There has been some concern about TikTok posing a national security threat because of the data it collects. The Governor’s new cybersecurity initiatives would ban and prevent the download or use of TikTok and prohibited technologies on any state-issued device. It would also prohibit employees or contractors from conducting state business on prohibited technology-enabled personal devices, prohibit those devices from entering sensitive areas, and implement network-based restrictions so that prohibited technology couldn’t be used on state networks. It’s imperative that the state protects sensitive information and critical infrastructure from cybersecurity threats. This plan is an important step in that direction. 

  1. Nederland ISD teacher wins 2023 Milken Educator Award

This week, Jenna Dean, a fourth grade teacher at Helena Park Elementary School in Nederland, was awarded the Milken Educator Award. The award is given to outstanding teachers who are in the early-to-mid point in their career for their accomplishments and for the promise of what’s to come. Recipients receive a $25,000 unrestricted award. The program was created by Lowell Milken in 1987 and has awarded nearly 3,000 educators with almost $70 million. Many know the Milken Award as “The Oscars of Teaching.” Congratulations to our well-deserving winner! 


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Phone: (903) 586-1200
Fax: (903) 586-7877

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2347
Jacksonville, Texas 75766

Physical Address:
214 East Commerce Street
Jacksonville, Texas 75766


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.