My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
As I write this column, our country is preparing to observe Memorial Day, a day we remember the military men and women who gave their lives serving our nation. However, did you know that the holiday actually originated after the Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war? Since that time it has evolved to memorialize all Americans who have given their lives in military service. I ask that we all take time this weekend to give thanks for those who sacrificed everything for our nation so that we might live free.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
Last day to vote on bills
Wednesday marked the last day the Senate was able to vote on House bills, and the last day the House was able to vote on Senate bills. Both chambers worked late into the night, attempting to get through as many as possible. Thursday began the few day period at the very end of session in which 10-person conference committees are formed between members of the House and Senate and they attempt to work out slight differences between bills which have passed both sides of the legislature. As the advantages and disadvantages of various amendments are discussed, the hope is that the democratic process will work and the best possible version of each bill will be produced.
Insurance cards on smart phones
The Senate and House both approved legislation recently that would allow drivers to provide proof of insurance on their smart phone or other electronic device. SB 181 adds Texas to a list of six other states that already allow this, and many insurance companies have now developed apps to help speed up the process. The bill has now been sent to the governor and, if signed, should go into effect September 1.
Renew your license closer to home
I am pleased to report that this week the legislature passed SB 1729, my bill to create a pilot program to renew driver's licenses in county offices in addition to Department of Public Safety (DPS) offices. Under current law, DPS has the authority to issue renewal and duplicate driver's licenses, but as the state's population has increased, the demand for these services has also increased.
Unfortunately, many feel that DPS has been unable to meet this growing demand, and consequently Texans in many areas of the state experience inconvenience due to overcrowding at their local DPS office or the lack of a DPS office within the vicinity of where they live. SB 1729 will attempt to solve this problem by establishing a pilot program through which DPS may enter into an agreement with certain counties for county offices to provide driver's license renewal services.
Voting easier for soldiers overseas
Two important bills dealing with overseas voting are gaining traction. Under SB 326, voters would soon be able to use one form to request ballots for federal, county, municipal and school district elections. Under HB 1129, military members serving in combat zones would be able to cast those ballots online through secure email addresses. Both bills are steps forward for voter participation and the democratic process.
Update: Drones and beer
I often tell you I will "keep you updated," and I try to do just that. You may remember me talking about the craft brewer "beer" bills earlier in the session. I am pleased to report that this week these bills, representing the most dramatic change in Texas beer laws in 20 years, were passed by the legislature and sent to the governor. Under the terms of the bills, craft breweries would be able to sell a limited amount of beer on site, just as wineries are currently able to sell wine on site. In addition, brewpubs would be able to package some of their product for sale in restaurants, stores and bars. These measures are a big advancement for free enterprise, and should have a large economic impact on the state as a whole.
Another bill which recently advanced relates to drone surveillance. I was proud to cast a vote in favor of HB 912 to ban the possession and use of any photos obtained by drones or any unmanned vehicles. Both civil and criminal penalties would apply for violators. Since the bill has already passed the House, but there are significant differences between each chamber's version, the bill will now be discussed in conference committee.