My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
This week the pace at the Legislature picked up as almost all Senate committees are now meeting and House committees were announced. Bills now begin the long process of being referred and then heard in committee. The legislative process kills more bills than it passes, which I consider a good thing. Only the best legislation that has survived the hearing process and has had significant public input should become law.
Safe passage bill for highway and construction workers
On Wednesday, I filed Senate Bill 510 to require motorists near stopped highway or construction vehicles- with lights activated- to either vacate the lane closest to the highway maintenance/construction vehicle or slow down. This bill is intended to create safer highways for both motorists and workers.
As a former Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Commissioner, I believe that safety should be a top priority. These men and women are at risk every time they put on their orange vests and work on our roads.
There is already a 'move-over/slow-down' law to protect emergency vehicles such as police, EMS and fire trucks. Tow trucks are even protected. This bill will simply offer the same protection to our state highway workers.
Since 1938, 101 TxDOT employees have been killed while working within the work zone or on the shoulder of a roadway. Seven of these fatalities were within the last 10 years, with two occurring in August and September of 2008.
Even one preventable death is too many. In my opinion, this legislation is past due and I look forward to seeing it passed into law.
State water outlook
In 2011, Texas suffered one of the worst droughts in state history, which we are still recovering from today. As horrible as it was, this drought helped bring attention to the even larger problem of Texas' projected long-term water shortage as the state's population continues to increase.
This week Senator Troy Fraser presented a bill dealing with state water resources to the Natural Resources Committee. Senate Bill 4 would create the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) to provide a fund to finance projects in the State Water Plan. There will be an emphasis on conservation, reuse and rural projects.
This will go a long way towards funding our 50 year water plan and I predict SB 4 will be a "bill to watch" this session.
Senate Transportation Committee's first meeting
This week was also the first Transportation Committee meeting of Session. As chair, I emphasized my goals for the coming months. I believe it is important to move people and goods safely, effectively and efficiently. I am hopeful that as we consider legislation this session, we will keep this mission in mind. Additionally, I plan to work with state leadership to fundamentally fix our long-term funding for transportation.
Texas Electric Cooperatives at the Capitol
On Wednesday, representatives of electric cooperatives from across the state came to the Capitol to discuss legislative issues important to them. Electric cooperatives are unique from other power providers because they are tax-paying, not-for-profit businesses owned by the consumers they supply.
Senate District 3 is served by eight different cooperatives, each with their own board of directors, general manager and employees. They are integral parts of the communities in which they operate.
Having served six years on the Senate Nominations Committee, I am very aware of the impact state boards have on Texas and I am encouraging more Senate District 3 constituents to apply for these positions. The governor is responsible for filling around 400 appointments for everything from the Animal Health Commission to the Soil and Water Conservation Board, and these decisions are then confirmed by the Senate. Our communities are blessed with so many individuals whose expertise and backgrounds could really benefit our state as a whole and I encourage you to get involved. For an application and more information, please visit www.governor.state.tx.us/appointments.