My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
With temperatures regularly soaring over 120 degrees in the summer, Death Valley National Park recently had to urge visitors not to crack and fry eggs on their park sidewalks. While it hasn't been that hot in Austin, things have definitely been heating up both inside and outside the Capitol.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. The dominoes begin to fall
On Monday Governor Perry announced that after 13 years in office, he will not be seeking re-election. With this announcement, the proverbial dominoes began to fall. His departure will open a possibility for other officeholders, or even newcomers, to run for his vacant seat.
It will also mean big changes for the legislature. The Texas Governor has the authority to set an agenda for each legislative session, veto any bills passed, call special sessions and more. No matter who becomes Texas' next governor, it will definitely be an adjustment for a state which has been under the same leadership since 2000.
2. And 16 hours later...
No doubt you have heard quite a bit lately about the proposed pro-life legislation in the Texas Legislature. However, we hit a milestone in the early hours of Tuesday morning when the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, of which I am a member, finished hearing public testimony on the issue after more than 16 hours. This is by far the longest such hearing we have had on that committee since I came into office in 2007.
During the course of those 16 hours we received exactly 3,861 comment cards from interested Texas citizens who were present. In addition, we heard verbal testimony from 357. This high level of public interest highlights just how impactful this emotional issue is for our society.
3. Come and get it!
Did you know that one in four Texans has unclaimed property from forgotten bank accounts, uncashed checks, security deposits, utility refunds, insurance policies, safe-deposit boxes and more? Banks and other entities make an effort to reunite this money with its owners, but if they cannot after a one to five year period, state law mandates the assets be turned over to the Comptroller's office. Then the Comptroller's Unclaimed Property Division works diligently to give Texas citizens back what is truly theirs. In 2012, the state returned more than $159 million to its owners.
To check and see if you might be one of the one in four people who has money waiting to be claimed, simply go to the comptroller's website at https://mycpa.cpa.state.tx.us/up/Search.jsp and type in your name or the names of family and friends. If you do not have access to the internet, call toll free at 1-800-654-FIND (3463). What a great tool!
4. Texas golden gladecress and Neches River rose-mallow
A somewhat troubling trend which could soon affect many of us in Senate District 3 is a significant increase in endangered and threatened species listings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Over the past few years we have seen the number of new species added annually increase multi-fold. Of specific concern to East Texas is an attempt to add the Neches River rose-mallow and Texas golden gladecress plants to that list.
The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Susan Combs, has determined that the Neches River rose-mallow, if designated as threatened, could impact ground water management; reservoir construction, road and bridge projects; and agriculture operations in Cherokee, Harrison, Houston, Nacogdoches and Trinity Counties. Comptroller Combs also determined designating the Texas golden gladecress as endangered could impact agriculture and timber planting operations; oil and gas operations; and highway construction and maintenance projects in Nacogdoches, Sabine and San Augustine Counties. Furthermore, projects with a federal component could be delayed or cancelled in the listed counties. All affected counties are located in rural Texas. It is crucial that our federal government does not hinder economic growth and industry or interfere with private property in these counties.
5. Don't mess with Texas
You've probably seen the 'Don't mess with Texas' slogan in innumerable places around our state and beyond, but did you know it's actually a registered trademark? It was coined back in 1985 to encourage Texans to keep litter off the roads.
The slogan has since been touted from singers like Willie Nelson and George Strait, athletes like George Foreman and Randy White, and even a World War II-era B-17 bomber to remind Texans what Don't mess with Texas really means. It doesn't get much better than that.