My five cents...
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were filled with family and good food, as I know mine were. In the month of January, we will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the sacrifices he made for our country in the pursuit of racial equality. It is because of men like him that all citizens in our great nation have an opportunity to succeed.
Here are a few things that happened around the Capitol this past month.
1. Protecting Our Children
In the past year, the news has been filled with reports of shootings on school campuses. The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut ignited a fire for many to find a way to address the issue of protecting our children at school. Starting in January 2014, Texas school administrators will have an opportunity to put into practice House Bill 1009, which was passed during this past legislative session. This law grants school administrators, who do not currently have officers on campus, the authority to designate a trained employee to act as a school marshal, carry a concealed handgun and respond in emergency situations. Much like a federal air marshal, the identity of the school marshal will only be known to the school administrators, local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
2. A Positive Checkbook
Most of us have balanced our checkbooks and breathed a sigh of relief when we realize we are able to come out on the positive side. This is the case for the State of Texas, as Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced in the middle of December that the state ended the 2012-2013 biennium with a surplus of $2.6 billion. She also reported that with the help of oil and gas activity in the state, which has made a significant impact on our state's revenue, the broader economy is also doing well.
3. Border Initiatives
At the beginning of December, Lt. Governor Dewhurst released interim charges for the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security Committee. Through these charges he asked the Committee to "examine the implementation and effectiveness" of Operation Strong Safety, which added additional security in the Rio Grande Valley from Sept. 15 to Oct. 4. The Texas Department of Public Safety coordinated with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to increase river, air and road patrols to address significant criminal activity which included human trafficking and drug smuggling during this three-week initiative.
In light of its success, the Lt. Governor has asked the Committee to examine and make recommendations for future surges and evaluate the most effective methods to deal with various threats and to deter illegal immigration and drug related crime.
4. Senate Online Transparency
The general public has long had online access to legislative bills, as well as viewing committee hearings and Senate and House debates while the Legislature is in session. This has given the citizens of Texas an opportunity to stay engaged during session, even if they are not at the Capitol. However, as with anything, updates are needed and we must continually ensure we are providing an up-to-date and user friendly system. The Senate State Affairs Committee, on which I serve, has been charged with examining the online legislative resources available to the public on the Texas Senate website(s). Our resources will be compared to not only others in the state, but also other states who provide similar resources. This was included in the list of suggestions I sent to the Lt. Governor a few months back, and I am happy to see it was chosen so that we can work towards a more interactive and transparent government.
5. Making Resolutions
While you are making your own resolutions for your personal life, business or organization, my staff and I are doing the same. As I look back on this year and all that was accomplished during the regular and three special legislative sessions, I am once again reminded that it could not have been done without you. This next year will be spent in preparation for the 84th Legislative Session and it is because of your feedback that I have a better understanding of what is needed for East Texas. It has been an honor to serve as your state Senator for the past seven years and I look forward to this next year and working together to make a difference for our state.