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Flood victims urged caution upon returning home


As East Texas residents return to clean up their homes and businesses after extensive flooding earlier this month, the Texas Department of State Health Services urged residents and business owners to exercise caution. Among the recommendations:

· Never use gasoline-powered generators or charcoal grills indoors. Keep them outside, at least 20 feet from homes to avoid possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Direct generator engine exhaust away from windows and doors

· Never mix bleach with products that contain ammonia. Toxic fumes could be created.

· Disinfect household surfaces, woodwork and toys in homes that have flooded, using a solution of one cup bleach to five gallons of water.

· Wash hands often during property cleanup to avoid contaminating areas that have already been cleaned.

A large swath of East Texas recorded very heavy rainfall between April 28 and May 7. More than 25 inches fell in parts of San Jacinto, Walker, Polk, and Trinity counties. Downtown Livingston flooded. Excess water in Lake Livingston, fed by the Trinity River, exceeded amounts recorded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Phelan issues priorities for next session — if he is speaker

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has issued his legislative priorities for the next legislative session in January, while facing a tough re-election battle and an impending May 28 runoff election.

Phelan directed his committee leaders to take a look at the use of school vouchers in other states and also consider new ways to further reduce property tax bills for homeowners, The Texas Tribune reported.

Attempts to pass a voucher program backed by Gov. Greg Abbott failed several times in past legislative sessions, leading to largely successful attempts to defeat voucher opponents in the March Republican primary. Phelan faces challenger David Covey, backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other of his political foes, in the runoff.

As is customary with House speakers, Phelan did not cast a vote either way for the various voucher proposals but later said he would have supported a scaled-down version of vouchers.

During the last sessions, Phelan and his House allies backed a proposal to cut the cap on annual property taxes from 10% to 5%, which was opposed by Patrick. The lieutenant governor favored an increase in the homestead exemption instead and ultimately prevailed.

Moving forward, Phelan has directed the House Ways & Means Committee to explore “whether to further reduce the limit on appraised value of homesteads.”

Board approves new teacher residency certificate

The State Board of Education recently approved a new certificate — the enhanced standard certificate — for aspiring teachers who complete a residency on their way to earning a teaching license in Texas, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The board hopes such yearlong programs will create better trained first-year teachers and improve teacher retention — a major issue for Texas public schools.

“The residency prep route creates a path to the classroom that’s akin to the medical model for preparing doctors,”  said Emily Garcia, associate commissioner for educator certification and enforcement at the Texas Education Agency.

Student teaching is common among college-based teaching programs, but the residency is longer and more intensive, Garcia said. The residency has a 750-hour minimum requirement, while a typical student teaching program usually involves a minimum of 490 hours in the classroom.

One out of eight Texas public school teachers left their jobs during the last school year, according to TEA, while just 58% of entry-level teachers hired in Texas five years ago are still working in public education.

Bill would reimburse ranchers for unborn calves killed in disasters

Two Texas GOP lawmakers are proposing legislation to compensate ranchers who lose unborn calves during a disaster, such as the recent Panhandle wildfires, the Texas Standard reported. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson — both Republicans — are sponsoring the legislation.

Approximately 15,000 cattle, including pregnant cows, died during the Panhandle wildfires.

The proposal expands a program that is part of the farm bill called the Livestock Indemnity Program, according to David Anderson, a professor and extension specialist in livestock and food product marketing at Texas A&M. As now structured, the program is not set up to compensate ranchers for the loss of unborn calves, he said.

“We have record high cattle prices right now,” he said. “So, you got some help on the value of the cow, but not on this calf that you were going to sell in the fall for a record high amount of money.”

Border landowners can be compensated for migrant damages

Landowners along the Texas-Mexico border are now eligible for compensation for damage to their land and property caused by migrants, smugglers and drug traffickers, The Tribune reported.

The Legislature during the last session approved $18 million for the compensation fund, administered by the Texas attorney general’s office. Landowners have up to 90 days after an incident to file a claim and must have a written police report documenting the damage. The state will compensate up to $75,000 for damage to property such as a barn or a fence, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said.

The damage must have occurred after Sept. 1, 2023, The Tribune reported. That is when the law took effect.

Governors oppose transferring guard members to Space Force

All 50 governors have joined 140 House lawmakers, U.S. senators and five U.S. territories in opposing a proposal to move several hundred members of the Air Force Guard to the federal Space Force, where they would be full-time enlisted personnel.

Rose Thayer, an Austin-based reporter for Stars and Stripes told the Texas Standard that part of the reason for creating the Space Force nearly five years ago was to “take all of the military’s space assets and units that exist in all the service branches and co-locate them under the Space Force.”

Thayer said the biggest objection is that members of the National Guard have a “dual-hatted role” in that they serve the federal U.S. military but also serve their states, particularly in times of natural disaster or civil unrest.

“And this proposal from the Air Force is asking to move these units without asking permission of the governors,” she said.

The House Armed Services Committee will have the final say over the proposal, according to Thayer.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com


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