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Capital Highlights

House pushes armed officer at all schools


Under legislation prioritized by House Speaker Dade Phelan, every Texas school would have an armed police officer, and aspiring teachers would receive extra support.

The Dallas Morning News reported the bill would also provide $15,000 in annual funding for safety measures for each school in the state. Another bill would increase the annual allotment per student for safety measures from $10 to $100.

Another House measure is aimed at improving teacher retention and recruitment, The Morning News reported. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, would create a new grant to help prospective teachers pursing special education or bilingual certification, and would increase funding for educator mentoring. Special education and bilingual teacher positions are especially hard to fill in Texas.


Rising car insurance rates causing sticker shock

Average statewide auto insurance rates are up nearly 24% over last year, according to a report by the Texas Standard. That is the highest increase in at least 20 years, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. That comes on top of increased costs for vehicles both new and used, and higher fuel costs. 

Michael Schnurman, a business columnist with The Morning News, was interviewed on the Standard and had this to say, in part:

“There are several elements that play into it. One…is the higher values of cars and used cars in particular – they really shot up during the pandemic,” he said. “But the claims are also up a lot…When driving resumed, the number of accidents and the severity of accidents has really been a lot higher. If you look at fatalities, I think they were up 18%.”

Schnurman suggested consumers shop around for auto insurance and look for discounts for bundling it with homeowners’ insurance or multiple vehicles on the same account.


PUC recommends hefty fine against power company

The Public Utility Commission has recommended that the Texas-New Mexico Power Company pay a $1.74 million fine for inaccurate estimates of its customers’ electric usage.

In a report released last week, The PUC said the power company failed to correct a violation of an order to install new meters that can be read remotely in a timely manner.

The commission said “TNMP’s new meter rollout was significantly delayed,” resulting in the utility “estimating thousands of meters for months on end." 

The investigation found that TNMP was given three-years’ notice that the “communication backbone” of its metering system was going to be discontinued by its third-party provider but failed to produce a plan until halfway through that timeframe. It also failed to have a backup plan in case its vendor could not provide the 170,000 new meters on schedule, according to the PUC.


Texas Senate passes first bill of session

The Texas Senate last week passed a bill that would close a loophole in state law that allowed gun sales to people between the ages of 16 and 18 who have been involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness. The Texas Tribune reported it was the first bill passed by the Senate this session.

Courts are supposed to report all involuntary mental health hospitalizations to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which then sends them to the FBI’s national background check system. However, problems with how existing state law was written led to those hospitalizations not being reported by courts. 

The measure comes after an 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde with a history of mental health problems killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary last year. However, since that shooter was never hospitalized, closing the loophole would not have prevented him from legally buying two assault rifles.


Women sue state over abortion ban

Five women are suing the state, saying its near-total abortion ban resulted in them being denied abortions despite complications in their pregnancies that put their lives and fetuses at risk. The Austin American-Statesman reported the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the suit, which asks the courts to clarify what qualifies as a “medical emergency” exception in the law.

“Politicians in Texas are prohibiting health care that they don't understand; they could do something but they're not, and it's killing us,” Lauren Miller, one of the plaintiffs, said. “It shouldn’t be controversial for an individual to make health care decisions for themselves in consultation with their doctor. But you can't get that in Texas anymore.”

The Statesman reported that Miller was pregnant with twins when doctors told her one of the babies had a severe genetic condition and was not going to survive, which threatened her life and the life of the other baby. She ended up traveling to Colorado to have an abortion and is scheduled to give birth to the healthy remaining twin this month.


Drought map spreads in parts of state

Drought conditions by the end of February covered 62% of the state, up nine percentage points from a month earlier, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board. Drought-free areas include all of East Texas up to Dallas County to the west and Jefferson County to the south. The most severe drought conditions are in the far northern edge of the Panhandle, the counties surrounding San Antonio, and nearly all of South Texas.

“The latest seasonal drought outlook from the National Weather Service is optimistic for East and North Central Texas,” Wentzel wrote. “Through the end of May, that part of the state is expected to remain drought-free. Unfortunately, drought is expected to expand in the rest of the state.”

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, and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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