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Capital Highlights

Lawmakers push $15K teacher raises


A group of House Democrats is proposing a $15,000 raise for the state’s teachers and a 25% raise for other state employees by using some of the state’s record budget surplus. State Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, announced the bill last week and was joined by Democratic legislators and teachers, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“This moment demands bold action, and that's what our state is known for,” Talarico said. “House Bill 1548 would be the biggest teacher pay raise in Texas history. In Texas, we go big or we go home. Let’s go big on teacher pay.”

While the proposal may not gain traction in the GOP-controlled House, it could spur debate as the state faces a growing exodus of public-school teachers. The Dallas Morning News, which analyzed teacher salaries across the state, reported that major suburban and urban districts pay educators the most, while rural school districts and charter schools pay the least.

The highest average teacher salary is in the Houston region at $62,589, while the lowest average teacher salary was in the Abilene region, according to the Texas Education Agency. The state operates 20 educational regions.


Disaster declaration for Southeast Texas communities

Gov. Gregg Abbott last week issued a disaster declaration for Harris and Orange counties after at least one tornado touched down in Pasadena, Deer Park and neighboring Southeast Texas communities. The Texas Division of Emergency Management has requested federal assistance in making preliminary damage assessments.

The Houston Chronicle reported no injuries despite the considerable damage in the area.

Abbott urged Texans with damage to their homes or businesses to complete a self-reporting damage survey at damage.tdem.texas.gov. Damage should also be reported separately to insurance agencies.


Texas leads nation in job creation in 2022

A December employment release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates Texas led the nation in job creation with 650,100 non-farm jobs added last year – a 5% rate, the fastest in the nation. Coming in second with 621,400 new non-farm jobs was California.

“Texas works when Texans work, and in this legislative session, we will continue expanding opportunity and ensuring Texas remains the best state to live, work, build a business, and raise a family,” Abbott said.

The state’s unemployment rate stood at 3.9% in December, slightly higher than the national average of 3.5%. Total Texas employment reached a new high of 13.705 million at year’s end. 


Heat-related deaths reach two-decade high

Heat-related deaths in Texas reached a new high last year, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of state data since 1999. The state’s second-hottest summer and the worst drought since 2011 combined to increase risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. At least 268 in the state were killed by heat, with a large portion of those being migrants who died after crossing the border, the Tribune reported.

The analysis showed six of the top 10 counties for heat deaths since 1999 are on or near the Texas-Mexico border, with Webb County having the highest number at 325. Migrant experts and local officials along the border say the number reported is almost certainly a “dramatic undercount.”


Local parks grants total $9.8 million

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved more than $9.8 million in local parks grants last week “to help create and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities.” The grants are allocated to local governments on a 50/50 basis. Once a park is funded, it must remain in existence in perpetuity, be properly maintained and open to the public.

Grants went to 20 cities of varying sizes for nature trails, native gardens, playgrounds, splash pads, dog parks and sports fields.

A full list of grants can be found on the tpwd.texas.gov website.


Bills push for accountability after Uvalde shooting

The state senator whose district includes Uvalde has filed four bills related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary last May. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, filed bills to “reduce gun violence, increase support for school shooting victims and survivors, and push for accountability for the flawed law enforcement response to the mass shooting,” the Statesman reported.

Several families of the Uvalde school shooting victims joined Gutierrez for the announcement last week. One bill would create a school violence victims’ compensation fund. Another would eliminate qualified immunity protection for police officers. The law enforcement response to the shooting has been widely criticized.

Another bill would raise the minimum age to purchase military-style rifles.

“When will it be enough bloodshed? Are you waiting for it to happen to you or your family before you stop to think about your gross negligence?” said Velma Lisa Duran, the older sister of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers killed in Uvalde, the Statesman reported.


COVID-19 cases dip slightly

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Texas during the past week dropped slightly to 23,530, with 194 deaths reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services was 2,513, down about 300 from the previous week. Only reported cases are tallied, and people  who test positive with a home test kit likely are never reported.

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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