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Capital Highlights

Street takeover spurs governor’s action


 Gov. Greg Abbott has created a statewide task force after several “street takeovers” recently took place in Austin in which motorists obstructed intersections, shot off fireworks and drove recklessly.

Videos posted after the events showed vehicles doing donuts, crowds gathering around intersections, and people setting off fireworks, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Seven people were arrested in the incidents, which occurred at four Austin intersections. 

Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to investigate the events and “target the organized crime aspect” of the events, according to The Dallas Morning News. 

“We are seeing fireworks fired at officers in crowds, lasers pointed at aircraft, drivers driving upwards of 130 miles per hour with no lights on in the dark of night — all of it is reckless, and it needs to be stopped,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said.

Additional arrests are expected, law enforcement officials said.


TxDOT proposes $100 billion transportation plan

The Texas Department of Transportation is proposing a record $100 billion, 10-year transportation plan to improve congestion, increase safety and maintain the state’s roadways. That’s a $15 billion increase over the original plan and comes after record projected revenue for the state, generated by oil and gas fees  that are dedicated to highway projects. 

The latest plan would increase funding in a number of areas, including “safety, energy sector, rural and urban connectivity, border infrastructure, maintenance and preservation,” according to a TxDOT statement.

"Safety is a top priority for TxDOT, and these funding levels reflect that,” TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams said.

TxDOT now has more than $33 billion in transportation projects under construction throughout the state.  More than 7,000 projects are either underway or scheduled to break ground this year.


Bills would ban COVID restrictions

A trio of bills by state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would address Gov. Greg Abbott’s  calls to end COVID-related restrictions put in place as the pandemic began in 2020. 

“This legislation is aimed at preventing future repeats of these controversial public health measures, which did little to slow the spread of the virus and did serious damage to the economy and education systems,” Kolkhorst said in a statement, as reported by the Statesman.

The measures, if passed, would codify executive measures issued by Abbott in 2021 that prohibited employer or governmental COVID-19 mandates requiring people to wear masks or to be vaccinated.

Since Abbott has made the COVID-19 package an emergency measure, it bypasses many of the rules put in place by the state constitution to slow passage of legislation, the Statesman reported.


Senate revives effort to make illegal voting a felony

After lowering the penalty for illegal voting to a misdemeanor in 2021, leaders in the Texas Senate appear poised to again raise the penalty to a second-degree felony, the Texas Tribune reported. Legislation filed by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would also modify the standard for determining a person’s intent to vote illegally.

Current law says a person commits a crime if they “knowingly or intentionally” vote or attempt to vote and know they are not eligible. Under Hughes’ bill, the language changes that to say anyone who votes or attempts to vote in an election in which “the person knows of a particular circumstance that makes the person not eligible to vote” could be charged.

That means, for example, that someone who knows they are not a U.S. citizen but did not know they were ineligible to vote could still be prosecuted. An attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project criticized the proposed change as a “very nasty and very potentially consequential provision.” 

“That is why this intent requirement exists, because it’s not fair for people to go to jail for good-faith mistakes,” attorney James Slattery said.


State could foot AG office’s legal bill

A $3.3 million settlement of a whistleblower complaint filed against the Texas attorney general’s office should be paid by the state and not personally by Attorney General Ken Paxton, an agency attorney said. The AG’s chief of general litigation told lawmakers that the agency, not Paxton personally, is the defendant under the Texas Whistleblower Act, and that taking the case to trial would cost even more.

“The agreement itself is contingent on legislative funding,” he said. “It’s a settlement that we made in order to save money for the state of Texas. It was the prudent thing to do to minimize litigation risk,” Chris Hilton of the AG’s office said, according to kut.org. 

However, House Speaker Dade Phelan has said he does not support using taxpayer dollars for the settlement. Abbott has said “this is an issue that the attorney general is going to have to fully explain to both the House and the Senate.”


TEA releases teacher vacancy recommendations

A task force appointed last year by the Texas Education Agency has released its recommendations to address the teacher and staff vacancy crisis in Texas, as record numbers of both leave the education field in the wake of the pandemic and other issues.

The Teacher Vacancy Task Force, established last March, was comprised of teachers and school system leaders from across the state. The recommendations include:

  • A significant increase in overall teacher salaries
  • Enhancing teachers’ total compensation package, including reducing cost of health care insurance.
  • Provide incentives and support for hard-to-staff areas, such as special education and bilingual education teachers.
  • Improve the pipeline and pre-service preparation of novice teachers.
  • Expand training and support for teacher mentorship.
  • Provide access and support for high-quality instructional materials.
  • Demonstrate respect and value for teacher time.
  • School culture and discipline supports.

The task force urged the Legislature to increase funding for teacher salaries, noting the state ranks 28th in the nation for average teacher salary.

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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