Senate passes tax bill as second special session begins
The Texas Senate on the first day of the Legislature’s second special session unanimously passed a tax bill last Wednesday that increases the homestead exemption and includes a pay hike for teachers, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The first special session ended with the Senate and House unable to agree on how to provide property tax relief.
The Senate bill provides a $2,000 pay increase for teachers in urban districts over the next two years, and a $6,000 hike for teachers in rural areas. It increases the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are set to meet in an attempt to come to agreement on the property tax issue, after Patrick texted the best way to resolve debt differences between House and Senate versions would be to meet face-to-face.
“They have responded; we’re looking forward to a meeting. ... Whenever that is, I believe we can get this resolved quickly,” Patrick told the Statesman.
During the first special session, the House passed its version of a property tax package on the first day and immediately adjourned for the remainder of the 30-day session.
Three die daily in state due to drunk driving
Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation are again urging Texans to drive sober, as drunk driving deaths increased again last year to 1,162 — an average of more than three people a day. The agency is spearheading a Faces of Drunk Driving campaign, highlighting families whose lives have been adversely affected by a drunk driver, such as Monse Montoya, who lost her mother and father when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and T-boned her parents’ car.
Last year, 26% of all traffic deaths in Texas involved a drunk driver.
“Numbers can sometimes feel abstract,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “But these are real people whose lives were either lost or forever altered by someone’s decision to drink and drive.
Weevils making positive impact on giant salvinia
Giant salvinia presents a major threat to Texas lakes, forming dense carpets of foliage on water surfaces that can expand very rapidly and make boating, fishing and swimming nearly impossible. Now, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists say there are encouraging signs that giant salvinia weevils are effective in controlling the invasive species.
Giant salvinia invaded Texas waters in 1998 in the Houston area. It was found in Toledo Bend Reservoir later that year.
It is now found on 36 Texas lakes and numerous rivers, creeks and marshes. With the spread to more lakes in recent years, TPWD has worked to attempt to establish weevil populations in colder portions of the state while continuing stockings to augment or rebuild existing populations in areas more hospitable to weevils.
The weevils are more tolerant of low temperatures than previously believed, according to TPWD, and continue to be effective at reducing the spread of giant salvinia.
Boaters are urged to clean, drain and dry boats and gear before traveling from lake to lake in order to prevent the spread of all invasive plant species.
SNAP benefits for storm victims
Victims of the mid-June storms that caused numerous power outages and subsequent food losses can apply for replacement benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a dozen Texas counties.
Those counties include Camp, Cass, Franklin, Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Morris, Ochiltree, Panola, Titus, Upshur, and Wood.
“For families that have been impacted by the recent storms, these replacement food benefits will help provide some peace of mind,” said Michelle Alletto, with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
SNAP recipients with food lost or destroyed during the storms can apply by July 14 by dialing 2-1-1 and selecting option 8.
New law could boost student math skills
A new Texas law recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbott requires school districts and charter schools to automatically enroll fifth graders who score in the top 40% on state math tests to be placed in advanced math classes, KUT reported. The result could be more equitable access to advance math classes, advocates say.
“This will have a huge impact,” Kristen Hengtgen, a senior policy analyst with The Education Trust, said. “The sheer numbers of students who will be identified for advanced math in Texas and in the country is so exciting.”
The Education Trust is a nonprofit that promotes education equity.
Parents will be able to opt their children out from advanced math classes if they wish.
During heat wave, solar power crucial to grid
The “heat dome” that settled over much of the state during June has pushed electrical demand to new highs. One key component in keeping the grid from overloading is the increase in solar panels, which have grown more than sixfold since 2019, according to the Texas Tribune.
Solar power recently provided nearly 20% of the state’s power grid needs. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported 16,800 megawatts of solar power could be produced on the state’s grid as of the end of May. That compares to 2,600 megawatts in 2019.
“The solar we’ve added in the last year has been tremendously beneficial, and the solar we will continue to add will also be beneficial,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Solar is such a boon for us for grid reliability.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.