Columns/Opinions

Wed
16
Aug

Abbott signs three bills, few likely in final week

Capitol Highlights

AUSTIN — Three bills reached Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk last week, with the 30-day special session of the Texas Legislature set to expire Aug. 16 .

Abbott signed all three into law on Aug. 11:

- Senate Bill 5, increasing criminal penalties for voter fraud, by Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and sponsored in the House by Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood;

- Senate Bill 20, the “sunset bill” that extends the life of the Texas Medical Board and several other healthcare-regulating state boards, by Van Taylor, R-Plano, and sponsored in the House by Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; and

- Senate Bill 60, relating to the funding of those revived healthcare boards, also by Taylor and sponsored by Gonzales. Two more bills headed to the governor for consideration are:

Wed
16
Aug

Middle-aged clerk turns to robbing trains

This Week In Texas History

On Aug. 23, 1892, a Gainesville newspaper confirmed the rumored death of a local politician turned train robber.

Eugene Franklin Bunch did not fit the stereotype of the late nineteenth century outlaw. He was not an illiterate saddle tramp nor a trigger-happy sociopath but the well-educated son of a Mississippi planter. So why did he chose a life of crime at the age of 43?

Soon after the Civil War, Bunch moved to Louisiana where he taught school and married a southern belle from the same social class. Sometime in the early 1870’s, the couple emigrated to Cooke County, Texas, living briefly in Dexter, a source of illegal whiskey for reservation Indians, before settling in Gainesville.

Wed
09
Aug

House passes bill to give retired teachers relief

CAPITOL HIGHLIGHTS

AUSTIN – The Texas House on Aug. 1 approved House Bill 20, legislation appropriating $212.7 million from the “rainy day” reserve fund to help defray rising healthcare costs for retired school employees.

Primary authors of HB 20 include: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin; Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; John Zerwas, R-Katy; and Donna Howard, D-Austin.

The House also approved HB 80, legislation that through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas would make a one-time cost-of-living adjustment to the retirement benefits paid to certain retirees, disability retirees and survivors. To be eligible for the increase, the annuitant must have retired between Aug. 31, 2004 and Aug. 31, 2015.

Primary authors of HB 80 include: Rep. Darby, Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville; and Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen.

Wed
09
Aug

The heart of our democracy

Editorial

The Heart of representative democracy rests in the communication between the electorate and elected officials. We should make this conversation more fruitful and effective.

Lee Hamilton

Former Congressman

Do ordinary citizens still have a voice in Washington and in their state capitals? Despite the cynicism of these times, my answer is, yes, we do... But we have to exercise it.

I don’t just mean going to a town hall meeting and yelling, or shooting off a letter or email. I mean making an appointment to sit down with your representative — in his or her office, at a cafe in the district, or wherever else you can meet — and holding a real conversation. We don’t do this often enough in our country, perhaps because most people think it’s impossible to arrange.

Wed
02
Aug
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House, Senate not yet in back-and-forth on bills

Capitol Highlights

AUSTIN — Not a single bill had been agreed to by the state House and Senate as of July 28, exactly 10 days into the 30-day special session of the Texas Legislature.

Lawmakers have a tall order served up to them by Gov. Greg Abbott in the form of 20 must-resolve matters in the first called session of the 85th Texas Legislature. Something could be on Abbott’s desk in short order if top-priority “sunset” legislation to ensure the continuation of the Texas Medical Board and several other healthcare-related state oversight boards gains approval by both chambers. The Senate’s version is SB 20 by Van Taylor, R-Plano; the House has produced two versions: HB 1 and HB 2, both by Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock. There are enough differences in the bills to spark elongated floor debates, if lawmakers are so inclined.

Wed
02
Aug
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Texas: With his dying breath

Texas Times

“Texas, Margaret, Texas.”

These were supposedly the last words Sam Houston spoke before he passed away in his Huntsville home on July 26, 1863 -- 154 years ago.

John Cornyn

U.S. Senator from Texas

Margaret was his wife of 23 years. Texas, of course, was the Republic he led as President, and the State he represented in the United States Senate before serving as its Governor.

Texas was his home, and it still is. He is buried at the Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas, seventy miles north of the Bayou City named in his honor, Houston.

Engraved on his tombstone are the words “The World Will Take Care of Houston’s Fame,” and it’s clear the City of Huntsville has done its part. In addition to his gravesite, those who make it to Huntsville can visit Sam Houston State University, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, and Sam Houston’s “Steamboat” home.

Wed
26
Jul
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Finders, keepers?

Texas Tales

Finders, keepers. At least most of the time.

That simple premise brought about one of the more bizarre legal cases in Texas history and certainly the strangest court proceeding ever in lightly populated Sterling County.

In 1896, C.P. “Charlie” Kendall was in an Ennis jewelry store when he saw a diamond that caught his fancy. You’d think he had in mind buying the rock for some special gal he intended proposing to, but the person he bought it for was himself. Lacking only one-eighth of being a full carat, the stone had a yellowish hue with 58 shiny facets. One of those surfaces bore a flaw, but that could only be detected under a jeweler’s magnifying glass.

Of course, Kendall only knew the stone’s weight and price, not all the more exacting details. That would come later, under circumstances he never would have guessed.

Wed
26
Jul
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Veggie patch

Rustic Ramblings

One never knows from whence inspiration may come. I was in the poor, dry, somewhat neglected garden yesterday, looking for squash, cucumbers, beans, black-eyed peas and tomatoes among the thriving weeds. Most edibles have given out in this heat, but the okra’s healthy as can be. Where other, more delicate plants have crawled toward the ground and dried on the vine, the okra stands tall.

We’ve been so overwhelmed with expected and unexpected repairs, replacements, jobs and chores this summer, the garden’s been somewhat neglected - an embarrassment considering the time and expense plowed into it. Pun intended.

Next year, we vow to do better, even though Murphy’s Law dictates that some other project or minor catastrophe will leech our time away from anything we so carefully plan and for which we painstakingly prepare. Often, there’s literally not enough time in the day - or in a particular season.

Wed
26
Jul
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Senate races through agenda to other bills

Capitol Highlights

AUSTIN — The 85th Texas Legislature convened at the Capitol on July 18 for its first called session, the main purpose being for lawmakers to extend the life of certain state agencies scheduled for termination, and then to proceed to other matters.

At the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate moved quickly to pass legislation continuing the function of the Texas Medical Board and several other health-care related state oversight boards through 2019. The House, led by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, tentatively passed similar legislation (House Bill 1) through its State Affairs committee, but 10 amendments to the bill have been pre-filed, and those, plus the main bill, will be subject to a full-House floor debate scheduled for July 24. The 150-member House and 31-member Senate must agree on any legislation before it can be forwarded to the governor’s desk for his consideration.

Wed
26
Jul
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Restoring faith in representative democracy

Editorial

If we’re not just to throw in the towel and declare representative democracy a noble failure, then we have to restore Americans’ faith in the processes of government. To do this, we must pursue a range of reforms and goals, some of which will require years of effort to achieve.

There’s no shortage of threats to our democracy. Russian meddling in elections, the vulnerability of state voting systems to hacking, politicians’ assaults on the media, and political leaders’ growing fondness for policy-making in secret — all of these pose a real challenge to our system’s viability.

As worrisome as these are, there’s one problem that may be the greatest threat of all: Americans’ loss of faith in politics and democratic institutions.

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