Tag Archives: Greg Abbott

Vet school set to become a reality for the Panhandle

I want to offer some hand claps to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle for a signature they have obtained from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has signed legislation that grants state money to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. It will be the second such institution in Texas. It will be operated by Texas Tech University and it will be located wholly in Amarillo, which lobbied furiously for the funds to build this much-needed project.

I had the pleasure of visiting with former Texas Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan not long before he got the bum’s rush by the Tech board of regents. Duncan came to Amarillo to make the case for the vet school and to tell the community that the state needed the second such program. Texas A&M University operates the long-standing school of veterinary medicine and had resisted Tech’s efforts to gain legislative approval for the new school.

This is a big deal, man! I am delighted that the region’s legislative delegation — state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, all Amarillo Republicans — flexed its collective muscle to ensure this legislative victory.

It also is heartening that Texas Tech, despite Duncan’s ouster as chancellor, managed to maintain its own momentum with a new chancellor, Tedd Mitchell, at the helm.

The Amarillo campus will enable Panhandle veterinary students to stay closer to home to get their education. One can hope, too, that they will remain at home to pursue their careers as doctors of veterinary medicine.

I had my share of anxious moments while living in the Panhandle and even after moving away. But then Amarillo’s economic development gurus lined up behind the project; so did the City Council; civic and business leaders ponied up serious money to help lighten the public burden.

I understand the vet school will open for class in a couple of years. Students will receive a first-class education that will pave the way for first-class careers.

It is nice to see the Texas Panhandle, which occasionally gets the short shrift from those in power way down yonder in Austin, score a major victory.

Red-lights cameras can stay … at least for a while

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that I wish he hadn’t signed. It was a bill that disallows cities from deploying red-light cameras to aid in enforcing traffic safety laws.

Ah, but here’s an interesting catch: An amendment to the bill approved by the Legislature allows cities to keep the cameras operating until their current vendor contracts expire. That means that while cities can terminate contracts for cause, they also can keep them operating for the length of the contract.

One city that has the cameras in place is Amarillo. I strongly supported Amarillo’s decision to use the devices to deter motorists from running red lights. I also strongly support the city’s apparent decision to stay the course until its contract with the vendor runs out.

Amarillo’s contract with American Traffic Solutions expires in September 2022. So, for more than three more years the city will be able to rely on the cameras to be on guard against lawbreakers when the police are looking the other way.

Unlike some cities knuckled under to some critics of the devices, Amarillo recently expanded the deployment locations, believing it had identified troublesome intersections; it did remove the cameras at some other intersections as well.

So, it’s a good-news, bad-news sort of thing. Some cities will get to keep the devices on duty for the length of their contracts; that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the contracts will expire eventually.

Then what? Will these Texas communities’ motorists and pedestrians be exposed to those who just don’t bother to follow the instructions to stop when the street signals turn red?

Let the kids’ lemonade flow!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken up the cudgel for the state’s budding entrepreneurs.

Abbott signed a bill that makes it illegal for cities and homeowners associations to force children to shut down their lemonade stands.

Yes, I know I have been tough on the governor and the Legislature for snatching local-control issues out of locals’ hands. This one, though, makes me smile.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, authored the bill that prohibits the closure from cities and local neighborhood groups. Kids like to sell non-alcoholic drinks to raise money for all manner of causes: field trips, gifts for Mom and Dad, or just plain vacation money.

As the Texas Tribune reports, support for the legislation grew after two East Texas siblings were forced in 2015 to shut down a lemonade stand they had set up to raise money for a Father’s Day gift.

The injustice of it all! I’m tellin’ ya, those youngsters needed the strong arm of the state. Well, those who will come along to raise money for their own parents will have the protection of state law.

The warning now has been sent to city halls and neighborhood association busy-bodies: Leave the kids alone! In fact, you need to buy a glass of the cool drink yourselves to help the up-and-coming business tycoons meet their financial goals.

Dallas crime spike prompts needed state response

This is a story that piques my interest a bit more these days, given that I now live at the doorstep of a major American city.

Dallas has seen a huge spike in violent crime. Transgender women in particular have been killed at an alarming rate. The city registered 40 homicides in the past month, the greatest amount since the 1990s.

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the Department of Public Safety into the fray, sending Texas Rangers — the elite DPS investigative arm — to assist in trying to solve these crimes.

It’s the kind of story we don’t hear too much about, but it’s quite obviously a serious problem that one might say is approaching crisis mode.

I am unaware of any extra precautions my community, Princeton, is taking in the wake of this major uptick in criminal activity. Then, of course, we have our granddaughter living even closer to Big D, with her parents and older brother. Yes, we worry about them, too — which quite obviously goes without saying.

Now, though, stories such as major-city crime spikes such as what is occurring in Dallas make us pay just a little more attention.

By all means, Gov. Abbott, send in the DPS to help the local cops.

It’s now law: Cities cannot use technology to deter lawbreakers

Texas has taken a step back to where it was until the Legislature decided to allow cities to use technology to assist police in deterring those who break the law.

Count me as one Texan who’s disappointed in this decision.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that now prohibits cities from deploying red-light cameras to catch those who disobey signals’ directions to stop. Abbott listened to the complainers who said the cameras are — and this just kills me — unconstitutional, that they disallow motorists busted by the devices to “confront their accuser.”

The owners of the vehicles that are busted can appeal the fines levied by municipal courts, which gives them the chance to confront the government.

Princeton, where I live, does not use the devices. Neither do neighboring cities Allen and McKinney. Denton, which is about 30 miles west on U.S. 380, uses the devices.

The Legislature did allow for cities to keep the cameras operating for the length of their existing contract with the vendors that supply them. After that, they come down!

Cities and towns long have been thought to be the best judge of their own needs. Many cities in Texas have deemed that they need help from these devices to help police in enforcing traffic laws. Why not let the cities make that call? Why not cede “local control” to the cities?

The Legislature doesn’t see it that way. Neither does Gov. Abbott.

I believe they have made a mistake.

Hit the road, Mr. Secretary

So long, David Whitley. Don’t let the door hit you in the … whatever.

Whitley has resigned as Texas secretary of state after serving for less than half a year. His brief tenure as the state’s chief election officer will be remembered for one thing only: his botched effort to purge Texas voter rolls of ineligible voters, which turned into an embarrassing revelation that those so-called illegal voters were actually quite legal.

As the Texas Tribune reports, gubernatorial nominees usually sail straight through the Texas Senate. Whitley didn’t make the grade; he never was confirmed by the Senate. So, when the Senate gaveled itself adjourned today, Whitley had to leave. So, he did.

Whitley got caught up in the tempest over whether the state’s voter rolls were filled with illegal immigrants. His office flagged the names of thousands of Texans who were thought to be voting illegally. It turned out to be, um, false. The alarm turned out to be mostly false.

Whitley was left trying to explain why his office got it so wrong.

Senate Democrats stood firm in their opposition to Whitley and given the Senate’s two-thirds rule required to confirm nominations to executive positions, Whitley’s nomination by Gov. Greg Abbott was doomed.

Well, the governor will now look for another secretary of state.

My hunch is that the next one will not try the kind of stunt that torpedoed David Whitley.

86th Texas Legislature about to end … for keeps, maybe?

I am putting my ear to the ground but I don’t hear much of anything coming from down yonder in Austin.

The Texas Legislature is about to call it a session. It will end fairly quietly compared to recent previous legislative sessions.

I do hope Gov. Greg Abbott refrains from calling a special session to meet later this summer.

What did this group accomplish? A few things.

  • They approved a form of public school finance reform that doesn’t respond to a court order. That’s a pretty good thing.
  • Lawmakers managed to give public school teachers a raise in pay, which the good teachers surely deserve. Was it enough? Probably not. Then again, it’s never enough.
  • Legislators — and this is a big deal for Amarillo, where I used to live — approved money for Texas Tech University to build a new school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. That’s huge, man!
  • The Legislature approved a reduction in property taxes, which no doubt is music to those who shell out growing amounts of tax money every year. I don’t have a particular issue here, given that I’m old enough to qualify for a homestead exemption that freezes my property taxes.

All told, it was a fairly productive session. It also was fairly quiet.

A special session might still occur if Gov. Abbott can find a reason to call one. Whatever. I hope it doesn’t happen.

Legislators don’t make enough money –$600 a month plus per diem expenses — to stay on the job for longer than the 140 days mandated every other year.

Go home, legislators. We’ll see you in 2021.

Tax shift set aside until 2021 … let’s look for real reduction

It won’t be any better in 2021 than it is this year.

Texas legislators have decided apparently to delay any action on a bill that would have increased the state sales tax by a penny while rolling back local property taxes.

House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621 had won the endorsement of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Most legislators seemed to like, but opposition arose from interesting and disparate ends of the political spectrum: progressives and archconservatives disliked the measure for wildly different reasons.

I agree with those at both ends.

Progressives believe the sales tax is regressive and punishes poor Texans because they pay the same tax as rich Texans on goods they purchase. Good point, yes? Sure it is!

Conservatives on the right and far right believe the Legislature’s Republican caucus should remain faithful to its members’ pledge to avoid raising new taxes. Another good point? Yep, it is!

Lt. Gov. Patrick had made property tax reduction a key legislative agenda item. I’m OK with that. Why, though, pay for that reduction with a boost in the state sales tax? I’m not so OK with that notion.

If we’re going to reduce property tax, I would be far more in favor of an actual reduction in Texans’ total tax burden.

Let’s hope legislators take some time between the end of this session and the start of the next one to find a way to get there.

Still wondering: Why not mandatory helmet law?

As my wife and I have motored across Texas and into Louisiana for the past few days we have witnessed a number of motorcyclists behaving (in my view) dangerously on our public highways.

They whip across lanes, weaving at high speeds through traffic.

What’s more, most of them are bare-headed. They aren’t wearing helmets.

And . . . it makes me lament that Texas decided back in 1995 to toss aside its mandatory helmet law in favor of allowing motorcyclists to blast their way along our highways with exposed noggins.

I know this is a hopeless notion as long as Republicans control the Texas Legislature, but I am going to express my wish that legislators one day might find it within them to reintroduce the helmet law.

At this moment, only 19 of our 50 states require motorcyclists to wear helmets; 28 states — including Texas — require some motorcycle riders to wear the protective gear. Those riders are children. Only three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have zero helmet requirements for motorcyclists and their passengers.

I might be overly pessimistic about the Texas Legislature’s potential for doing the right thing. The GOP-controlled Legislature did enact a law in 2017 that bans handheld cellphone use while driving motor vehicles. I still am amazed that the Legislature did pass such a law in 2011, only to have then-Gov. Rick Perry veto it, calling the law an infringement on personal liberty. It took a new Legislature and a new governor, Greg Abbott, to create that new law.

I wish the Legislature could find it within itself to do the same thing with motorcycle helmets. In 1995, when lawmakers dropped the law, they required licensed motorcyclists to be insured for at least $10,000. To which I said at the time “big . . . fu***** . . . deal.” Someone who suffers a traumatic head injury can burn through 10 grand before he or she even enters the ER.

I do know that helmets save lives. They also spare motorcyclists from debilitating head injuries that over time put a terrible strain on our state’s medical and social services.

While working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle in the early 1990s, an acquaintance from Orange County told me he hated the helmet law because he couldn’t “feel the wind” in his hair. I laughed in his face.

I know I’m spitting into the wind on this notion. That’s all right. I’ll keep spitting whenever the spirit moves me.

Reps. Price, Smithee turn their backs on ‘local control’

I know these two men well and have developed a lot of professional respect for them, but Texas state Reps. Four Price and John Smithee of Amarillo have disappointed me.

The two Republican lawmakers have put their names on a bill that would allow the Legislature to disallow the deployment of red-light cameras. Cities that deem there is a need to use the equipment to stop motorists from breaking the law no longer would be allowed to use the cameras.

Amarillo — which Price and Smithee represent — is one of those Texas cities that has used the cameras to assist in the enforcement of traffic laws.

Gov. Greg Abbott has gone on record saying he wants the cameras pulled down. His statement suggests he will sign legislation that forbids cities from using the cameras.

Why does this bother me? Well, I support the city’s effort to crack down on red-light violations at signaled intersections. I say that as someone who has been caught running through an intersection, seeking to sneak through when the light had turned yellow; I wasn’t quick enough to avoid getting caught.

Moreover, Republicans have traditionally been the political party that espouses local control. They have been champions of cities operating under their charter, rather than allowing “big brother” state government to impose policies that determine issues that are best left to the cities’ discretion.

I guess that’s no longer the case.

Indeed, the Legislature’s decision just a few years ago to allow cities to use the cameras came after extensive discussion and debate. I believe the cameras have helped deter motorists from acting in a manner that endangers other motorists and pedestrians.

I wish Reps. Price and Smithee had held true to their view that local control is the preferred method of delivering good government.