The Orange Leader
After the 83rd Legislation and three special sessions called, State Senator Robert Nichols returned to Orange to talk about the issues that will impact Orange.
A normal legislation lasts 140 and this year the session was 210 days.
Nichols said that 102 years ago Sam Rayburn was the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and someone had looked up the issues the senate faced then compared to today.
“It is the same as today,” Nichols said. “The Big Three: Education, transportation and water.”
Nichols has 102 school districts in the area he represents which is 10% of the education districts in Texas.
“Before every session, I go to each county and meet with the superintendents,” Nichols said. “They tell me what issues the schools are facing.”
The superintendents were concerned with the overtesting of students.
“We were able to cut the standardized tests to five from fifteen,” Nichols said. “We were also able to replace money that had been cut from education.”
Superintendents also requested the Career Paths the kids were on was not working.
“Vocational classes will be back in school for those that are not college bound,” Nichols said. “WE also addressed mental health. Teacher will be able to take a first aid training to help identify students who may have problems. The teachers are not to treat the students but help give direction. The training will be available for cities is as well like police departments.”
“I was surprised at how we became too political correct at schools,” Nichols said. “The Merry Christmas Bill was passed. It’s OK to celebrate holidays in schools. I was pretty excited about that.”
Nichols said Santa Clauses and the Kountze cheerleaders were present when the bill was signed.
The third special session was called for a single bill concerning transportation.
“[Governor] Perry liked my bill and called us back for the one bill,” Nichols said.
The state borrowed funds for ten years to maintain transportation at $10 million a year due to not raising enough funds through the traditional method of fuel fee and vehicle registration fees. The constitutional amendment is for providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads. The amendments will be on the November 4, 2014 ballot.
Nichols also said the bill would allow for port improvements.
“The Port of Orange will be able to tap into those funds for improvements,” Nichols said.
Nichols also discussed S.J.R. 1, the constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.
“We need new sources of water,” Nichols said. “We cannot create water but we can find new ways to obtain water.”
Nichols did ask that people vote for #6 on the ballot, H.J.R. 62, the constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a member of the armed services of the United States who is killed in action.
“Widows of our servicemen will not pay property tax,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the state did cut taxes this year such as the Franchise tax making small business exempt.
“We also made it mandatory for drug testing for unemployment,” Nichols said. “We tried for those on welfare as well but there were not enough votes.”
Robert Nichols represents 19 counties including the greater part of East Texas.
Nichols serves as chair of the Transportation Committee and sits on the Health and Human Services Committee, Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Natural Resources Committee and the State Affairs Committee. He also serves as vice-chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission.
During his three sessions as a state senator, Nichols authored and passed legislation to protect landowners' rights, increase educational opportunities in East Texas and reform transportation policies. He has worked to reduce Medicaid fraud, and promote free-market principles. He was designated as a Top Legislator by Texas Insider and a Champion of Free Enterprise by the Texas Association of Business.