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Capital Highlights

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U n d e r l e g i s l a t i o n prioritized by House Speaker Dade Phelan, every Texas school would have an armed police officer, and aspiring teachers would receive extra support.

The Dallas Morning News reported the bill would also provide $ 15,000 in annual funding for safety measures for each school in the state. Another bill would increase the annual allotment per student for safety measures from $ 10 to $ 100.

Another House measure is aimed at improving teacher retention and recruitment, The Morning News reported. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Harold Dutton, D- Houston, would create a new grant to help prospective teachers pursing special education or bilingual certification, and would increase funding for educator mentoring. Special education and bilingual teacher positions are especially hard to fill in Texas.

RISING CAR INSURANCE R AT E S CAU S I N G STICKER SHOCK Average statewide auto insurance rates are up nearly 24% over last year, according to a report by the Texas Standard. That is the highest increase in at least 20 years, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. That comes on top of increased costs for vehicles both new and used, and higher fuel costs.

Michael Schnurman, a business columnist with The Morning News, was interviewed on the Standard and had this to say, in part: “ There are several elements that play into it. One … is the higher values of cars and used cars in particular – they really shot up during the pandemic,” he said. “ But the claims are also up a lot. … When driving resumed, the number of accidents and the severity of accidents has really been a lot higher. If you look at fatalities, I think they were up 18%.”

Schnurman suggested consumers shop around for auto insurance and look for discounts for bundling it with homeowners’ insurance or multiple vehicles on the same account.

PUC RECOMMENDS HEFTY FINE AGAINST POWER COMPANY T h e P u b l i c U t i l i t y C o m m i s s i o n h a s recommended that the Texas-New Mexico Power Company pay a $ 1.74 million fine for inaccurate estimates of its customers’ electric usage.

In a report released last week, The PUC said the power company failed to correct a violation of an order to install new meters that can be read remotely in a timely manner.

The commission said, “ TNMP’s new meter rollout was significantly delayed,” resulting in the utility “ estimating thousands of meters for months on end.”

The investigation found that TNMP was given three- years’ notice that the “ communication backbone” of its metering system was going to be discontinued by its third- party provider but failed to produce a plan until halfway through that timeframe. It also failed to have a backup plan in case its vendor could not provide the 170,000 new meters on schedule, according to the PUC.

TEXAS SENATE PASSES FIRST BILL OF SESSION The Texas Senate last week passed a bill that would close a loophole in state law that allowed gun sales to people between the ages of 16 and 18 who have been involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness. The Texas Tribune reported it was the first bill passed by the Senate this session.

Courts are supposed to report all involuntary mental health hospitalizations to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which then sends them to the FBI’s national background check system. However, problems with how existing state law was written led to those hospitalizations not being reported by courts.

The measure comes after an 18- year- old shooter in Uvalde with a history of mental health problems killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School last year. However, since that shooter was never hospitalized, closing the loophole would not have prevented him from legally buying two assault rifles.

DROUGHT MAP SPREADS IN PARTS OF STATE Drought conditions by the end of February covered 62% of the state, up nine percentage points from a month earlier, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board. Drought- free areas include all of East Texas up to Dallas County to the west and Jefferson County to the south. The most severe drought conditions are in the far northern edge of the Panhandle, the counties surrounding San Antonio, and nearly all of South Texas.

“ The latest seasonal drought outlook from the National Weather Service is optimistic for East and North Central Texas,” Wentzel wrote. “ Through the end of May, that part of the state is expected to remain drought- free. Unfortunately, drought is expected to expand in the rest of the state.”

Gary Borders is a veteran a w a r d - w i n n i n g T e x a s journalist. He published a number of community n e w s p a p e r s i n T e x a s during a 30- year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, and Cedar Park. Email him at gborders@ texaspress. com.