Senator Robert Nichols – For The Record

As we are all preparing our tax forms, we can be thankful Texas is one of only seven states with no state income tax. Because of our lower taxes and efficient government, Texas is a great place to live, own a business and raise a family. 

Here are five things happening around your state this month:

  1. Protecting Religious Liberty

The Senate State Affairs Committee recently held a hearing to examine measures to affirm the first amendment religious liberty protections in Texas, and to review how local nondiscrimination ordinances fit into state and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed in 1999.

Many who testified and members on the committee stated they believed the best way to protect religious freedoms and avoid discrimination, was to file legislation in the upcoming session which would preserve individual religious liberties. This would be similar to the Pastor Protection Act passed last session, which protects pastors who wish to not conduct same-sex marriages. Over the next few months, the committee will continue to review possible legislation and how this may affect our state.

  1. Surface Water Rights

In 2012, Dow Chemical Company asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to make a ‘priority call’ on the Brazos River during a time of drought. This means they would be able to stop water withdrawals from users who have water rights junior (more recently granted) to Dow’s rights which were granted in 1942. TCEQ granted this, but made an exemption for power generators and cities.

Last year, the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality could not exempt certain water holders including power generators and cities. Recently the Texas Supreme Court denied a petition for review of this decision, upholding the ruling that TCEQ did not have the authority to make the exemptions. This was a victory for farmers, ranchers and others who advocate that private property rights be protected in the context of surface water use in Texas

  1. Sunset Advisory Commission

In Texas, we try to keep state government efficient and small through the Sunset process. Unlike their federal counterparts, the state agencies in Texas are not allowed to exist indefinitely. Instead, the existence of an agency must be legislatively justified and go through the Sunset process approximately every 12 years. 

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has appointed me to serve a second term on the Sunset Advisory Commission. Having previously served as Vice Chairman of the Commission, I understand the importance and hard work ahead of us. As we head into the 85th Legislative Session next year, the Commission will evaluate over 20 agencies and boards to determine if they are serving the State as they should. These include the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, The Railroad Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation.

  1. Get Appointed

One aspect of state government that many are not aware of is governmental appointments. The Governor of Texas makes approximately 3,000 appointments during a four-year term. These include appointments to state boards, commissions, councils and members of task forces that advise the Governor or executive agencies on specific agencies and policies. Some of those include the Animal Health Commission, the Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Texas Pharmacy Board.

During my time in the Senate, and having served on the Senate Nominations Committee for six years, I have become very aware of the impact state boards have on Texas. Because of this, I want to encourage more Senate District 3 constituents to apply for these positions. Our communities in East Texas are blessed with many individuals whose expertise and backgrounds could benefit our state as a whole and I encourage you to get involved. For an application and more information, please visit www.governor.state.tx.us/appointments.

  1. Texas Independence Day

On March 2nd, we will celebrate Texas’ Independence Day. Set on the anniversary of the signing of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico, Texas Independence Day is a reminder of our state’s rich history and the legacy of freedom we must still protect. After the declaration of independence was signed, Texas went on to operate as a stand-alone Republic for 10 years until it joined the United States by a vote of the people.

While Texans are proud Americans, we still hold on to much of the individual spirit from our time as a separate nation. Through their courage and bravery, Texas’ founders left a legacy of freedom, self-reliance and ingenuity that still inspires our state today.