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Voter registration deadline for primary approaches


The deadline to register to vote in the Texas Democratic and Republican primary elections is Feb. 5. Voters on March 5 will choose their nominees for president, U.S. Senator, all 38 U.S. House members from Texas, and a number of other state and local offices, from the Texas Supreme Court to district attorneys, sheriffs and county commissioners.

Any registered voter can cast a ballot in either party’s primary election, but not both primaries in a single election cycle. Successful nominees in the primaries advance to the general election. Early voting begins on Feb. 20 and ends on March 1.

Anyone who wants to confirm their voter registration status can go to votetexas.gov.

Razor wire case goes to Supreme Court

The U.S. Justice Department last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency ruling to allow Border Patrol agents to resume cutting razor wire installed by the state along the U.S.-Mexico border, The Dallas Morning News reported.

“Texas’s placement of the wire near the riverbank in Eagle Pass has proved particularly problematic for Border Patrol agents,” the justice department wrote in its plea. “By preventing Border Patrol agents from reaching noncitizens who have already entered the United States, Texas’s barriers in Eagle Pass impede agents’ ability to apprehend and inspect migrants under federal law.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has accused President Joe Biden of impeding immigration enforcement.

“Americans and courts will reject Biden’s hostility to immigration laws,” Abbott posted on X. “Texas will continue to deploy National Guard to build border barriers and repel illegal immigrants.”

Community colleges get millions in additional funding

The state’s community colleges are receiving millions in additional funding under a move to merit-based funding and a departure from funding based strictly on enrollment numbers, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

House Bill 8 was signed into law by Abbott in June. Community colleges now are receiving state money based on how many degrees, certificates, transfers and “credentials of value” are awarded. The state budget is allocating $683 million in additional funds to the state’s 50 community college districts.

“It’s a game changer, not just for bottom line revenue that will come to our colleges, which is sorely needed, but it is a game changer again because it will really allow us to focus on what we’re really there for and that is to serve the students that grow in our colleges,” Ray Martinez, CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said.

More than a third of state agencies using AI

More than one third of state agencies are using some form of artificial intelligence, according to a 2022 report from the Texas Department of Information Resources. The Texas Tribune reported agencies such as the Texas Workforce Commission are using chatbots to serve patrons. In the TWC’s case, the chatbot was designed to help Texans sign up for unemployment benefits after the pandemic in March 2020 vastly increased the number of jobless claims.

“This is going to totally revolutionize the way we do government,” said state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake. Capriglione wrote House Bill 2020, which is aimed at helping the state make better use of AI technology. It creates an AI advisory council to ascertain how state agencies are now using AI and whether a code of ethics is needed.

Some of the current uses of AI by state agencies include translating languages into English, enhancing cybersecurity and fraud detection, and translating speech into text at call centers.

Texas economy still booming

New data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates the Texas economy continues to grow faster than the nation as a whole for the fifth quarter in a row. During the third quarter of 2023, the state’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services produced – grew in Texas at an annual rate of 7.7%, considerably higher than the national GDP’s growth of 4.9%.

“Texas is America’s undisputed economic leader, outpacing the nation in economic expansion and job growth,” Abbott said.

Kansas posted the highest percentage increase in the nation at 9.7%.

Novelty plate sales on the rise

Whether it is buying a personalized plate, supporting one’s alma mater or opting for a plate with a black background, Texans spent more than $10 million on novelty plates in 2023, The News reported.

While plates with black backgrounds have been the top sellers for the past three years, there has also been an increase in personalized plates.

“More people are wanting to add their own personal message on their plate that means something to them,” said Steve Farrar,  CEO of My Plates.

The maroon plate purchased by Texas A&M University fans dominated the school-related novelty plates, followed by Texas Tech University plates.

Cedar pollen clouds causing misery for many

It’s that time of year when many Texans suffer from itchy, watery eyes, sneezing fits, and runny noses, caused by pollen from mountain cedar trees and commonly called “cedar fever.” As the Houston Chronicle noted, while cedar fever is most often associated with the Ashe juniper common in Central Texas, red cedars in the eastern part of the state also pollinate around this time.

Pollen production peaks in mid-January and tapers off by spring.

“During cold fronts, it gets very dry and windy and the pressure changes very rapidly,” said Jonathan Motsinger of the Texas A&M Forest Service. “This triggers the opening of pollen cones and the release of pollen grains. When the conditions are right, you can actually see the pollen blowing off of some trees.”  

Allergy medications can provide some relief, and it is advisable to keep doors and windows closed until the pollen dissipates.

Feral hogs spotted on Galveston beach

It is not exactly peak tourist season on Galveston beaches, but a group of feral hogs have decided to visit Galveston Island State Park, officials reported.

Photos released by park officials show the hogs traipsing along the beach at night, leaving hoof prints in the sand. Roughly half of all the feral hogs in the United States take up residence in Texas.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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