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Bill tightening voting restrictions in Texas passes Senate committee

by | Mar 31, 2021 | Opinion

A Texas Senate commit­tee on Friday passed an elections bill that would tighten the state’s voting rules by limiting extended early voting hours, requiring proof of disability to qualify for mail-in voting and prohibiting drive-th­ru voting. Senate Bill 7, spon­sored by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is one of Gov. Gregg Abbott’s legislative priorities this session.

During testimony Friday, the committee received oppo­sition testimony from AARP, the League of Women Voters, NAACP and other groups. Hughes described his bill as attempting to strike a balance between “maintaining fair and honest elections with the oppor­tunity to exercise one’s right to vote,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Any Texan old enough to legally drive can receive COVID-19 vaccine

More than 10.2 million Tex­ans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vac­cine as of Sunday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The pace is expected to quicken now that anyone 16 years and older can receive one of the three versions available in the state. A total of 3.57 million Texans are fully vaccinated — about 12% of the state’s population. DSHS has di­rected vaccine providers to give priority to people 80 years and older.

To that point, a new outreach partnership between the Tex­as Health and Human Services Commission and several part­ners was announced last week by Gov. Gregg Abbott. Among those participating to expand the state’s Save Our Seniors pro­gram launched in February are the Texas Employee Retirement System, Texas Teachers Retire­ment System, AARP and vari­ous Medicare health plans.

More than 1 million doses of the vaccine are being shipped to Texas providers this week. Texans can call 2-1-1 or go to https://tinyurl.com/9dvpetm9 for more information about get­ting the vaccine.

COVID-19 cases in Texas

drop slightly

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas dropped to 27,185 last week, with 741 deaths reported. Both are down just slightly from the previous week, accord­ing to the Coronavirus Center at Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations of confirmed COVID-19 cases also showed a slight decrease to 3,308, accord­ing to DSHS.

Health care fraud case ends with prison time, $82.9 million restitution

The state’s Department of Workers’ Compensation an­nounced last week that the re­maining defendants in a health care fraud bribery scam were sentenced by a federal judge. The case involved surgeons, physicians and hospital admin­istrators at Forest Park Medical Hospital in Dallas. It began in 2016 and involved 14 defen­dants, who were sentenced to a combined 74-plus years in pris­on and ordered to pay $82.9 mil­lion in restitution. According to a news release from DWC, the department’s fraud unit identi­fied health care providers at For­est Park who billed the state’s workers’ compensation system. The unit turned over the data to the FBI.

“Fraudulent billing within the health care system drives up the costs of health care for every­one,” Debra Knight, DWC dep­uty commissioner, said. “These significant sentences demon­strate that health care fraud will not be tolerated.”

Border transportation master plan approved by state

The Texas Department of Transportation has approved the Border Transportation Master Plan after years of research and analysis of current and future transportation needs and growth in the border region. Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughs, who chaired the Board Trade Advi­sory Committee, praised the de­cision. The plan recommended strategies to help U.S. and Mex­ican officials improve efficien­cy in the movement of freight, goods and people across the state’s 28 border crossings.

“I look forward to our con­tinued work together on the im­plementation of the master plan to raise awareness of its impor­tance, improve quality of life for residents of the border region, and secure economic prosperity for all on both sides of the bor­der,” Hughs said.

Forest service acquires acre­age through legacy grant

The Texas A&M Forest Ser­vice has acquired Fox Hunters Hill, a $1.6 million conserva­tion easement of sustainably managed forest adjacent to the Sabine National Forest in Deep East Texas. The acreage was acquired through the U.S. For­est Legacy Program, which ac­quired more than 23,000 acres throughout the South to protect forestlands at risk due to urban development or clear cutting.

TFS works with landown­ers on a “willing buyer/willing seller” basis to obtain the lands and enhance sustainable forest management. “A conservation easement is an interest in land acquired to protect certain con­servation values,” explained Gretchen Riley, the Forest Lega­cy Program Coordinator at Tex­as A&M Forest Service. “It is a good way to assure important, vulnerable landscapes – and the benefits they provide to Texans – are sustained for the future.”

Fox Hunters Hill borders 213,000 acres of protected lands in the Angelina and Sabine Na­tional Forests, including one of the last undeveloped coves of Toledo Bend Reservoir.

Protect yourself from so­cial media identity theft

The Texas Department of In­surance has some advice on tak­ing simple steps to protect social media accounts and thus avoid most scams. Those tips include:

• Don’t post ID cards, includ­ing a COVID-19 vaccination card.

• Watch out for online quizzes and surveys that ask for personal information, such as the model of your first car, name of your first pet, or your hometown. Those are often also security login questions.

• Don’t overshare. The more a scammer finds out about you, the easier it is to create a fake account.

• Limit app sharing and close old accounts.

• Protect family members, es­pecially teens, who are the most likely to overshare.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span. [email protected].

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