By Jimmy Potts

jpotts@brownwoodbulletin.com

AUSTIN— A contingent of two dozen Brown County citizens traveled to the state capitol to have their voices heard Tuesday as part of State Legislature Day.

The group of more than 24 Brown County residents representing local governments, business, media and ordinary citizens discussed how upcoming state policy changes effect them with members of TxDOT, state parks and wildlife, agriculture and elected officials during State Legislative Day.

“It was a very good day. We’re always glad to come to Austin during the legislative session and fly the Brownwood flag,” Brownwood Attorney Robert Porter said. “People need to know we exist and if we have a particular issue on the plate, the time to approach is not when you need it.  It’s constantly recreating relationships. When you do have an important issue, they’re not strangers.”

After receiving a proclamation from Rep. Mike Lang, Brownwood attendees received a brief overview of the issues affecting various fields within Texas state governance. 

Senate Bill II (Education)

Republican state officials will work to pass a bill capping school revenue increases at 2.5 percent per year. Should a district exceed the 2.5 percent cap, it would trigger an automatic election the following November. Districts that collect less than $15 million in property tax and sales tax combined will be exempt.

David Clark, who works under Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, outlined the plan during the presentation inside the Reagan Building – just outside the capitol building. 

“In the process of doing that, it will force schools to lower their property tax rate,” Clark said. “… There will also be an increase in the basic allotment for school districts, which will also help in lowering recapture payments going forward. We have a whole bunch of exciting ideas going forward in our education bill. We have a small piece of our bill that deals with school finance and the property tax side of the bill.”

Agriculture

For Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Dan Hunter, the most prominent issue, outside of their annual budget, is dealing with Texas’ growing feral hog infestation. Hunter said legislators are working to revive a move to allow use of pesticides to terminate feral hogs, but said they received what he considers unnecessary blowback when they attempted to implement the program in 2017.

“The reality was we got called out for the craziest thing. We were trying to use a pesticide as a bait to kill feral hogs,” Hunter said. “It became the biggest cluster-mess you can ever imagine. The reality of this is it was just another tool … Whether it’s tracking, hunting, baits — whatever it is, we need to find everything we can to utilize everything in our toolbox. You don’t know the cost of the state, the cost to property owners, the cost to businesses is horrendous.”

TxDOT announces Zephyr Bridge update

After months of delays, TxDOT District Director Randy Hopmann announced the Zephyr Bridge project will conclude in April or early May. TxDOT is working to conclude a four-phase, $12.4 million railroad bridge construction project at U.S. Highway 84/183.

In its previous state, the bridge required the popular four-lane highway, which reaches a speed limit of 75 miles per hour in some sections, to bottleneck to two lanes. Once completed, TxDOT will expand 84/183 to five lanes, including a turn lane. 

“One project underway that should be wrapping up in the next couple of months is on Highway 84 — the railroad bridge,” Hopmann said. “Can I get an amen for finishing that thing up? It’s going to have (increased) vertical clearance and then you’re going to have more lanes underneath. It won’t have that bottleneck and restrictions at the railroad. That’s a 14 million project wrapping up this spring.”