OPINION

Capital highlights: State steps up DUI enforcement during holidays

GARY BORDERS

The Texas Department of Transportation has kicked off its statewide “Drive Sober. No Regrets” drunk driving prevention program for the holidays. Throughout the month, TxDOT has released videos of people who deal with the daily consequences of driving while impaired, either as an offender or survivor.

The stories and facts about drunk driving can be found at SoberRides.org.

Gary Borders

“It is our hope that these moving, firsthand accounts will encourage all of us to make the right choice and not ever drive after drinking or doing anything that can alter our judgment,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “We don’t want to turn a happy time of year into one that could be marked by tragic loss caused by someone’s poor decision to drink and drive.” 

During the December holiday season last year, there were 2,462 DUI-alcohol related traffic accidents, killing 93 people and seriously injuring 215.

Texas to distribute additional $123.3 million in ed funding

The state will invest an additional $123.3 million in federal funds provided through pandemic relief legislation.

“The state of Texas remains committed to students and their success in our education systems — that includes ensuring parents have an option to send their kids to a high-quality charter school and providing direct support to families with children who have special needs,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

This final round of funding includes money for students with severe cognitive disabilities; charter school grants; financial aid for nursing students; short-term credential training for front-line health care workers; initiatives to improve student enrollment and retention; financial aid programs for higher education; cybersecurity enhancement; and aid for those seeking commercial driver license training. 

“For some of our most at-risk students, this significant new round of funding will prioritize getting families across Texas direct access to special education and other targeted supplemental services to support their children’s varied educational needs,” said Mike Morath, Texas education commissioner.

Used vehicle prices at record highs

The average listing price for a used vehicle topped $27,000 for the first time, according to a report from Cox Automotive. A primary reason, according to a story in the San Antonio Express-News, is the relative scarcity of new vehicles because of supply-chain disruptions and an initial drop in demand when the pandemic struck.

For example, Toyota stopped production at all its plants across North America and in Southeast Asia, except for its San Antonio factory. The company had hoped to return to full prediction in December but has again suspended work at some plants as a shortage of computer chips has stymied vehicle production.

The spike in used vehicle prices has benefitted car owners looking to sell.

“With the way the market is right now, I’ve seen people make money on their vehicles, especially with diesel. It’s crazy,” Zachary Gilman, a salesman at the Jordan Ford dealership in Live Oak, told the Express-News.

More funding for Operation Lone Star

The state’s Public Safety Office has awarded an additional $38.4 million in funding to cities and counties along the Texas-Mexico border for law enforcement efforts. That amount doubles the funding provided for those counties since last March.

The funding is for specialized law enforcement equipment, labor costs including overtime, construction of additional communication towers and increased jail capacity and travel costs for law enforcement personnel from non-border counties that provide assistance.

“This additional funding will strengthen our response to the border crisis and ensure our law enforcement and local partners have the resources they need to keep our communities safe in the federal government's absence,” Abbott said.

COVID-19 cases spike; omicron variant spreads

As Texans continue to navigate life during a nearly two-year pandemic, the number of new cases of COVID-19 rose during the past week to 51,479, an increase of 41% from the previous week, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. The number of new deaths dropped to 266, a decrease of 44%, however. Researchers have said that while the omicron variant is more contagious than the delta variant that sparked the last wave, its symptoms thus far are not as severe. 

The number of lab-confirmed hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients stayed at about the same level as the previous week, with 3,376  reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated stood at 16.36 million as of Sunday, which is 56.1% of the state’s population. In addition, 4.35 million of the state’s residents have received an additional dose, according to DSHS.

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 and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.