OPINION

Capital highlights: Voters back pair of property tax amendments

GARY BORDERS

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved two proposed amendments Saturday that will provide property tax relief to homeowners.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, nearly 85% of voters supported Proposition 2, which raises the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000 starting this year. That will save the average homeowner about $175 in school property taxes.

Gary Borders

Another proposition that easily passed corrects an oversight to a 2019 bill passed by the Legislature, which didn’t apply to homeowners who are disabled or 65 and older, because their school taxes were already frozen.

The state will reimburse school districts for tax funding lost by both propositions, with the Legislative Budget Board anticipating the amount at more than a half-billion dollars, according to the Statesman.

Meanwhile, Texas voters get another opportunity to cast ballots starting May 16 in primary runoff elections slated for both Republican and Democratic candidates. The election is May 24, with early voting running until May 20.

Statewide runoff races are slated for attorney general and land commissioner in both parties, lieutenant governor and comptroller in the Democratic race, and railroad commissioner on the Republican side of the ticket. 

More information can be found about particular races at votetexas.gov. Voters who cast ballots in one party’s primary cannot vote in the other party’s runoff election. However, voters who did not cast ballots in the primary can vote in either party’s runoff.

First state case of avian influenza in wild bird confirmed

The first case of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in a wild bird in Texas has been confirmed. A great horned owl at a rehabilitation facility in Wichita County was confirmed to have the virus by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, which notified the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

The potentially fatal HPAI is highly contagious and transmits easily among wild and domestic bird species. It has been found in 38 states, and its symptoms include diarrhea, incoordination, lethargy, coughing and sneezing.

TPWD recommends enhanced biosecurity measures at labs that deal with wild or domestic birds, including quarantining birds showing symptoms of HPAI.

While the risk of transmission to humans from birds is low, TPWD recommends taking basic precautions if contact with birds cannot be avoided, such as wearing gloves and face masks.

SBA loans available for Eastland Complex Fire victims

The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved the state’s request for a disaster declaration in communities affected by the recent Eastland Complex Fire, which means low-interest loans are available for qualified homeowners, renters, and businesses in affected communities.

Counties included are Brown, Callahan, Comanche, Eastland, Erath, Palo Pinto, Shackelford, and Stephens.

“Thank you to the U.S. Small Business Administration for providing this much-needed financial assistance to communities affected by the Eastland Complex Fire,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Applicants can apply online or receive additional disaster assistance information at disasterloanassistance.sba.gov.

The potential for more wildfires continues, especially in the Texas Panhandle and the Trans Pecos, including areas near Canadian, Amarillo, Childress, Lubbock, Abilene, Big Spring, Midland and Alpine, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. 

In the first week of May, the service responded to 26 requests for assistance on wildfires that burned more than 18,000 acres across the state. Burn bans are in effect in 132 Texas counties.

Look twice for motorcycles, TxDOT urges

A motorcycle safety and public awareness campaign is underway, spearheaded by the Texas Department of Public Transportation. It urges motorists to look twice for motorcycles, especially at intersections — the most common collision site.

Last year, 519 riders were killed and 2,318 were seriously injured in crashes in Texas. More than half of the fatalities result from collisions with other vehicles. 

“Drivers simply don’t see the motorcycle or misjudge its distance and speed. The small size of motorcycles can make them appear farther away when they're actually closer. The combination of congested roadways, distracted driving and the difficulty of seeing motorcycles in traffic has led to many preventable fatalities each year,” a TxDOT news release said. 

COVID-19 cases tick up slightly in state

The number of COVID-19 cases in Texas rose slightly in the past week to 21,105, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, with 68 new deaths reported. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state was essentially unchanged, with 783 reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated now stands at 17.615 million, or 60.4 percent of the state’s population, while 6.783 million have received a booster shot, 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.