Sen. Nichols: My Five Cents

State Sen. Robert Nichols
State Sen. Robert Nichols

Did you have a chance to watch the Grammy awards last week? Well this week the Texas Senate was proud to pass a resolution in honor of all our Texas musicians who received awards at this year’s ceremony. SR 296 was presented personally to Josh Abbott, Jack Ingram, and other well-known individuals who contribute so much to the national music scene. Additionally, at this point in the legislative session, most lawmakers are still getting along, and that is music to my ears as well.

Some of the things happening at your Texas Capitol include:

SB 810 – Working to prevent fraud

On Tuesday, I filed SB 810 to help crack down on Medicaid fraud. We have worked with the Attorney General’s office to develop this and other strategies to improve Medicaid fraud enforcement. When criminals steal from the Medicaid system they are stealing from every Texas taxpayer.

SB 810 would add a provision to the Texas Penal Code that prevents a defendant from attempting to repay the Texas Medicaid program as a defense to criminal prosecution. Some district attorneys’ offices decline to prosecute a defendant who has defrauded the Medicaid program if that defendant repays the program. This amendment would keep defendants from making that argument.

Celebrating Texas Independence Day and the Return of the Travis Letter

On March 2nd the state will mark the 177th Anniversary of Texas Independence and will celebrate by bringing Colonel William Barrett Travis’ famous “Victory or Death” letter back to the Alamo. Written at the Alamo by Travis on February 24, 1836 as Mexican General Santa Anna’s troops began their siege, this letter is considered a Texas treasure and one of the most stirring battleground letters in our nation’s history. It is normally housed at the Texas State Archives and Library Building in Austin, but is currently being exhibited at the Alamo in honor of Texas Independence Day.

The document “came home” to the Alamo on Saturday, February 23rd and will be on display through March 7th from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day in a custom-made, climate controlled and bullet-proof case. As always, entry to the Alamo is free, and there is no charge to see the historic Travis letter. This occasion presents a good opportunity to reflect on the courage and bravery exhibited by Texas’ founders. They left a legacy of freedom, self-reliance and liberty that still inspires our state today.

FFA leaders at the Capitol

This week it was great to see so many FFA members for their day at the Capitol this year. These young men and women represent Texas so well and remind us all of how important agriculture is to our state. It is always an honor to meet with this and other organizations who are training tomorrow’s Texas leaders.

SB 665 – It’s OK to say “Merry Christmas”

I recently filed Senate Bill 665 to protect Texas public schools’ ability to use traditional holiday greetings such as ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Hanukkah’ on school grounds and to educate students about the history and roots of such holidays.

I have heard from many constituents who dislike that it is becoming less culturally acceptable to openly celebrate these holidays in the ways past generations have. To me this is a matter of helping our teachers and administrators feel safe talking about these holidays at school without fear of legal action being taken against them.

We are currently standing at a cultural crossroads in our society, and this is one step forward for those defending our traditional values and beliefs. To follow the bill’s progress, please go to http://www.MerryChristmasBill.com/

SB 7 – Medicaid Restructuring

This week the Health and Human Services Committee, which I serve on, voted out of committee an important bill to improve outcomes in our Medicaid system. The bill focuses largely on improving long term care services, which is one of the biggest costs to the program. The goal is to redesign the system to prepare for the growing need for long term care, given that Texas has the nation’s largest number of seniors and a growing number of Texans with disabilities.
Those who receive these services are some of the most vulnerable people we serve. We need to make sure they get the best care available — and that we are delivering that care in the most sustainable and efficient way possible.

Athens High School recognized for blood drive efforts

Athens blood driveAthens High School has been recognized by Carter BloodCare as a “Best Performing High School for 2012” for its blood drive efforts. Students donated 384 units of blood, saving 1,152 lives. AHS teacher Rebecca Wilder, who is responsible for the blood drive efforts, said: “This is a great accomplishment and I am so proud of our students. It is great to be a Hornet!” (Photos courtesy Stacy Dunacusky/AISD)

See more photos on our Facebook page.

Daily Brief: Friday, March 1

The Athens Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting Thursday for the new shuttle service offered by the Chariot bus line. Above, Kim Hodges (left) presents Helen Thornton and Gates Community Church Pastor Alan Coleman with a token of appreciation. (MICHAEL V. HANNIGAN PHOTO)
The Athens Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting Thursday for the new shuttle service offered by the Chariot bus line. Above, Kim Hodges (left) presents Helen Thornton and Gates Community Church Pastor Alan Coleman with a token of appreciation. (MICHAEL V. HANNIGAN PHOTO)

TOP 5 STORIES OF THE WEEK

Story 1 — Athens gets shuttle service: The Chariot Bus Lines is expanding to include a shuttle service inside the city of Athens starting Friday, March 1.
Why it’s important: In a town with little in the way of public transportation, this is an important service.
Read more: We had a story from the ribbon cutting. 

Story 2 — City Council makes a splash: The Athens City Council approved more than $34,000 in funds and in-kind donations to the Spalsh Pad project this week.
Why it’s important: The Splash Pad project is getting close to having enough money to break ground.
Read more: Jayson Larson at the Review was on the story. 

Story 3 — Reward increased for murdered assistant DA: The reward in case of murdered Kaufman County Assistant DA Mark Hasse has hit six figures.
Why it’s important: The murderers are still on the loose.
Read more: The Dallas Morning News crime blog reported the increase. 

Story 4 — Athens sailor sentenced in Japan: US Navy sailor and Athens resident Christopher Browning was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping and robbing a woman in Japan.
Why it’s important: Athens is in the international news.
Read more: The Associated Press (here through ABC) covered the story.

Story 5 — Texas Independence Day: Saturday, March 2, is Texas Independence Day.
Why it’s important: Because we’re Texans!
Read more: Henderson County Commissioners’ Court approved a proclamation for the day, and we were there.

WHAT YOU MISSED

AMA: Is Athens getting a Cotton Patch?

Athens man gets 15 years for Walmart robbery. 

Drug charges bring 20-year sentence. 

Brookshire’s donated $2,500 to the Old Fiddlers Reunion. 

WHAT OTHERS ARE TALKING ABOUT

The 2003 LaPoynor girls state championship basketball team is going to be honored this year. (The Review)

For Chandler First Assembly of God Associate Pastor Chris Frye, the game of baseball has truly been the game of life. (The Statesman)

ON TAP

Softball sign-ups for the Henderson County Girls Softball Association have begun. Sign-ups will be Saturday, March 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cain Park.

Malakoff Teenage Baseball/Softball scheduled sign ups March 2 under the pavilion at Kilman field from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students from Malakoff, CrossRoads, Athens and Trinidad areas are eligible.

The Trinity Valley Community College Music Department will present a concert, titled “Our Musical Heritage, the Folk Music of America,” at 3 p.m. March 3. The concert will take place at Dogwood Church in Athens and there is no charge for admission. Dogwood Church is located at 6467 Farm-to-Market Road 2494 in Athens.

Trinity Valley Community College will host the Cruisin’ Cardinals Car Show from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. March 2 in the front parking lot of the Athens campus. The show is open to all makes and models of car, truck, motorcycle and boat. Registration for the show is $15 for a car or truck and $7 for a motorcycle or a boat. Awards will be given for best of show. Registration is not needed in advance, but can be done at the event. For more information, contact the TVCC Student Activities Office at 903-675-6252. The show proceeds will benefit students taking an alternative spring break in Romania to help orphans in need.

Henderson County Performing Arts Center is putting on “The Boys Club.” 

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Athens man gets 15 years for Walmart robbery

Oliver O’neal Manuel
Oliver O’neal Manuel

Henderson County District Attorney’s Office press release

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Oliver O’neal Manuel, a 41-year-old formerly of Athens, was sentenced to 15 years confinement in prison for robbery. The punishment was ordered after a sentencing hearing in the 173rd Judicial District Court with Judge Dan Moore presiding.

Assistant District Attorney Justin Weiner prosecuted the case on behalf of Scott McKee’s District Attorney’s Office.

On Aug. 6, 2011, Manuel entered into the Walmart store in Athens. He was observed by Loss Prevention employees attempting to conceal various items from the store in his clothing. As he attempted to leave the store, without paying for the merchandise, he was approached and confronted by three individuals identifying themselves as employees. Manuel denied any wrong doing and continued to try to exit the store. When asked not to leave, Manuel pulled out a knife with a box-cutter blade causing the employees to jump back in fear for their safety while Manuel escaped out the door.

Manuel testified in the hearing and asked that the judge place him on probation. He blamed his actions on a drug problem though he had been treated in several in-patient facilities for crack cocaine use. He also admitted that he even had used crack cocaine while in the rehab facilities.

Manuel had also been involved in an incident at the Brookshire’s in Athens earlier in the year. He was once again caught shoplifting. When questioned by members of Athens Police Department he became aggressive and violent. He swung at an officer and was ultimately tazed in front of the store.

In closing arguments, Weiner asked that Manuel be sentenced to a prison term and argued to the court: “[T]his is a far cry from a probation case. The defendant is a threat to our community that has an extensive criminal history. Allowing him to be on our streets would put the people of Henderson County in jeopardy.”

“This defendant is in prison where he belongs thanks to the Athens Police Department and ADA Weiner,” said District Attorney Scott McKee.

Athens man sentenced to 20 years on drug charges

Frank Clinton James, Jr.
Frank Clinton James, Jr.

Henderson County District Attorney’s Office press release

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Frank Clinton James, Jr., a 25-year-old resident of Athens, was sentenced to 20 years confinement in prison. James was sentenced by Judge Dan Moore of the 173rd Judicial District after pleading guilty to Possession of a Controlled Substance.

Assistant District Attorneys Justin Weiner and Nancy Rumar prosecuted the case on behalf of Scott McKee’s District Attorney’s Office.

James was arrested after he was pulled over by a Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy on Highway 31 for operating a motor vehicle with defective equipment. Contact was made with James who did not have his driver’s license. When asked to step out of his vehicle, he attempted to conceal a cap to a hypodermic needle that he had in his hand. Though he attempted to mislead the deputy he was unsuccessful. Ultimately, James told the deputy that his “needle junkie” friend had borrowed his vehicle and it must have been from him.

After running James’ information the deputy discovered that he had been driving with a suspended license. James was placed under arrest. A search incident to arrest revealed a slew of paraphernalia and narcotics related items. The deputy located digital scales, six hypodermic needles, 36 clear plastic baggies, and various other items. A larger green bag was also located which contained just over 20 grams of a crystal substance later proven to be methamphetamine. James was also charged for a switchblade knife that had been concealed by being placed on the undercarriage of the vehicle.

“This is another example of good old fashion police work,” said District Attorney Scott McKee.