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Gooden files legislation to help water customers

Gooden
State Rep. Lance Gooden

By Michael V. Hannigan

Earlier this month, I wrote a story about State Sen. Robert Nichols filing legislation to help the customers of investor-owned water utilities.

State Rep. Lance Gooden, who has been an outspoken defender of water customers in the past, has also filed legislation for the same reason.

Since I wrote about this subject recently, it seems easiest to let Gooden explain it himself. The following comes from his weekly column:

In our continuing battle against monopolistic, out-of-state investor owned water utilities (IOUs) in our area, I have filed two pieces of pro-consumer legislation: HB 1456 and HB 1457. (Click the link to see the bill). IOUs are different from city water utilities and water supply corporations because IOUs don’t have to answer to the voters that live in the areas they serve.

Under current law, a municipality can initiate and contest a rate increase proposed by an IOU on behalf of its citizens; however, ratepayers in an unincorporated area are forced to raise their own funds to fight
against a well-funded legal team for the right to affordable drinking water. This is wrong.

HB 1456 would level the playing field and allow a county to initiate and intervene in a contested rate case proceeding on behalf of its citizens living in an unincorporated area. I really appreciate Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders for joining me, along with the entire Henderson County Commissioners’ Court, in supporting this legislation. Monarch Water has been the most problematic in our area, though I have heard a rising number of complaints from Aqua Water’s customers.

Our second bill addresses the legal expenses incurred by an IOU if its ratepayers contest a proposed rate increase. Current law allows an IOU to pass legal expenses incurred onto its ratepayers if the IOU wins a rate case. This law only serves to discourage the consumer from contesting a rate increase due to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s history of ruling in favor of these utilities. With HB 1457, I’m seeking to reduce the amount an IOU can pass along to its ratepayers.

For too long these monopolistic companies like Monarch Utilities have been fleecing citizens across Texas with exorbitant rates while consistently applying for rate increases. Texas law has allowed this and, obviously, the IOUs would like to keep things the way they are. Our bills face tough opposition from expensive lobby teams hired with the dollars that my constituents are paying each month for overpriced water.

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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AMA: Is Athens getting a Cotton Patch?

Cotton_Patch_Cafe_LogoAMA stands for “Ask Michael Anything,” and is our readers’ chance to ask reporter Michael V. Hannigan questions about Henderson County.

QUESTION: Reader Jessica Crye asked if Athens is getting a Cotton Patch restaurant, like she’s heard. She messaged me the question through our Facebook page.

SOURCES: Athens City Secretary Pam Watson and Athens Director of Planning & Development Gary Crecelius.

ANSWER: Maybe.

I visited Watson this morning and we talked about Cotton Patch, and while we talked she called Crecelius to double check the information.

Although nothing has been decided at this point, the folks at Cotton Patch are talking with the city about locations. One possible landing spot is near the new Pizza Hut on State Highway 31.

These things are a process and you never know what could happen … but as of this morning, it is the opinion of city officials that Cotton Patch is actively exploring the option of coming to Athens.