Week of July 27 - 31

Let’s search together for capital ideas

Ed Sterling wrote this column for almost three decades, so let’s open by celebrating his contributions to the Texas Press Association and its members. Ed was the calm, steady voice keeping us informed and interested.

I am honored to have been asked by Mike Hodges, TPA executive director, and Donnis Baggett, executive vice president, to continue the important work of keeping Texans up to date on what’s happening in Austin. The world has changed dramatically since Ed started writing in the early 1990s, but the need for being informed remains greater than ever.

The “Capital Highlights” column appears in more than 100 newspapers across Texas, reaching all the way from the Rockport Pilot to the Moore County News-Press and from the Bowie News to the Seminole Sentinel. From his many years of traveling around Texas and talking to editors and publishers, Ed carried in his head the knowledge of each paper and its readers.

Please help me help sniff out the most useful news to you. Via email at ccobler@texaspress.com, tell me about the state agencies and topics you want monitored most closely. Are you concerned most about the large players like the Texas Education Agency, or do you want me to report the latest buzz from more obscure agencies like the Texas Apiary Inspection Service?

Despite my penchant for dad jokes, I pledge to keep playing this column straight, as Ed did so well. We need more nonpartisan news, which is why you read and support your local newspaper.

The pandemic remained the theme of the news in July, much of it centering on the economy and education. The week opened with Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s forecast that Texas faces a $4.6 billion budget deficit and closed with the first hurricane of the season, Hanna, making landfall Saturday night near Port Mansfield.

Electric news for the economy

A jolt of good news came late in the week when Tesla announced it would build an electric-vehicle manufacturing plant in Travis County, bringing at least 5,000 jobs and $1 billion in capital investments.

Austin, offering about $60 million in local tax breaks, beat out Tulsa and other American cities vying for the prize. The factory will produce Tesla’s Cybertruck, Semi and Models 3 and Y and be built on 2,000 acres near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

“We’re going to make it a factory that is going to be stunning,” Tesla top executive Elon Musk said. “It’s right on the Colorado River. So we’re actually going to have to have a boardwalk over you, hiking, biking trail. It’s going to basically be an ecological paradise.”

Getting rid of gobbledygook

Jargon isn’t just hard on readers. It also can be bad for business, Texas’ insurance commissioner wrote in a column last week.

Kent Sullivan said he has been promoting plain language since becoming insurance commissioner three years ago. One example of policy legalese he noted: “You may qualify for a contingent non-forfeiture benefit.”

Instead of this gobbledygook, Sullivan wrote, “Why not just say you can still receive benefits even if you stop paying for this policy?”

The coronavirus outbreak has spotlighted potential confusion and costly legal fallout caused by bewildering insurance policy language, Sullivan said. “We need a coordinated effort to strengthen and enforce plain language requirements in state laws,” he added.

ADA turns 30

July 26 marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that one in four Americans, or 61 million adults, have a disability.

The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities will have its quarterly business meeting from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. July 30 and 8 a.m.-noon July 31. Because of the pandemic, the meeting will be via Zoom.

One agenda item: How educators wearing face masks affects students who are deaf or who have hearing loss. The full agenda and Zoom meeting information may be found at bit.ly/disabilities0730

Looking ahead to tax savings

Texas’ annual sales tax holiday is Aug. 7-9. The holiday exempts sales tax on qualified items — such as clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks — priced below $100, saving shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend. Qualifying items are listed at TexasTaxHoliday.org.

“Even though significant uncertainty remains for our public and private schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sales tax holiday is a perfect opportunity to save money on school supplies and other tax-free items at a time when many Texans are carefully monitoring their family finances,” Comptroller Hegar said. “Online shopping is covered, so I encourage all Texans to shop online or practice social distancing when making in-store purchases. We want folks to stay safe while saving money.”

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.