Senator Nichols highlights transportation, border security, school safety at Chamber luncheon

Elected and city officials attended the July 7 luncheon of the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce to hear from State Senator Robert Nichols. Pictured left to right, front row, are Liberty County Judge Jay Knight, Nichols, Cleveland City Councilwoman Marilyn Clay, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur, Pct. 6 Constable Zack Harkness, Pct. 6 Justice of the Peace Ralph Fuller, Will Carter for U.S Rep. Brian Babin, Jeanette Riley for State Rep. Ernest Bailes, (back row) Cleveland ISD Board President Willie Carter, Sheriff Bobby Rader, Liberty County District Attorney Jennifer Bergman, Cleveland Mayor Richard Boyett, Cleveland City Councilman Fred Terrell, Cleveland Police Chief Darrel Broussard and Cleveland EDC Member Brent McWaters.

The Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce welcomed State Senator Robert Nichols (Texas Senate District 3) as the guest speaker of the Chamber’s monthly membership luncheon on July 7. Nichols, who has represented Liberty County for the last 10 years, gave insight on projects and bills he hopes to see to fruition in the 88th Legislative Session that will begin on Jan. 10, 2023.

“We are going to be getting into what we are spending on the border. It’s in the billions now, around $2 billion,” said Nichols, adding that the Mexican drug cartels who control the Mexican border are among the biggest challenge for the state.

While border security is a major concern, it is not the only focus for the veteran lawmaker. As chair of the Transportation Committee, Nichols works with other lawmakers to make recommendations on laws and policies concerning transportation issues. Funding to maintain and preserve the State’s highways comes from fuel taxes; however, electric vehicle owners are skirting the taxes currently.

During the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers, including Nichols, looked into road user fee fairness, which potentially would balance things more fairly between drivers of gasoline and diesel engine vehicles, and drivers of alternatively-fueled vehicles.

“Electric cars are coming. The auto manufacturers are pushing them,” Nichols said.

Lynette Jackson (left) is the Ambassador of the Month for July 2022 for the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. She is pictured with Chamber Board Chairman Raylene Atkinson.

Another focus for Nichols is on changing laws pertaining to the sale of catalytic converters, a necessary part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. In recent years, thefts of catalytic converters has been on the rise as the catalytic converters contain precious metals that can be resold.

“They (thieves) can slide under your vehicle and cut out your catalytic converter, and be gone in seconds, but it will cost you thousands to repair,” Nichols said. “A lot of times the cops know who is doing it but how do they prosecute it? They have to find out which vehicle it was stolen from.”

The laws pertaining to sale of catalytic converters make it difficult to prosecute a case, which is why the laws must be changed, Nichols said.

“We are going to change that to make it a crime to have a catalytic converter in your possession unless you have a bill of sale for it,” he said.

In addition to the Transportation Committee, Nichols serves on the Business and Commerce Committee, of which he is vice-chair. The committee is eyeing ways to improve the State’s electrical grid, the vulnerabilities of which were evident during Winter Storm Uri when millions of Texans were left without power during freezing winter weather.

“A lot of the grid failed during Winter Storm Uri. A lot of people died. We are looking at the fixes and overseeing it, what we can do to make it better,” he said.

Expanding high-speed internet to all Texans is another focus for the committee and currently there is a project underway to map out the State to identify areas that are in need of improvement.

“You might have high-speed broadband in some areas but there are others that do not have it,” he said. “We also put a challenge out to have a map in a year. You might see the map in a year that says you have high-speed broadband but you know you don’t. We have put in a place where you can challenge the map.”

Nichols recently was asked by the lieutenant governor to chair a committee on Public Safety with a focus on improving school safety. The school shooting on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, and wounded 17 others, brought this issue to the forefront.

“We are trying to dig in and find out not just what happened, but what we are going to do about it,” Nichols said. “Each school has a protocol but if the school district is not following it, then it’s not going to help. Something as simple as locking the door. In this case, someone had taken an allen wrench and twisted the door lock so it would not lock.”

If the door had been locked, it might have deterred or slowed down the school shooter, according to Nichols.

“He got in the hallway and there was a doorway with a strike plate door, which didn’t line up. A teacher had turned in a maintenance request for that door but the door had not been fixed,” he said, adding that is points the blame for the shooting squarely on the shooter, not the school district. However, legislation might be needed to prevent these safety issues from being overlooked in the future.

While most of his speech was looking forward to next year, Nichols briefly mentioned the challenges presented by redistricting last October. Triggered by U.S. Census numbers, redistricting is a requirement every 10 years.

“I actually asked for Liberty County to remain in my district,” Nichols said. “When the first map was drawn for redistricting, they had taken Liberty County away from me. I told them that was not going to work. I was willing to go to the mat to keep Liberty County.”

He wrapped up his speech by saying that it has been a great honor representing Liberty County for the last 10 years and he hopes to continue doing so for years to come.

The next Chamber luncheon set for Thursday, Aug. 4, will feature KTRK Meteorologist Travis Herzog. To sign up for this luncheon, call the Chamber at 281-592-8786. Chamber meetings are open to all members of the community.

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