Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sen. Nichols: Bill 'brings major protections and is a good first step to ultimate reform.'

Nichols is pleased with first session


By Kelly Young
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – The 80th Texas State Legislature ended Monday night, bringing a close to Senator Robert Nichols’ first session as a law maker. Nichols looks back on his freshman session as a success.

“I thought the session went real well. I think we made a mark on several statewide issues, and still managed to do a lot of good things on the local level,” said Nichols.

Nichols proposed a two-year moratorium on private equity toll roads, legislation which became one of the foremost issues of the session. As a former commissioner for the Texas Department of Transportation, Nichols was uniquely suited to author vital transportation legislation.

“The moratorium is the wind in the sails of this session's transportation reforms,” Nichols said. “In January, Texas faced advancing private toll road contracts that would hold our transportation system hostage for the next half-century. Now, a bill sits on the governor’s desk which brings major protections and is a good first step to ultimate reform.”

Working as transportation commissioner served him well once the legislature begin, thanks to his familiarity with Austin’s inner workings.

“I felt fairly comfortable coming in because I had sat through five sessions as commissioner, and I had watched the process. It was very helpful that I had already somewhat developed a working relationship with many of the legislators in both houses that I would be working with,” he said. “I think the thing that some people don’t understand is the vast number of different issues that we get to work on. They ask why I didn’t focus on one issue or another, and they don’t see the hundreds of different topics we face.”

Nichols was a key supporter of Texas state parks, tougher penalties for child predators, the Castle Doctrine, increased benefits for retired teachers and additional property tax relief for senior citizens.

“I think the state parks system was one of the big winners in this session. I think everybody came to Austin hoping that we could do something to help the parks,” he said. “I found that no matter where I went in the district, people understood that our parks needed to be made a priority. Now the parks have the largest single budget that they have ever had.”

Despite the state’s decision to drop the Texas State Railroad as a state park, legislation authored by Nichols will allow the trains to continue operation as a private entity. He also helped secure $12 million in funding to pay for the privatized train’s initial operating costs.

Nichols also created a statutory authority for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to combat hydrilla and other noxious weed populations in Texas lakes.

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