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Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

Early voting began Monday for local elections and two proposed constitutional amendments relating to property tax reductions. Early voting continues through Tuesday, May 3, with election day on Saturday, May 7.

One proposed amendment would authorize the Legislature to limit property taxes on homesteads of elderly or disabled residents, while the other would increase the homestead exemption for school taxes from $25,000 to $40,000.

Voters return to the polls later in May for runoff elections in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Voters cannot switch parties if they voted in the March 1 primary, but voters who didn’t vote in the primary can participate in either party’s runoff. A full list of runoff races can be found on the secretary of state’s website: sos.texas.gov. Early voting for the May 24 runoff begins on May 16.

“With multiple opportunities to vote in the upcoming May elections, I strongly encourage all Texas voters to get informed about what’s on the ballot and make a plan to cast one,” Secretary of State John Scott said. To find out what is on local ballots, contact your county’s local election office.

Material shortage bedevils TxDOT projects

Shortages of steel and concrete are slowing down road projects and driving up costs, according to an internal memo from the Texas Department of Transportation’s construction division director, reported last week by the Quorum Report and kut.org.

“Due to recent circumstances affected by world events, there has been significant volatility in the market for various construction materials. We have seen the availability of some materials become very limited or the material lead time has increased significantly. We have also seen significant increases (over 100% in some cases) in some material prices,” Duane S. Milligan wrote.

TxDOT has more than 15,000 projects in the pipeline across the state. The jobs total $156 billion, with about half either underway or set to start soon. Milligan’s memo to district engineers and construction managers suggested substituting construction materials when feasible, or removing work or materials from a road project “when the deletion will not affect the safety of the completed project.”

Concert safety task force releases report

A task force has issued its findings after investigating the tragedy at the Astroworld Festival last November, when a crowd stampede resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

The task force formed by Gov. Greg Abbott called for unified command and control, requiring permits even in unincorporated areas, crowd safety training, planning with risk assessment, and centralized resources. Details are available in an event production guide available from the Texas Music Office.

“The recommendations, findings, and solutions detailed in this report will help the state of Texas prevent another tragedy like that at Astroworld Festival from happening again,” Abbott said.

Distracted driving spurs fatality increase

Distracted driving deaths increased 17 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, taking the lives of 431 people and seriously injuring nearly 3,000. In the wake of that, TxDOT is stepping up its “Talk. Text. Crash.” campaign. The initiative urges drivers to “keep their heads up, put their phones down and just drive.”

“Texans are killed each year simply because someone was distracted by their phone, radio, navigation system, eating or drinking, or even by others in the car,” Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director, said. “When your focus isn’t on driving, you’re putting yourself, your passengers and everyone else on the road at risk.”

The agency reminds drivers that any distraction is dangerous. It urges drivers to pull off the road entirely before talking or texting and turning off the phone while driving.

Go-kit urged for wildfires, other disasters

As wildfires and tornadoes sweep the state with hurricane season just around the corner, the Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans to assemble a go-kit that can be easily transported and includes supplies for several days. The kit should include:

  • Supplies for both people and pets.
  • Prescription medications or other necessary medical equipment.
  • Important documents such as insurance and identification documents.
  • Food, water, clothing, money and a first-aid kit.
  • Priceless items, such as family photos and heirlooms.

“When disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms and tornados arise requiring you to leave your home, being prepared ahead of time can save precious time and help keep your family safe during an emergency,” said Karen Stafford with the forest service.

COVID-19 cases, deaths rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the past week in the state rose to 23,363, and deaths more than doubled to 209, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped slightly, with 755 reported across the state by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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— Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.