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State Representative Susan King hosted a town hall meeting on Tuesday night at the Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium, with most of the discussion held on the proposed rule from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) on the gassing of rattlesnakes.
King offered some information she learned to the audience to kick off the town hall forum, recapping a conference call she had with TPWD director Carter Smith.
Going forward with the issue, TPWD agreed that a working group must be established in order to find a better solution or idea. At the upcoming TPWD board of directors meeting in May, the gassing issue will not be discussed and no action will be taken on the matter. Smith also shared with King that interest is growing to learn more about the issue to come up with a fair decision.
Many citizens asked questions regarding the establishment of the working board, including how to inform and work with various organizations to share information on how, if passed, the rule could affect the community, the Jaycees and the environment.
King said that the Jaycees should work toward spreading information, but expressed that any action doesn't necessarily have to go through her and her office. She added that at the public hearing held at the local TSTC (Texas State Technical College) West Texas campus, TPWD director Smith was impressed with the sincere and professional testimony that was given.
The representative stated that the financial impact on the city from any type of ruling on the issue would impact the city, but broke the impact down to three aspects. While some people just want to see RoundUp-like activities done away with, the impact on the snakes and other animals and economic development must be considered as well.
By developing all three sides, the working group--which has yet to be established--would be informed. No timeline has been established on when research would take place, from what King has been told, but she has been told that Sweetwater would be included throughout the entire process.
While it is also unknown as to who would head the working group, King anticipates that people on all sides of the issue--those for and against, and those concerned with the financial and environmental aspect--would be represented.
King was asked if the Governor's office was aware of the issue, in which she stated that a staffer expressed displeasure with the rule. When asked if any of the candidates for Texas governor had an opinion, she presumed that neither Democrat Wendy Davis nor Republican Greg Abbott had much information on the matter.
Some concern was expressed that the working group would only consider the environmental aspect of the proposed rule, but King assured the crowd that the TPWD has committed to work with her office. She also said that in the instance that Sweetwater was not considered, the reasoning would be questioned.
Additionally, she believes that the economic viewpoint should be examined to have a balanced as it is a multi-faceted issue. She stressed and wanted the audience to be award that part of the pullback from the TPWD stemmed from the concern and unified front presented at the Sweetwater meeting.
The audience, which consisted of several Sweetwater Jaycees, expressed their gratitude to King for the hard work done through her and her office on behalf of the town. In response, she stated that in her discussion with the TPWD, they admitted that they had pushed the issue prematurely and want to work toward a better solution.
Several public hearings were held on the issue by the TPWD, with only 20 people attending the previous four meetings. In the meeting held in Sweetwater, around 200 people voiced their concern and was the most vocal on the matter.
But not only Sweetwater would be impacted if the proposed rule were to ever pass, but also the surrounding communities who benefit from people who use lodging and dining. Overall, West Texas would feel the impact from any type of ruling.
Other state issues were also briefly touched on during the meeting. Four oversight committees will be examining water issues and infrastructure for fair dealings to take place.
Transportation is a concern due to the growth in the state and overuse of roads, and maintenance is an expensive matter. Annually, the state is short $4 billion to take care of roads, and the state is hoping to be able to take money from the Rainy Day fund to resolve the issue.
Public education could make its way into the upcoming session--which meets on odd-numbered years, which ranges from people wanting to get rid of public schools, establishing tax-funded vouchers and every viewpoint in between. Changes in curriculum are also a big issue.
In addition, with so many changes being made in healthcare, the status of public health in the state is still unknown. However, two issues are rising regarding healthcare: dealing with the non-medical use of drugs and mental / behavioral health among juveniles and veterans, among others.
In her closing remarks, King reiterated that she and her office would continue to fight hard on the gassing issue in order to ensure reasonable and equal representation in the working group.