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Abbott says he can keep plumbing board alive without special session

From staff and wire reports

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that he can keep Texas’ plumbing board alive without calling a special legislative session, as he reassured plumbers who were worried their profession will no longer be subject to state regulations.

“TEXAS PLUMBERS: We’ve got this,” Abbott said on Twitter. “The Legislature has given the Governor many tools in my toolbox to extend the State Board of Plumbing Examiners for two years without needing to call a special session. We will let you know very soon. Don’t worry.”

It was not immediately clear how Abbott could rescue the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners, a state agency that licenses plumbers and regulates the industry.

The board is set to wind down and cease existing in 2020 after lawmakers recently failed to pass legislation that would have extended the agency’s life. Lawmakers also wiped out the part of the state code that gives Texas the authority to regulate the profession in the first place.

The issue was Senate Bill 621, which was carried in the House by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, as a member of the Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. SB 621 merged the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners into the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which regulates other construction trades including electricians and air conditioning technicians.

Paddie said earlier that the proposed merger was the committee’s response to years of complaints about the plumbing examiners board, such as lengthy delays in the licensing process and phones rarely being answered.

The plumbing board will not start its one-year wind-down until Sept. 1 when it stops issuing licenses.

Michael Shirley, Longview’s director of development services, said this past week that “everybody’s kind of scrambling” in response to the agency’s impending demise.

“Many municipalities go ahead and adopt (plumber standards) by local code and don’t rely on the state,” Shirley said earlier. “We will no longer just register people who are already certified through the state. We’ll have to certify them. But if a journeyman or mid-level (plumber) wants to be a master, now we’re going to have to create a mechanism for us to make sure they know what they’re doing.”

Plumbers have been pushing Abbott to convene a special session to deal with the situation, though he has shown no interest in bringing lawmakers back to Austin. “NO SPECIAL SESSION,” Abbott tweeted hours after lawmakers wrapped up their 140-day regular session last week.

At a bill signing Tuesday in Dallas, Abbott said his office was exploring “all possible options” to solve the plumbing board problem. He declined to go into details about a possible solution but said he planned to make an announcement shortly.

“We will let you know later,” Abbott told reporters.

A fish fry this month at the East Texas Builders Association headquarters on Alpine Road has been organized by state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, for plumbers and building contractors to talk about what comes next.


Local
Police Explorer Camp teaches students about law enforcement

Jessica Mitchell has known she wants to go into law enforcement since she was about 10 years old. As a sergeant in the Longview Police Explorer program, she is on the right track.

Now 20 and getting ready to start studying criminal justice at LeTourneau University in the fall, Mitchell said she wants to get a bachelor’s degree so she can move higher up the law enforcement ladder.

“You can become an officer with just a GED, but you can’t become anything more than just a regular patrol officer,” she said. “I would like to be a game warden or something else further in law enforcement.”

Mitchell is one of the Longview Police Explorer sergeants attending this week’s Police Explorer Summer Camp. Students who are at least 14 and completed eighth grade up to age 21 can participate in the camp to learn about law enforcement and get hands-on training. The camp is open to people outside of the Explorer Program.

Police Explorers can assist officers at crime prevention events, parades, special event traffic management and during emergencies. Students also can enter national competitions, such as one at the University of Texas at Arlington in July.

Longview police Officer Josh Marrs said the camp that runs through Friday this week at Spring Hill Junior High School helps recruit new Explorers to the program. The days start with physical training and include classroom and hands-on learning.

On Tuesday, students participated in a simulated traffic stop. Campers practiced how to draw a suspect who stole a car out of the vehicle and handcuff him or her safely.

Officer Robert Brian said students in the camp also will learn about crime scene investigation, how to clear a building, what to do in an active shooter situation and firearm safety.

“It’s not just to teach them how to shoot guns, because a lot of the kids already know how,” Brian said. “We go over more of the safety aspect, how to treat the weapon.”

Zeph Putnam, 17, also is an Explorer sergeant. Putnam said the program is an opportunity for public service.

“You also meet a lot of people who are like-minded, who have the same potential career paths that they’re trying to follow,” he said. “The majority are highly motivated.”

Putnam said he wants to join the military or go into paramedicine. The program’s training is helping him prepare to reach his career goals, he said.

“It’s prepared me mentally — exposure to high-stress situations, even simulations to high-stress situations,” he said.

Matthew Smith, 17, is part of the Upshur County Explorer Academy, but attended the Longview camp.

“They’ve been very helpful to newcomers, very keen on trying to tell you what is right, what is wrong, making sure you are doing what you need to be doing to get things done,” he said.

The Upshur County program started last year, and it’s still a work in progress, Smith said.

“Here, they have all the equipment they need; they have a program that’s been around longer, and they have more people,” he said. “At the same time, you get to see how (the Upshur County program is) made.”

Smith said some of the skills learned at camp, such as hand-cuffing and active shooter drills, he will take back to the Upshur County program.

Overall, Brian said the program and camp helps students grow and learn about law enforcement.

“Some of them, they’ve never done anything else, and this builds their self esteem,” he said. “It teaches them how to work with people they don’t know.”


Local
Pine Tree student to spend senior year abroad in Bosnia

When Rose LaBay starts her senior year in the fall, it will be in a country she’s never been to, surrounded by people speaking a language she doesn’t know.

And she could not be more excited.

The Pine Tree student will spend her senior year studying abroad in Bosnia, an Eastern European country. LaBay will be on a scholarship from the YES Abroad program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

“Only 65 kids get it, so I knew it was a slim chance,” she said. “But it’s a full-paid scholarship to study abroad. I was really lucky to get it.”

LaBay wants to study international relations in college and pursue a career in that field. Her passion for that and Eastern European culture led her to the opportunity.

She also had help with the application process, she said. Her U.S. history teacher, Collin Robertson, guided her.

“He has done the most for me,” she said. “He’s been such a great supporter, and he wrote my recommendation for me. I really hope that I can get a couple of Skype sessions in his government class.”

Roberston said he and LaBay bonded over talking about news and politics. Once she told him about the application to study abroad, he said he knew he had to help her.

“As teachers, we have a lot of jobs,” he said. “But one of the most important ones is making sure our students get to where they want to be in life. This is probably one of the greatest achievements in my teaching career thus far.”

Robertson said he will miss LaBay a lot, and she has been an important student in his career.

“She’s an amazing student,” he said. “She’s bright and incredibly well-rounded. She doesn’t just know what’s going on at Pine Tree High School; she knows what’s going on around the world. She really is made for international relations.”

In Bosnia, LaBay will attend an International Baccalaureate school. Those credits will transfer to Pine Tree, so she still will be able to graduate from her local school.

“I won’t be able to walk across the stage,” she said. “I won’t be back in time for any of the senior things, but the way I look at it, I get to do a couple more things that my friends don’t. It’s worth it in the end.”

LaBay said she still does not know the identity of the family she will be staying with, and while that frightens her, she said she also is excited.

Staying with a host family will help her learn more about the culture and language, she said.

The only word in the Bosnian language that LaBay knows how to say is “hello,” which she said is still a struggle.

“To think in a year, I’ll be coming back fluent in a language is surreal,” she said. “Everything is surreal about it.”

Before leaving the United States, LaBay will spend two days in Washington, D.C., at an orientation, she said. She will meet other students in the program and visit the Bosnian Embassy.

“I’m just excited to immerse myself in the culture,” she said. “It’s scary to be thrown into the deep end, but I want to do it. I think everything that is really worth it has a little fear behind it.”

Her tentative departure date is Aug. 19, she said, just a couple of days before her classmates start school Aug. 21.

“Even if I can’t walk across the stage or go to my prom, I get to spend a year abroad in a country that I know is going to teach me lifelong lessons,” she said. “That’s something that is irreplaceable.”


Local
Skate park supporters ramp up pleas at Lois Jackson Park meeting

At least 30 Longview residents and municipal staff attended a neighborhood meeting Tuesday about upcoming improvements to Lois Jackson Park.

It was the first of six meetings during the next five weeks in which city staff will gather input on how to spend $7.4 million in bonds at several parks around town.

“It’s our tax money,” Longview parent Phillip Foster said, “so if we have the opportunity to kind of persuade one way or another, it could help.”

City staff is collecting public input that will be used, along with studies, engineering and surveying, to put together a final plan of improvements for Lois Jackson, Stamper/Womack, Spring Creek, Patterson and McWhorter parks, Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron said. Those parks were identified for improvements in the $24.71 million parks bond proposition that voters approved in November.

He expects the final plan to be complete around Thanksgiving and for construction to take a year to 18 months beginning next spring.

Brian Kelsey, a father of two children, said he takes his family to Lois Jackson Park often. In fact, Caron said the park is the most frequented in the city behind the Lear Park sports complex.

Kelsey most likes a proposal for a new restroom at Lois Jackson, saying that restrooms and drinking facilities allow guests to stay at a park for a more extended period of time.

“I’m just looking here at the alternate amenities, which just sparks the imagination,” Kelsey said. “The plan as you see it here looks decent.”

Foster was among more than a dozen people at Tuesday’s meeting who want the city to consider building a skate park with part of the bond funds.

Earlier Tuesday, Brian Dodson sent a text to several residents asking them to come to the meeting at Church of the Nazarene if they wanted to voice support for a skate park and other amenities, such as bicycle pump tracks. A pump track is a small, looping trail of rollers, banked turns and features designed to be ridden completely by “pumping” though body movements instead of pedaling.

Dodson has been outspoken at City Council and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meetings about building a skate park, and he has led a fundraising campaign to construct a skate park that is tentatively being considered for Ingram Park.

“We asked the city to pay for half of the skate park .. for our youth,” Dodson said in the text message.

“Forty thousand dollars is only 0.5 percent of the $7.4 million, which they need help spending, apparently, and have not approved our $40,000,” he said. “They want public input on how to improve our parks. We believe the well-being and securing the safety of our youth who enjoy action sports by building a skate park should be the number one priority.”

A skate park also was Foster’s suggestion Tuesday evening.

“I’m a fan of skateboarding, and I have to travel all the way to Tyler just to skateboard,” said Foster, a father of four children ages 17 months to 9 years. “Everywhere else, it’s illegal or not accessible. Also, I want a chance to teach my kids how to skateboard, and Tyler is quite a drive.”

Skating enthusiasts Tamara Trejo, J.T. Rogers and Jordan Rogers approached City Manager Keith Bonds to ask that the city consider building a skate park. The nearest skate parks are in Kilgore, Henderson and Tyler, they said.

Trejo suggested a racquetball court at Lois Jackson Park be converted into a facility for skateboarding and biking.

“We really do need a skate park here,” Jordan Rogers said, “to keep people from skating on stuff that they’re not supposed to be skating on.”