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Residents grill Simpson over bill

By Richard Yeakley
March 23, 2013 at 10 p.m.

GILMER - The state representative for Gregg and Upshur counties was grilled Saturday in Gilmer about the effects a bill he introduced could have on Upshur County.

In a town hall meeting, Rep. David Simpson was asked about the effects of House Joint Resolution 103, which could lead to the elimination of as many as four elected positions across Upshur County.

"The purpose of this bill is simply to remove a mandate that was attached at the last minute when the constitution was changed back in 1999," the Longview Republican said. "This is not a mandate ... This is the removal of a mandate that would allow the commissioners to propose and make a change. I do not have an opinion on the matter, I do not know enough about Upshur County to make the decision ... but I do know from what I studied there are some that need this language."

Sherry Jewkes-Larsen, a court clerk for Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray, spoke against the measure.

"Since Upshur County is the only county that is affected by it in your district ... why were you the one that offered this bill and not one of those other counties you discussed that said they needed this?" she asked. "Well sir, you are elected to represent us, and I have a problem with this because it was never put out for the taxpayers to discuss, it was never put out to be put on the agenda by the commissioners court ... it sure looks like 'old-boy' politics."

Jewkes-Larsen also echoed a concern raised by others of the 40 or so attendees that, while the bill wouldn't require the elimination of precincts, statements from commissioners have made it appear the court would eliminate them.

On a 3-1 vote March 15, the Upshur County Commissioners Court threw its support behind the bill, despite concerns raised by two officeholders who would face elimination of their positions if it were enacted.

Simpson's measure asks for a constitutional amendment on which voters statewide would decide whether to allow counties with populations from 18,000 to 50,000 to have from two to eight constable and justice of the peace precincts.

Since 1999, those 60 or so counties have been restricted to four such precincts. Simpson has said he simply wants all counties to have the same freedom of choice.

Two-thirds of the members in both chambers in Austin must pass the bill to see it placed before Texas voters in November.

Also at Saturday's town hall, Gene Langkip raised questions about compensation for county officials. His primary point was that full-time sheriff's office deputies make more than part-time county commissioners.

Other questions included the possibility of the CSCOPE curriculum being mandated for home school families, and the effects on federal income to schools under Simpson's HB 2793, which would allow students who have passed 10th grade access to a variety of career and educational options.

Simpson said residents' focus on his bill regarding county organizational freedom did not bother him.

"That's why we are here. We want to represent the people and understand the issues," he said. "I can apprise them of the other things I have done, but this is their opportunity to let me know their opinions on the subject."



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