By M. Blain Johnson
TAC Legislative Editor
The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas (SAT) recently awarded TAC Legislative Liaison Laura “Lori” Nicholes the President’s Award for her support of the association and “unselfish service to the people of the State of Texas.”
Association President and Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter presented Nicholes with the award at the association’s conference in Houston on July 19. The award is presented annually to an individual that has gone “above and beyond” to help the sheriffs. “I had the opportunity to work with Lori during SAT committee hearings, getting her feedback after meetings, talking about proposed legislation, talking to legislative aides and other sheriffs and citizens,” Painter said. “Lori Nicholes always conducted herself very professionally and with the utmost integrity.”
For the past decade at TAC, Nicholes has monitored legislation pertaining to criminal justice, law enforcement, mental health, immigration, juvenile justice, jails, prisons, probation, parole, tax assessor-collectors — and even feral hogs.
Nicholes said the recognition from the association came as a complete surprise.
“I was speechless at the time,” Nicholes said.
But now that she’s had time to reflect, Nicholes said she wants to let the sheriffs know that the credit for the legislative session’s successes belongs to them.
“I want them to know that it wasn’t really me that did it,” Nicholes said. “It was the sheriffs who responded to all those requests for phone calls, letters and presence at the Capitol. Some dropped everything they were doing to come to the Capitol on no notice —and then they stayed at hearings until after midnight.
“Thankfully, they allowed me their trust and the opportunity to provide insight so they could make things happen.”
During the 82nd Legislative Session, Nicholes represented the sheriffs’ interests and kept an eye out for issues that would impact their offices, especially their budgets. Nicholes said the Legislature didn’t waste any time moving straight to budget cuts that would impact county law enforcement.
“Everything they were cutting in the budget was going to trickle down to the local level, and so much of that was going to impact the jails and sheriffs’ department operations,” Nicholes said. “Sitting in the legislative committee meetings for the past 10 years, I had a pretty good idea of how the cuts might impact the sheriffs or how other legislation might impact their operations, and I tried to get them ahead of the flow.”
Painter attributed much of the association’s successful working relationships with legislators this session to Nicholes’ diplomatic way of helping sheriffs be heard in committee.
“If she had an altering view, she presented her side and respectfully listened to the other party,” Painter said. “Lori had no problem presenting her side of an argument, but she did so with the utmost respect, always keeping the county’s side within perspective.”
Whereas many groups grow disillusioned with the Legislative process, perceiving that the Legislature is going to do what it wants no matter what the people say, Nicholes said that’s not been the case with the sheriffs.
“The sheriffs have a tremendous amount of respect and influence at the Capitol,” Nicholes said. “I’ve never been to a hearing where they didn’t want to hear from a sheriff.”
Nicholes said one afternoon she walked into a committee chairman’s office and the staff let her know just how much impact the sheriffs have. “I was told ‘Lori, the sheriffs have been tying up our phone lines for two days. Tell them we got the message.’”
Ultimately, Nicholes said it’s TAC’s cohesive working partnership with the Sheriffs' Association that’s been able to effect change and protect their budgets.
“If I can open the door, that’s fantastic, but it’s their efforts that get the job done.”