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Texas Legislature

Texas Lawmakers Discuss Foster Care As Foster Child Deaths Rise

by: Katie Singh

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 00:00 PM CDT

Last week, the newly-formed House Select Committee on Child Protection convened for the first time to discuss how to improve the state's foster care system. The committee was created in the spring by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, and is chaired by Austin Democrat Dawnna Dukes.

The House Select committee is working to examine how to improve Child Protective Services in light of a recent spike in foster care abuse and deaths. In 2013, the number of foster child deaths rose to 10, which is five times more than the previous year. Just days after the committee meeting, the need for foster care oversight was tragically reinforced as two foster children in Georgetown drowned. Georgetown police are investigating the incident, and Providence Kids, the Austin-based child-placing agency responsible for placing the two children, has had its placements suspended.

It's important to note that these deaths are not just deaths from child abuse, which are of course tragic. These are foster children, who were removed from their parents to keep them safe, and then died in these new homes. The deaths highlight the severe problems with the state's chronically underfunded Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the foster care system.

Read more about the challenges facing the state's foster care system after the jump.

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TLCV-PAC Endorses Celia Israel in HD50 Special Election

by: TLCV

Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 11:08 AM CST

Israel the clear choice for environmental leadership in a district facing challenges with transportation, water, and energy

Austin, Texas-- Today the Texas League of Conservation Voters Political Action Committee (TLCV-PAC), the states leading environmental organization for electing pro-conservation candidates, announced their endorsement of Celia Israel in the House District 50 Special Election.

"Celia brings a wealth of experience, a great deal of energy, and many good public policy ideas to the table for moving the ball forward on sound environmental policy for the residents of House District 50," said David Weinberg, Executive Director of TLCV-PAC.  "We wholeheartedly endorse her and will be working to elect her in the runoff."

"I've always respected the work of the TLCV," said candidate Israel. "I welcome their support and look forward to keeping this seat for all of us who recognize the commitment we must have to the long term environmental health of the state we all love."

Celia's experience in finding solutions to environmental, public health and public safety challenges ranges from her work with the City of Austin Environmental Board, Alliance for Public Transportation, The Robert Mueller Advisory Commission, and Worker's Defense Project.  She understands there are critical decisions facing House District 50 on matters of urban rail, bus rapid transit, water conservation and solid waste disposal, and has demonstrated a command of these issues and advanced pragmatic solutions to these challenges.

TLCV-PAC asked candidates in the HD 50 race complete a comprehensive survey on issues including public transportation, clean energy, water conservation, public participation, and worker safety.  The Republican Candidate in HD 50, Mike VanDeWalle, was the only candidate in the race not to complete a survey.

"Whoever is elected in House District 50 will have big shoes to fill as Mark Strama was a champion at the legislature for clean energy and other conservation issues.  We feel Celia is up to the challenge of delivering exceptional environmental leadership in Travis County and the Capitol," added Weinberg.


With money and other resources, TLCV-PAC helps elect candidates to the Texas Legislature who will fight for clean air, clean water, and access to public lands, water, fish and wildlife.  For more information and to support TLCV-PAC visit:  www.tlcv.org

TLCV-PAC is not affiliated with any candidate or candidate's campaign.  Contributions to TLCV-PAC are not tax deductible and are reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.

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Reflections on the Meaning of Courage, the Fight for Equality in Texas, and the Race or HD-50

by: Celia Israel

Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 11:34 PM CDT

(Thanks to Celia Israel, candidate for HD-50 in the November special election, for posting this guest diary. All candidates for office are welcome and encouraged to create a user account and post a diary on BOR! - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Last week I was proud to be endorsed by Victory Fund.  They were there from the very start for LGBT candidates like Tammy Baldwin, now US Senator, Annise Parker, Houston Mayor, not to mention Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and State Representative Mary Gonzales.

Today, thankfully, gay and lesbian candidates are seen for the entirety of their passions and talents, not just for their sexual orientation.

But if you want to see how far we still have to go in Texas, all you have to do is drive up I-35 to Pflugerville, or down I-35 to San Antonio.

In San Antonio, City Councilman Diego Bernal introduced a non-discrimination ordinance for the city that included the LGBT community.  Forget having the right to marry who you love, in Texas you can still get fired for coming out to your boss.

The issue blew up when a recording of Republican Councilwoman Elisa Chan was released to the press, in which Chan calls homosexuals "disgusting," states they shouldn't be allowed to raise children, and schemes a fear and smear campaign to defeat the ordinance. (Elisa Chan is now looking to use her homophobic notoriety to run to the right of Tea Party darling, State Senator Donna Campbell.)

Then the story takes a funny twist (more below the jump).  

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Abortion Bills to be Heard in Senate Committee This Thursday

by: naralprochoicetexas

Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 00:59 PM CDT

(Thanks to NARAL for this call to action. Tell your Senator you oppose these terrible anti-woman bills!   - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Tomorrow at 3:45 p.m. the Texas Senate Health and Human Services committee will hear the four anti-choice bills filed this session, including an omnibus bill, SB 5, by Glenn Hegar (R-Katy).

SB 5 bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires that all procedures be performed in a mini-hospital, forces women to make four trips to a clinic for a medication abortion, and requires all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This bill would cause almost all the clinics in the state to close.

Contact your state senator today and let them know you oppose SB 5 and all the anti-choice bills introduced this special session.

If you can, stop by the Senate chamber after 3:45 p.m. on Thursday and register in opposition to SB 5, SB 13, SB 18 and SB 24. Wear orange (or pick up one of our “My family values women” t-shirts) and join us in the Senate chamber. If you’d like to testify, please email heather@prochoicetexas.org for more information.

If you can’t make it to the Capitol on Thursday we’re organizing protests at these anti-choice lawmakers’ district offices. You can also send a message right now to your state senator and let them know you oppose further restrictions on abortion.

Our tax dollars for this special session should go toward improving the lives of Texans and focus on the important matters of this state, not regulating women’s bodies. Tell your senator now that you oppose these bills.

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Texans Paying $35,000 Per Day for Partisan Special Session

by: Ben Sherman

Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 00:00 PM CDT

Rick Perry called a special session of the Legislature to pass "legislation which ratifies and adopts the interim redistricting plans" used in the 2012 election. This is a map which maintains Republicans' iron, unrepresentative grip on Texas' congressional delegation. Rick Perry is desperate to get this map passed because a federal court ruled in April that Republicans intentionally discriminated against minorities in the controversial 2011 map, leaving a new map to be drawn by a San Antonio federal court. That map is likely to be much more fair, and thus give much more opportunity to Democrats. Perry wants to get the still-discriminatory-but-slightly-less-so 2012 map solidified so Texans don't get a fair map.

The daily cost to taxpayers of this craven politically-motivated session? A full $35,000. The cost for this whole special session, if it goes the full 30 days? Between $1 million and $1.2 million.

Read more below the jump.

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Education Needs Relevance Without Sacrificing Rigor: House Bill 5

by: Senator Leticia Van de Putte

Wed May 15, 2013 at 00:32 PM CDT

(Thank you, Senator, for sharing your thoughts on this important legislation.   - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Earlier this month, the Texas Senate passed its version of House Bill 5, the major reform bill on public education curriculum and testing. In both the House and the Senate, vigorous debate shaped the two versions of the bill. As HB 5 heads to conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions, more debate will ensue.

Unfortunately, much of this debate has focused on one shortsighted question: Do all students really need Algebra II? Many students will not attend a four-year university, this argument goes, so why should they be forced to spend time taking it?

The real questions need to be: At what point will students decide they are not on a university path? What can we do to prepare them for success in their chosen postsecondary path? And to be prepared for the jobs of the future, can any path afford not to require rigor?

I hope to reframe the debate in conference committee, and come out with a much stronger bill that helps every student realize his or her potential.

Read more below the jump.

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Demand an Honest Budget

by: Kirk Watson

Mon May 13, 2013 at 07:42 PM CDT

This was supposed to be the year when Texas finally did better when it came to budget honesty.

We were going to use parks money to pay for parks; clean air money for cleaner air; utility fees for utility relief ... The list goes on. 

But taxpayers aren’t seeing the reform they expect, which means your money – tax dollars, fees and such – still aren’t being spent the way you were promised they would be.

Here’s how they get you:

The state budget is honeycombed with hundreds of "dedicated" funds – little piggybanks where those in control collect your taxes and fees. The state promises to spend the money on a specific, usually popular purpose that you probably support. 

But then, much of that money is hoarded in the accounts, diverted from its intended purposes and used to cover other costs.

Over the years, the state has allowed those accounts to get bigger and bigger, starving necessities (like parks, trauma care, 911 service and clean air) that it was meant to pay for and covering up for the failure to fund basic state functions (like schools and healthcare) in more honest, transparent ways.

And, as a result, nearly $5 billion was diverted away from its dedicated purposes in the current 2012-13 budget.

At the start of this session, folks like the Governor and Speaker of the House promised to start weaning the state from its addiction to diversions. But, if anything, things are getting even less transparent.

Right now, those in control of the legislature are pushing a pre-election utility rebate gimmick that would divert more than $700 million from its purpose. That’s money Texans have given the state to help low-income families in deregulated electricity markets pay their utility bills.

The reason the money was collected – the need it’s meant to address – still exists. Hundreds of thousands of poor and elderly Texans still can’t afford their bills in brutally hot months. 

Budget writers are using that broken promise to underwrite another one: they pledge to divert no more than $4 billion -- $4 billion! -- in the next budget. 

That’s close to the $4.95 billion they’re diverting now, minus the $700 million they’re writing off in the rebate scheme.

In other words they’re still addicted to diversions, pursing business-as-usual while shrouding it in fake reform. Worse still, budget writers have rejected calls to craft a plan to wean the state off of this practice over the next few budgets. I filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bring true, long-term reform to this process; it hasn’t even been given a hearing. 

That’s not real reform. That’s like someone promising he won’t keep drinking any more without promising to drink much less, either.

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Top Five Budget Requests of Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter

by: Texas Sierra Club

Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 02:18 PM CDT

(In honor of Earth Day and as the Legislature begins the budget conference process, we're happy to bring you the Texas Sierra Club's top 5 budget priorities for protecting our rich natural heritage in the Lone Star state. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Top Five Budget Requests of Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter
Recommendations for House and Senate Conferees on Senate Bill 1

1. Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP)

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) is one of the key programs at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that helps keep compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) ozone standards for clean air.  Funded by so-called dedicated fees collected from businesses throughout the state, TERP provides incentives to reduce (mostly) vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides in non-attainment and near non-attainment areas.  The fees raise some $190 million per year, but the current Senate version of SB 1 would only appropriate $90 million per year, while the House version would only provide $65 million per year. These funds are very important now because the U.S. EPA is likely to make the current air quality standard more stringent later this year.  Consequently, several more urban areas throughout the eastern half of Texas (Austin-Round Rock, San Antonio, Tyler-Longview, for example) would fail the standard and industries in the Houston region would face additional federal fines.

Sierra Club has joined with many public and private sector stakeholders throughout the state recommending that TERP appropriations be restored to at least $135 million per year.

Read more below the jump.  

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83rd Legislative Update - My bills move to the House

by: Senator Leticia Van de Putte

Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 09:18 AM CDT

The 100th day of the 140-day 83rd Texas Legislative Session passed last week. The end is in sight, and now the mad rush for legislators to get bills to the Governor's desk before the clock runs out is kicking into high gear.

As you probably know, bills face a two-step process in the Capitol - they must pass one chamber, then the other - before they can go to the Governor for his signature and become law.

So far, 26 bills that I've authored have cleared that first hurdle - making it out of the Senate and over to the House. Additionally, four other bills on which I served as a secondary author have also moved over.

There isn't room to mention them all here, but here are some of the most notable:

Veterans/Military: As Chair of the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, taking care of those who serve or have served - including their families - is at the forefront of my work in Austin.

Senate Bill 10 is the Veterans' Employment and Business Opportunity Act, and tackles veteran unemployment on three fronts: It allows direct hiring of veterans by state agencies through the Texas Workforce Commission's automated system, and requires at least 25% of the interview pool to be veterans; increases the ability of disabled veteran-owned business to compete for state contracts by making them  eligible for contracting with the Texas Council on Purchasing From People With Disabilities; and makes the College Credit for Heroes program permanent, letting certain military training translate into college credits.

SB 162 will also help the veteran unemployment problem by requiring state agencies that issue occupational licenses to provide an expedited licensure for service members, their spouses, and veterans within one year of separation from the military, if the license they obtained in the military is substantially similar to what Texas requires. (A year after the expedite license is issued, individuals would be expected to fully meet Texas requirements for that license.)

SBs 846 and 898 address veterans' mental health concerns. SB 846 requires the Texas Veterans Commission to coordinate with the Department of State Health Services to incorporate a suicide prevention component into its training of veteran county service officers. SB 898 enables a greater number of veterans and family members  to be eligible for Peer-to-Peer services under the Mental Health Program for Veterans.

SB 981 will allow electric utilities in Texas to adopt a discount program similar to the one we now have in San Antonio for burned veterans who must keep their houses cooler than normal.

Healthcare: SB 294 extends the Bexar Cares program until 2023. Bexar Cares requires information sharing among state agencies to more efficiently help at-risk children with behavioral health problems.

Human Trafficking: Combating this form of modern-day slavery is another of my major legislative campaigns. SB 92 will create a juvenile diversion court for human trafficking survivors, so that minors who have been prostituted may be treated as crime victims needing treatment and services rather than as criminals.

SB 532 would enact the recommendations of the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force created by the 81st Legislature four years ago. It is actually still in the Senate, but that's okay - its companion bill, House Bill 8 authored by my dear friend Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, has moved swiftly through the House and has been sent to the Senate. I am confident this will become law.

Not directly concerning human trafficking but closely related is SB 1356, requiring training at juvenile correctional facilities to help staff recognize when misbehavior by youth may be due to a past trauma rather than simple disobedience. Such trauma-induced behavior requires treatment, not punishment.

Education: I am particularly proud of and hopeful for SB 1538. There are public and charter schools that specialize in helping high school dropouts get back into the education system and achieve a diploma, but school rating systems fail to recognize the special challenges such schools face. SB 1538 would require these circumstances to be considered, so that such schools don't get punished for doing exactly what they're supposed to do.

Coordinated school health programs currently address a range of physical health concerns for students. SB 1352 would require that mental health be addressed as well.

The education code currently outlines conditions under which a teacher may remove a student from the classroom for disciplinary reasons. SB 1541 would similarly specify conditions under which bus drivers could similarly remove students from a bus and refer the student to the principal.

Economic development: Craft brewing and distilling are rapidly expanding industries nationwide, but Texas companies in the beverage industry are hamstrung by inconsistencies in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. Several bills that I have authored or coauthored will level the playing field for these entrepreneurs, such as SB 828 which would allow them to more effectively market their products, or SB 905, which would allow them to sell a small amount directly to consumers visiting a distillery.

The final day of session, known as sine die, will be May 27.

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Texas Lunch Links: West, Texas Updates, Nate Silver's Gun Model and Payday Lending Drama,

by: Nick Hudson

Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 00:30 PM CDT

Texas Lunch Links is a lunchtime buffet of links to Texas-related news and views.

WEST EXPLOSION UPDATES: The West Fertilizer Company's plans for a "worst-case scenario," filed with the EPA June 2011, didn't anticipate a gigantic explosion. Though the family-owned plant was "fined or disciplined" three times in the past 10 years, it had not had a "comprehensive inspection" since 2006. Texas' regulation of chemical storage doesn't appear to be as robust as other states. There are more than 160 casualties and at least 12 fatalities. President Obama promised Governor Perry prayers and federal aid in a telephone call yesterday.

MODELING THE GUN VOTE: Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver produced a very interesting logistic regression model that seeks to explain with five variables each United States senator's voted on the background check amendment proposed that failed to muster 60 votes. The five variables are: gun-ownership rates in the senator's state; whether or not the senator caucuses with the Democrats; the senator's voting record on a liberal-conservative scale, based on the the DW-Nominate system; the share of the vote that Obama received in the senator's state in 2012; and a variable indicating whether the senator is running for re-election in 2014.

PAYDAY LENDING: After what the Texas Tribune called a "raucous" debate, Republican Senator John Carona pulled his payday lending bill from the Senate floor on Thursday. During the debate, which became at times heated and personal, Republican Senator Troy Fraser and Democrat Senator John Whitmire, criticized Carona and suggested that senators needed more time to consider six proposed changes to SB 1247 that would have strengthened consumer protections.

Keep reading Texas Lunch Links below the fold!

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