Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pressing national debate over immigration

Two western states, two very different immigration policies. A prominent sanctuary city, San Francisco’s welcomes immigrants with open arms regardless of their official legal status. Arizona, on the other hand, has drawn intense public scrutiny for its bold stance against illegal immigration. These two cities represent opposite extremes in the polarizing national debate over illegal immigration.
The total estimated number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. dropped in 2010, but the number remains high. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 10.8 million illegal immigrants currently live in the U.S (click here for the report). Nationally, the combined annual cost burden created by illegal immigration at the federal, state, and local level amounts to roughly $113 billion, and education represents the largest share of that cost.
Most observers agree that illegal immigration is a pressing policy problem. They disagree, however, on the proper solution for the situation. San Francisco exemplifies the kind of sanctuary cities that some Texas lawmakers are currently working to avoid. According to the San Francisco Examiner:

“San Francisco enacted a sanctuary policy in 1989 that aims to foster an environment in which undocumented immigrants feel safe enough to engage with law enforcement officials and local government without fear of deportation. The policy bars city employees from using any funds or resources to assist in federal enforcement of immigration law, but there are exceptions.”

Pro-immigration activists applaud San Francisco’s “openness,” but the policy is criticized by pro-immigration law activists who say it subverts federal laws and sustains the problem. Even the debate within San Francisco has escalated recently. San Francisco’s are wrestling with the question of how to handle juvenile illegal immigrants who are accused of felonies. Previously, these juveniles were not reported to immigration authorities. However, as violent crimes committed by juvenile immigrants are gaining attention, San Francisco’s authorities are feeling pressured to enact stricter, less immigrant-friendly standards
Conversely, Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer has pioneered tough, pro-immigration law reforms. In 2010, she signed into law a bill designed to identify and prosecute illegal immigrants. The law empowered Arizona law enforcement officers the authority to detain suspected illegal immigrants. Pro- immigration activists responded immediately and vocally. Demonstrators gathered in the state’s capital and President Obama instantly expressed his opposition. Mexican authorities even became involved by questioning the state of Mexican-Arizona relations. Supporters say that Arizona has mustered up the courage to face a major crisis head on.

Below: Gov. Brewer discusses a meeting with President Obama over immigration.

Despite the political division and high costs associated with tackling sensitive issues like sanctuary cities, one thing is certain; the problem will have to be addressed eventually. For states like California and Texas – states with significant budget crises and high illegal immigrant populations – the time to find viable compromises on sanctuary cities and illegal immigration is rapidly looming.

The Push for More Local Control in Public Education

Lawmakers are working to a public education system allowing for more local control, according to an editorial submitted by State Rep. Mark Shelton to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

In the editorial Rep. Shelton said, "This legislature has a unique opportunity to eliminate unnecessary red tape, cut wasteful spending and provide our educators the flexibility they desperately need to educate our children."

Rep. Shelton specifically highlights House Bill 3 (HB 3) enacted in 2009, which relates to accountability, curriculum and promotion requirements, but notes that additional work must be done to make students the focus of the education system.

According to an article from the Associated Press, the Texas House agreed Thursday to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to help pay some of the state's bills for the remainder of the 2011 budget. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed to use more than $3.1 billion of the Rainy Day Fund, but Democrats pushed to use more of the reserve fund to pay for education and other programs.

It is still unclear what the future of education looks like for the Texas public education system. Jobs for teachers are particularly at risk.

"Teachers will be laid off," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Although this is no surprise by now to teachers in Texas, the extent of the layoffs and the full impact of budget cuts remain yet to be determined.

In the meantime,  continue watching closely Senate Bill 443 (SB 443) and SB 468.

-Kaitlyn Van Gorkom

Programming vs. Prison Closure

This Tuesday, March 29, the Senate was generous to the Texas Department of Public Safety by restoring some funding to those planned budget cuts for prisons and treatments. As stated on the Senate website, “A Senate subcommittee charged with evaluating funds dealing with prisons and the Department of Public Safety recommended increasing appropriations by almost $300 million Monday. These recommendations would restore allocations to current budget levels for many programs. Current funding in the Senate's version of the budget for public safety agencies is about $9 billion, which is more than a billion dollars less than the last budget.” 

Exact funding restored: $273 million for the state corrections system, including funding for rehabilitation, treatment and parole programs, plus $31 million to keep the Central Unit in Sugar Land open; and $32.7 million for DPS to hire 646 additional troopers, $22.8 million for new vehicles and unspecified funding to restore the uniform-cleaning allowance for state troopers.

This restoration of money will put more money back into probation and drug treatment programs for prisoners; however, there is a catch. By funding more programming, some prisons face closure. This trade off may directly affect the Central Unit, which is an old prison from the 1900’s. Grits for Breakfast blogger believes that this exchange of more programming over prison closure will, in the long run, reduce future crime and long-term incarceration spending.

The Senate subcommittee that helped “bring back” money are also looking into restoring the General Revenue fund for inspections of jails, as well as reinstating a 7% pay raise. This subcommittee has been working hard in squeezing funding out of the Senate and hope to make more progress for the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 

-Caroline Cardenas 

Joel Burns delivers anti-bullying message, advocates for stricter legislation

Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns received national and international press attention when he spoke about recent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth suicides at an October 2010 Fort Worth City Council meeting.  He delivered an emotional message of being bullied when he was a high school student because of his sexual orientation.  He addressed bullied school children to ensure them that life does get better after the bullying.  The response to his speech was overwhelming.  His message inspired people all around the world, not just in the LGBT community.  Earlier this month, he attended the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. The video of his entire speech can be found below as well as his appearance on the Ellen Show.

Mr. Burns is heavily involved in advocating for the passage of the anti-bullying bills working through the Texas Legislature this session.  He came to speak with our class about his efforts with the anti-bullying legislation.  He told us advocacy is all about picking your battles, and he is focusing on teacher resources.  According to Mr. Burns, the first problem in Texas is the inability to track bullying because there is no set definition in the law books.  Because of this, he said, teachers don’t have the tools—the definition and training—to effectively educate about bullying.  He also said there has been a societal switch so that what happens at school may not get back to the parents by the end of the day like it used to, especially with the increase in cyberbullying.  This can make the bullied feel like nothing is being done about the situation, he said.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with Mr. Burns, he is an influential voice in the debate on the anti-bullying legislation in Texas. 

Legislation Tracker
There has been progress on all of the anti-bullying bills I am tracking in Texas this legislative session, except for SB 245, Wendy Davis’s bill.  All of the bills are presently still in committee and all except SB 245 have been through a public hearing and have been left pending in committee for now.  All of the bills along with more detailed progress are listed below:

  • 82(R) HB 224-considered in public hearing in Public Education Committee, committee substitute considered, testimony taken, registration recorded, left pending in committee (March 1). 
  • 82(R) SB 245-no movement since being read first time and referred to the Education Committee.
  • 82(R) HB 24- considered in public hearing in Public Education Committee, committee substitute considered, testimony taken, registration recorded, left pending in committee (March 29). 
  • 82(R) HB 130- considered in public hearing in Human Services Committee, committee substitute considered, testimony taken, registration recorded, left pending in committee (March 1). 
  • 82(R) HB 170- considered in public hearing in Public Education Committee, testimony taken, registration recorded, left pending in committee (March 29).
  • 82(R) SB 42- considered in public hearing in Education Committee, testimony taken, left pending in committee (March 22). 
  • 82(R) SB 205- considered in public hearing in Education Committee, testimony taken, left pending in committee (March 22). 
  • 82(R) SB 242- co-authors authorized (February 28, March 16), considered in public hearing in Education Committee, testimony taken, left pending in committee (March 22). 
--Michael Dabbs

SB 18 a Lock to Become a Law, Right?

On Mar. 22 the House Committee on Land and Resource Management unanimously passed Senate Bill 18, better known as the eminent domain bill, 9-0.  The passing comes 22 days after Bill Peacock, Vice President of Research and Planning & Director, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation delivered an eloquent and practical message to the Committee on Land and Resource Management. 

Peacock opened up his speech by giving the root of where the current eminent domain laws stemmed from, the Supreme Court ruling on the Kelo case in 2005.  Kelo essentially stated that private property is not a fundamental civil right, but a privilege granted by the state at its sole discretion.  Peacock then proceeded to give a brief history of where the bill has been over the past 3 Legislative sessions.  Finally, before giving recommendations, Peacock outlined the battle between public purpose and public use, citing that eminent domain was strictly enacted for “public use” in its first 150 years of existence.  Only over the past 50 years has the definition been skewed to include “public purpose,” in essence rewording the Fifth Amendment to fit the Supreme Court’s desire.

“The Court ruled that the removal of blight was a public “purpose,” despite the fact that the word “purpose” appears nowhere in the text of the Fifth Amendment . . . By effectively changing the wording of the Fifth Amendment, the Court opened a Pandora’s box, and now properties are routinely taken pursuant to redevelopment statutes when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them except that developers covet them and the government hopes to increase its tax revenue,” said Peacock.

Peacock concluded by saying that the Texas Legislature has closely followed the national trend of blurring public use and public purpose.  He acknowledges steps in the right direction over the past three sessions, but calls for a stronger stance to re-root Texas to fix the Kelo problem.  These four additional changes where offered:

· Ban the use of eminent domain if a taking is not necessary for a public use.
· Allow property owners to repurchase their property at the price paid when it was taken if the property taken is not used for the public use for which it is taken within 10 years.
· Replace all references to “public purpose” with “public use” where the law grants the power of eminent domain
· Require condemners to bear the burden of proof that they are taking land for a public use, and that the taking of the land is necessary for that purpose.

With the momentum that SB 18 has gained, the next logical step would be for the bill to be sign into the law by Gov. Rick Perry, one would think.  According to a very credible blog entry, on the, that isn’t necessarily the case. 

The status of SB 18, while seems promising, is still very much up in the air.  Gov. Perry will have the final decision, and supporters are hoping that the last 3 legislative sessions aren’t an indication of his future actions.      


- Michael Levy

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Voter ID Bill Over the Past Decade

The Texas Voter ID bill has been stalled as of March 22nd. The Democrats fighting against the bill were able to buy more time for debate after pointing out an error in the bill. Representative Rafael Anchia challenged a provision in the bill that would allow voters without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot if they product an acceptable photo ID within six days. Anchia wanted the clarification on whether those six days are calendar or business days (
            Over the past decade, the voter identification issue has been an issue around the United States. The following is a listing of the states over the past decades that have adopted a voter identification bill. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides this list.
                2003:  New voter ID laws were passed in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota
                2005:  New voter ID laws were passed in Indiana, New Mexico and Washington; Georgia tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
                2006:  New voter ID law passed in Ohio; Georgia passed a law providing for the issuance of voter ID cards at no cost to registered voters who do not have a driver's license or state-issued ID card; Missouri tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
                2008:  New Mexico relaxed an existing voter ID law, and now allows a voter to satisfy the ID requirement by stating his/her name, address as registered, and year of birth
                2009:  New voter ID law passed in Utah
                2010:  New voter ID law passed in Idaho; Oklahoma voters approved a voter ID proposal placed on the ballot by the Legislature
            The increase in Republications in the 2010 elections has contributed to the proposed voter ID bills in Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Texas.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Robinson Family and the CHIPs Program

When the CHIPs program is presented to states is often difficult for people to view it as anything but an additional cost. While many families might view CHIPs as superfluous spending, some families view it as their only means to attain regular health care. This is the case for the Robinson family in Georgia. Their family is only able to attain any type of health care provisions through the CHIPs program. Without it, health care will be viewed at as luxurious spending. This video courtesy of CBS News gives more information on the Robinson family and the Georgia CHIPs program.

Georgia, like many states is cutting back immensely on CHIPs because it is eating into the states budget. Families who do not pay their premium are automatically being kicked out of the program. This is to help prevent people from using the program as a crutch instead of a necessity. Unfortunately, there are still many families and children in need of CHIPs.

An article from Medical News Today online states, “there are still about 4.7 million uninsured American children who are eligible for CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) or Medicaid and are not enrolled, says a new report published in the journal Health Affairs.”

Despite these numbers, budgets continue to be cut back in many states due to excess spending.
-Liane Michnoff

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Smoke-Free Workplace Bills Left Pending in the Legislature

The Texas House voted to pass Bill 670 (8-2) out of committee, which bans smoking in the workplace to protect people from secondhand smoke, on March 9, 2011. The Senate voted on March 8, 2011 to pass the Bill 355 (5-3) out of committee. However, the bills are still pending in the legislature.  Smoke-Free Texas Coalition reported that at least 45 members of the House have signed on as authors or co-authors of Bill 670. Both the Senate and House heard over 70 personal testimonies from individuals and organizations who support the bills. Many residents are getting involved and supporting the bills. On March 10, 2011, Bishop Joe S. Vasquex of the Diocese of Austin wrote an op-ed letter to the Statesman urging Texas state leaders to “act now to pass a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law.” He wrote a great, to-the-point message, “The need for a law is clear: Secondhand smoke exposure is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.” You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Southern regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and co-chair of  the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition, Melinda Little, said, “The passage of House Bill 670 and Senate Bill 355 out of the respective committees this week contributes to the increasing momentum for a statewide smoke-free workplace law in Texas. We are excited about the rapid movement of the bills throughout the legislature thus far and look forward to the road ahead... A statewide smoke-free workplace law would improve the health and well-being of Texans across the state and would benefit the Texas economy by providing significant cost savings for businesses and taxpayers. All Texas employees deserve the right to breathe clean indoor air in the workplace.”

State Representatives are showing their support for a Smoke-Free Texas, here Myra Crownover explains why it is so important to pass this bill and gives her support for the cause.

See more YouTube videos of representatives supporting Smoke-Free Texas

Connect and read more about the Smoke-Free Texas Coalition
Follow on Twitter Smoke Free Texas
Like Smoke-Free Texas on Facebook

-Jennifer Neel

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cause: Cut Medicaid, Effect: Chaos

I have been following this Medicaid situation in the state of Texas. I recently took a visit to the Capitol building and heard many state politicians talk about their stand in this delicate situation. The problem that was most evident is that the state is so concerned with saving money, but they are not concerned about their inhabitants in the state. Furthermore, the health and likelihood of the state’s children and elders are at risk. I do not understand politics to a certain extent, but I do know about common sense and when a chaotic situation presents itself.

Medicaid account for half of doctor visits for babies and it also pays for 75 of people in elderly homes. With this significant number of people so dependent on Medicaid, the government is looking to cut an important factor to most of the state’s beneficial healthcare. If Medicaid were cut, more and more people would have to visit county hospitals. Also, that means hospital will become overcrowded and everyone will not receive the proper attention that they might need.

Personally, as an African-American raised in Forth Worth, I have seen the works of Medicaid and how babies and toddlers receive the right attention form doctors, without worrying about the doctor bill. If this is cut, this will be a tragedy and it will cause uproar of chaos. The government is risking the potential health of the state’s future children to save money. That is not right, it is unethical and not intelligent.

Johnny Fobbs

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Legalized Gambling in Texas Could Have Big Impact on Louisiana

According to Ross Ramsey, managing editor of the Texas Tribune, Louisiana would be significantly impacted by the legalization of gambling in Texas. Louisiana recorded $723.5 million in gambling revenue during 2009-10. The gaming control board writes in its annual report how significant the effect of legalized gambling in Texas would be on Louisiana, with $482.4 million in revenues collected from the Lake Charles market. The Lake Charles market, it is noted in the 2009-10 annual report, is frequented mainly by residents of the Houston-area. If a majority of gambling revenue is taken away from Louisiana, the “Support Education in Louisiana Fund,” where all the gambling revenue goes, will take a huge hit.

Another note of interest is that past history of the legalizing of gambling shows that during tough times, existing forms of gambling were pushed through successfully. Horse and Dog tracks, Bingos and the state Lottery system were all pushed through during hard times. It is likely another bill could make it through, as it is not a tax, the state needs money and slot machines can be shipped in rapidly, providing a quick revenue stream. However, there is still stiff opposition by Gov. Perry, republicans and moralists within the capital, so it will interesting to keep following this issue as the legislative session continues.

For more information on the topic, check out this link:

-Ian Cannon

Immigration reform bills could change a few things

In wake of the recent protests in over the several anti illegal immigration bills being introduced in Austin, there is one bill that certainly stands out among the rest, House Bill 2012. This bill, proposed by Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle, would create tough state punishments for those who "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" hire an unauthorized immigrant. Violators could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000, as reported in Mariano Castillo's CNN article this afternoon. 

Perhaps the most controversial side of the bill is the clause that allows illegal immigrants to be hired as maids, lawn caretakers, or other housework-related jobs. This is interesting because of how many Texans hire illegal immigrants to do these types of jobs. Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena, a Democrat, offered a very truthful statement regarding the issue. "With things as they are today, her bill will see a large segment of the Texas population in prison" if it passes without the exception, he said. "When it comes to household employees or yard workers, it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers," Pena said. "It is so common, it is overlooked."

Riddle's chief of staff clarified that the bill is targeted more towards the big businesses. "Texans shouldn't be punished for hiring lawn care companies who hire unauthorized immigrants," he said, in an interview with the Texas Tribune.

Look for this bill to be one of the more "talked-about" bills of this legislation because of its relevancy to Texans in particular. 


- Matt Looney