Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Obama slacking on illegal immigration reform?

President Obama met with members of the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus yesterday for the third time in three weeks. Representative Luis Gutierrez was pleased to see Obama agree with him that it makes little sense to deport younger illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. 

This is an important part of this legislation because of its significance to the DREAM act, which failed last year but will be re introduced this year. The DREAM Act stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors and provides conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien students who graduate from U.S. high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bills enactment. 

"The president stressed absolutely that the real fix is going to have to be legislative," Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of Texas said. 

It will definitely take a strong legislative action to fix the illegal immigration problem in the country, but the real question is once that action or bill is passed, how will everyone in Texas react? 


Immigration House Bill 2012

There has been some serious controversy and opposition towards House Bill 2012, and rightfully so. It creates an exception for people who hire for the purpose of obtaining labor or other work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence, even if the homeowner-employer intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly hired the worker without employment authorization.

This is especially important for Texans because of the large number of illegal immigrants that work as babysitters. Texas state rep Aaron Pena said, "A large number of the Texas population would end up in prison if the bill is passed. When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers. It is so common it is overlooked." 

The fact that a state representative is admitting a hard truth like that to a news giant like CNN shows the gravity of this situation. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the future because of the mixed message it portrays. They might as well make it easy and say, "We want you here, but we don't." Bills like these tend to weaken efforts of immigration reform because they propose penalties and restrictions which appear to be based on arbitrary distinctions and class privilege. 


-Matt Looney

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

March of Dimes: What's Next

As the March of Dimes continues to work so that all babies are born to stay healthy they have focused their efforts more specifically on the continued funding of newborn screening and the health care reform. Both of these major issues affect the mission of the organization so supporters advocate on behalf of MOD to make sure that cuts are not made that will effect them meeting their mission.

Newborn screening is a successful preventive public health activity. 

Newborn screening: Basic facts
  • Newborn screening is the early identification of infants affected by certain genetic, metabolic, hormonal and/or functional conditions.
  • Screening detects disorders in newborns that, if left untreated, can cause death, disability, intellectual disabilities and other serious illnesses.
  • If diagnosed early, these conditions can be successfully treated.
  • The American College of Medical Genetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes and the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders recommend screening all newborns for 29 treatable disorders and reporting on an additional 25 disorders.
(SOURCE: March of Dimes Advocacy)

The march of Dimes continues to advocate for these newborn screenings because of these facts.

Currently, March of Dimes has been advocating so that all women and their children may have health care. "Having insurance coverage affects how and whether women and children can obtain needed health care services. In 2007, the Institute of Medicine reported that uninsured women receive fewer prenatal services and experience greater difficulty in obtaining needed care than women with insurance."
(SOURCE: March of Dimes Advocacy)

If you would like to assist in any of these and other advocacy efforts through the March of Dimes you may sign up below!

March of Dimes Advocacy

-Domonique M. Mack

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update on Progress of Nutritional Bills

For the past four months, this blog has followed the progress of issues currently being addressed in the 82nd Texas Legislature. A variety of subjects, including eminent domain, smoking, and gambling, have been discussed by Texas politicians; however, the $27 billion budget shortfall dominated debate for much of this session. 

While the topic of altering nutritional and physical education programs in Texas public schools did not receive much attention, several bills in the House and Senate regarding minor alterations to similar existing bills were passed.   

HB 127 created more strict rules relating to the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses. The bill was passed in House and has been received by the Senate.

HB 280 alters a health credit for high school graduation. The bill was referred to Public Education in February and no action has been taken since.

HB 281 alters physical education credits required for high school graduation. The bill was referred to Public Education and no action has been taken.

HB 643 deals with summer nutrition programs in public school districts. The bill was referred to the Agriculture and Livestock committee in February and was left pending in committee.
SB 185 creates more rigorous physical education requirements in Texas public schools. The bill refereed to Education in January and no action has been taken since.  

SB 225 relates to developing reports about goals information needed order to promote improved student health. The bill was referred to Education in January.

Debate over school nutrition and physical education programs is likely to continue in the future as obesity becomes a growing issue for children in Texas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adult Probation Overview

As seen throughout the past few months, it is indisputable that the budget crisis is affecting every social service industry in Texas, one being the correctional system. There have been a lot of social concerns from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The TDCJ believes that these cuts will end up costing the state more money in the long run. With cuts to the education and re-entry programs that prisons have in place, the TDCJ sees the prisoners coming right back to prison because they were not properly helped with such a life-altering change. Ultimately costing the state more to put them back in the system. Certain cuts will be made that will not sit well with those in charge of the criminal justice system. 

The correctional budget is still ever changing and we will have to see if the concerns from the TDCJ will be taking into account when finalizing the bill. The below summary of the budget cuts are from a Dallas Morning News article. 

For sure cuts in the proposed bill…

  • About 550 layoffs: $4.6 million
  • Canceled treatment facility: $12 million
  • Not replacing equipment: $7.1 million
  • Improved information technology practices: $3.9 million
  • Cut unused treatment program funding: $3.7 million
  • Staffers’ housing: Correctional officers are also being charged at least 20 percent of fair market value for prison housing. Some housing had been free.

Some cuts still on the table are…

  • Close the Central Prison Unit near Sugar Land.
  • Raise employee health insurance costs.
  • Cut education and vocational programs for inmates.
  • Reduce substance abuse and mental health programs.
  • Charge inmates with money in commissary accounts $100 a year for health care.
  • Reduce prison release “pocket money” from $100 to $50.
  • Charge inmates for over-the-counter medications such as aspirin.
  • Charge correctional officers when they eat more than two meals per shift in the prison chow hall.

In closing, those who are interesting in keeping up with the Texas correctional system, I recommend following the Grits for Breakfast blog. This blog talks about the Texas criminal justice system at an interesting angle while sharing important information through articles and other websites. 

-Caroline Cardenas

Exploring New Solutions for Texas Education

In a state facing a $15 billion budget shortfall, almost every aspect of government will be experiencing cuts this session. Money allocated for education, which accounts for 56.3% percent of the overall budget, will have to be reduced as a result of this budget decrease. The easiest way for school districts to accommodate these budget changes under current Texas law is to simply layoff teachers because many other options, such as reducing teacher salaries, are prohibited. 

Early predictions estimated that about 80,000 to 100,000 teachers across the state would lose their jobs as a result of the budget shortfall. Many legislators have asserted that the best option is to adjust current law to accommodate changes in the budget, allowing districts more control over how they spend their budgets. By giving school districts the ability to increase class sizes, reduce teacher salaries and offer more unpaid furlough days, many teachers may be able to keep their jobs.

Everyone can agree that education is of the utmost importance. Our children are our future and the quality of their education contributes significantly to their success. Furthermore, every parent wants to see that our education system improves over time. We all want future generations to have better than what we had.

I admire the work of the Texas Senate Education Committee’s attempts to find a compromise between administrators and teachers, but is changing Texas law really the best way to address the budget shortfall? Texas teachers have fought for years to get the minimum teacher salary where it stands today at about $27,000 for first-year teachers. One thing the republicans in the legislature hate more than suggesting using the rainy day fund is suggesting higher taxes, but that may be another solution to the $15 billion shortfall, which is rarely discussed.

Some of the ideas proposed by the legislature I believe would really help alleviate the pressure put on school districts due to dramatically decreased budgets. Allowing more furlough days for teachers is a great place to start, but raising taxes or dipping into the rainy day fund would significantly reduce the amount of teachers being laid off as a result of decreased budgets. The two most important education bills proposed in the Texas legislature, SB 12 and HB 400, both of which would allow more furlough days for teachers, but we will have to continue waiting for a budget to pass both chambers to know if the rainy day fund will be used.

-Kaitlyn Van Gorkom