Thursday, January 31, 2013

Water for Texas: The 2012 Texas Water Plan

“If Texans cannot change the weather, they can at least, through sound, farsighted planning, conserve and develop water resources to supply their needs.” 
A Plan for Meeting the 1980 Water Requirements of Texas, 1961

The 2012 Texas Water Plan is the ninth state water plan (the last plan being developed in 2007) that works as a guide to enable the state to meet its existing and future water needs over the next 50 years. As said on the Texas Water Plan website:

“The primary message of the 2012 State Water Plan is a simple one: In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.”

In order to overcome these droughts and help prevent them in the future, Texas hopes to allocate money from the Texas Rainy Day Fund. Formally known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, the Rainy Day Fund is Texas' largest savings account. The money comes from excess oil and gas production taxes and some unspent general revenue. It is intended to provide a cushion for unexpected budget shortfalls, but requires a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to use it. (Definition from Texas Rainy Day Fund Website)

During the 2012 State Legislation, Texas Senators hope to designate $2 billion from the Texas Rainy Day Fund in order to create a water infrastructure bank. In addition, the goal behind the Texas Water Plan is to obtain millions of dollars from the Rainy Day Fund to help with additional water projects. The specific projects are chosen by need as well as the quickness of completion of the projects. The water projects will be planned out, decade by decade, over the next 50 years. The specific areas of focus for the projects are required to maximize their conservation efforts, another technique that will be used to help return more water in the coming years. Other conservation methods that will be concentrated on are harvesting more rainwater and brush control.

On Monday, January 23, 2013, State Sen. Glenn Hegar, Rep. Drew Darby and Rep. Lyle Larson met to talk about the 2012 Texas Water Plan and, according to speculation; the plan has strong potential of seeing real funding during this year’s legislation. 

Becka Adkins

Juvenile Criminal Justice

Every year nearly 100,000 youth in Texas are processed through the juvenile justice system. Since 2005, the state has seen a rise in youth-on-youth violence. For the year of 2011–12, 60% of newly admitted juvenile criminals had committed violent crimes, with 44% had known gang affiliations at the time of their intake.

Juvenile incarceration statistics tend to represent demographics vastly different from demographics representative of the societies they come from (particularly with regard to race representation). The demographic characteristics of the incarcerated juvenile population reveal several problems that interest groups in Texas try to resolve.

With the legislative session this spring, special interest groups are engaging in advocacy measures to help their causes. Among them are the efforts to get lawmakers to shut down incarceration facilities and focus on funding and supporting measures that try to prevent first-time offenses and recidivism. Further, some interest groups are urging lawmakers to shut down privately-run prisons, such as the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, TX. The groups allege that such privately-run prisons engage in poor management practices and subject the incarcerated individuals within their cells to inhuman conditions (including the inadequate provision of medical care).

Crime has always been an important area of focus for lawmakers. The prevention and reduction of instances of juvenile crime is of particular interest as these youth will grow up to define the nature of Texas’ society in the future. As the legislative session continues, citizens of the state of Texas are likely to see their elected representatives consider measures to address this important issue.

Juvenile Prison

Varun Pramanik

Texas Education Budget: Cuts or Additional Funds?

"I think under any scenario over the last decade, the funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal," Governor Rick Perry said at a press conference on January 9, 2013.

Governor Perry is part of the minority of people who believe public education is in a good place right now in the state. Approximately 400 school districts are currently suing the state for the lack of funding during the past two years. Since the 2011 legislature cut roughly $5 billion from the public education system, over 25,000 employees have been let go across the state (Strains for Teachers...). Due to the lack of budget for teachers, the remaining faculty and staff have been working to adjust to the increase in students in each class. While this may not seem like a big deal to the average person, when the number of students in classes is in the high twenties, the individualized experienced for the student is significantly decreased.

There is a glimmer of hope, however. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said "We’re going to be putting more resources into public education, and there is no reason for us to get into a dialogue back and forth what that number should be."

sources: Texas Tribune
"Strain for Teachers Runs Deeper Than Budget Cuts" Morgan Smith. October 4 2012
"Dewhurst, Straus, Perry See Opportunity for Tax Relief" Jay Root. Jan 9 2013

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas - "Care. No Matter What."

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas "Care. No Matter What." 

Planned Parenthood Lobby Day 
I had a hard time deciding what issue I wanted to track during the 2013 legislative session.  I wanted to follow an issue that might have a hard time garnering support with our legislature because I wanted to see how that organization would advocate when the odds were against them. I also had to find an organization that had updated information on their website so I could follow their progress through the semester.

I chose Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. Considering the conservative culture of the Texas State Legislature I wanted to see how Planned Parenthood lobbied differently from other issues that my classmates are following. Considering everything that has happened since the Texas State Legislature has last been in session, the Sandra Fluke testimony about women’s health or when Susan G. Komen ended funding to Planned Parenthood, I know that is will be an interesting and important discussion regarding women’s health in Texas.

An obstacle that I see them encountering is relevance. With so much going on nationally with gun control and immigration, two subjects that are already very popular debates in Texas, Planned Parenthood might have a problem breaking through the clutter since the legislature will be concentrated on these other issues. I have posted a picture of their lobbing day in Austin, where they will be meeting with legislators with the ultimate goal of providing the best health care for women in Texas. I have also included a video from the Texas Tribune that highlights Planned Parenthood and marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade. 

Child Protective Services

Child abuse has been an issue that previous legislative meetings have worked to prevent. There are numerous programs within the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that have been working to prevent, report, and repair the actions of child abuse. By raising awareness in their local communities, Texas children's centers have been attempting to gain aid for children and family members in abused homes.

In this legislative session, SB 245 has issued the eligibility by contract, that centers must advocate for children and family members from abused or neglected homes. This bill includes all children centers and their responsibility, by contract, to aid in the investigation and care of a child or family that have been abused. These responsibilities include physical medical evaluation, providing a comfortable and safe environment for the child or family, and necessary mental health or trauma focused treatments.

This act will take immediate effect September 1, 2013.

-Brelle de Groot

Guns to Prevent Violence: What will Texas Legislature Decide?

On Monday, January 29, 2013, the Senate held a hearing over the issue of arming teachers to prevent a repeat of what recently took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Superintendents from three smaller districts came to testify on their views for allowing guns in schools – specifically elementary schools. A representative of the state associations of superintendents and school boards said school districts are unique and should be allowed to decide the proper precautions on a local basis.

The Dallas Independent School District chief of police, Craig Miller, had a different stance on the matter arguing that arming teachers to serve in place of trained officials is a bad idea. According to an article in Abilene Reporter-News, he has worked on 750 murder investigations in his 30 years with the Dallas Police Department, and he strongly opposes the idea stating, “I don’t want to see a teacher put in that position. I think anytime you have a situation like Sandy Hook, I think we all the sudden want to take a knee-jerk reaction.”
One of the big supporters of keeping schools gun free is Students for Gun-Free Schools in Texas. They question whether schools will actually be safer as well as welcoming and inviting for students while guns are on campus. They ask people to consider these five main reasons that guns should be kept out of schools:

1. Concealed handguns promote a healthy learning environment.
2.  More guns on campuses would allow for more risk for students.
3. Criminals would not be discouraged by concealed weapon permit holders.
4. The permit holders may not always be law abiding citizens.
5. The staff who would be allowed to have the weapons are not required to undergo law enforcement training at their schools.

The topic of allowing teachers to handle guns is fairly new. Discussion at the hearing stayed general and no legislation has been introduced just yet, however, this should be one of the more interesting topics to follow as the legislation progresses.

By Rian Worm
Post 1

Improving Nutrition in Public Schools to Prevent Child Obesity

Future obesity problems are predicted to cost the state of Texas up to 8 and a half times more than what improving the nutrition in public school lunches will cost. Children are forming unhealthy food habits in school, where they are not under the eye of their parents. It wouldn’t be a problem if these unhealthy foods weren’t provided to the kids. These young children are not equipped with the knowledge they need to make healthy food choices. There shouldn’t be Honey Buns, chocolate chip cookies, etc. available to these children on an every day basis. Something needs to be implemented to train these kid’s minds differently. For example, having dessert on only Fridays would get them in the habit of thinking of the dessert as a “treat,” not an every day necessity.

The children’s bad food choices could lead to future health problems, one of the worst being diabetes. According to USA Today,(Source) obesity could affect 42% of Americans by 2030. Click on the link below to check out a video containing more information regarding today's obesity. 

The unhealthy food provided is not the only problem. People are complaining that there isn’t enough healthy foods offered to the children to “fill them up.”  After many complaints about public school’s “skimpy” lunch portions, USDA is working to increase the portion size for the upcoming year, adding larger portions of meat.  

For more information about the issue of child obesity, check out the following links: 

Shelby Knight
Post 1 

Senator Wendy Davis calls for CPRIT reform

Texas Senator Wendy Davis (D - Fort Worth) announced she will be filing a bill to reform CPRIT, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. A 99 page audit report found "flaws and ethical questions" with CPRIT and how it allocates its funding (Source). Sen. Davis asked Governor Rick Perry in an open letter to include her bill as an emergency item and only hours later CPRIT was instructed not commit funds anywhere there is until an evaluation of the agency. In her open letter, found here, Sen. Davis explains her concerns and the reforms necessary to "move forward in repairing the now-tarnished reputation of this state agency." She hopes new legislation and reform will make the agency more transparent, which will not allow for favoritism among the agency and how it allocates its funds.

Avery Ruxer
Post 1

Texas Legislatures propose Bill to carry Guns on Campus

The Secretary of the Senate, Patsy Spaw filed SB 182, the bill that will make it legal to carry firearms on campuses of higher education, on January 17, 2013. It has been read and forwarded to the criminal justice committee. This bill includes clauses that fully explain what the requirements are to carry firearms on university campuses. Private institutions would have the power to decide whether this action would be allowed on its grounds.

This is not the first time this bill has been introduced to the Texas Legislation. According to the Huffington Post, the Texas Senate postponed SB 354, basically the same bill as what is currently in the senate, due to the lack of support. However, SB 354 would have prohibited colleges from banning guns on campus. The bill was projected to pass with flying colors. Texas would’ve been the second state, after Utah, to pass a law of this nature.

Because of the almost success of the previous bill, similar to SB 182, this bill will most likely move past the senate and into the house, especially given all of the recent events relating to guns.

Photo credit:

Cody Coke
Post 1
Topic: Guns on campuses bill, SB 182

Texas Teachers Fighting for Higher Salaries

Coming from a family of educators, I know from firsthand experience that teaching is one of the most underpaid professions in this country and in this state. Two years ago Texas legislators cut $5.4 billion from public education, which affected most districts, schools, and jobs. You can read more about the budget cut here. As a result, there are several bills in this year's legislation that deal with increasing teacher salaries across the state.

One bill in particular, HB 176, is hoping to increase Texas teacher salaries to be closer to the national average, which is around $43,800. The bill, written by Armando Martinez, lays out a new system where the monthly salaries increase as years of experience increase.

Another bill, HB 1, would add $2.3 billion for growth to try to make up for the huge cut two years ago. Although this is not directly related to salary increases, the $2.3 billion could include salaries as part of its growth.

The Texas State Teachers Association is a group that is backing all education-related bills in this year's legislative session. Its website lists all education-related bills and tracking information, providing a useful resource for all interested in what is happening with education-related legislation. For more information on TSTA and to see all education-related bills, click here.

Preston Chilton
Post 1
Topic: Increasing Teacher Salaries

Texas Up In Arms Over New Gun Legislation

A historically conservative, Republican state, Texas is full of Second Amendment supporters that have begun bearing arms with the recent Obama administration push for stricter gun control across the nation.   

On January 16, 2013, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Obama announced a plan that would implement “mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, including private sales; reinstate a ban on some assault-style weapons; ban high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds; and crackdown on illicit weapons trafficking.” 

Texas legislators, particularly Republicans, have responded loudly to this announcement in a variety of ways with the approaching legislative meeting this spring. Texas State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, plans to file the "Firearms Protection Act" that would “would make any federal laws that may be passed by Congress or imposed by Presidential order which would ban or restrict ownership of semi-automatic firearms or limit the size of gun magazines illegal in the state” with beliefs that these new gun control policies utterly violate American Constitutional rights. Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, along with 13 other co-authors filed Senate Bill 182 that addresses concealed handguns on campuses of higher education. Another bill filed by Texas legislators is the “Second Amendment Preservation Act”. 

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association-Institute of Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) have also become, as expected, large players in this controversial legislative time. Over the next few months, gun regulatory laws are certain to be a hot topic of conversation at both the state and national level.

For information on more bills up for legislation, click here

Photo credit: 

Ashton Theiss
Post 1
Topic: Texas Gun Legislation 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Fair Chance at a Second Home

Elliot Trejo
Companion Animal Protection Act
Post 1

Each year, over 5 million animals are turned in to shelters all across the U.S. Out of those 5 million, only 1.5 million make it out alive. According to data compiled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Born Free U.S.A. and Pet Finder, over 70 percent of animals that were placed in shelters ended up being euthanized. For the animals that do survive in the shelters live a life of pain and agony. Having to cram themselves into small enclosures, be around unclean surroundings, and are forced to experience lack of major medical care. Shelters have many “reasons” as to why they are forced to put beloved animals down and deny their mistreatment of their animals. Some claim that they do not have enough space, money, or volunteers to be able to provide adequate care to the animals they claim they love so much.

Recently, there have been many cases and reports of animal abuse and neglect in these same shelters that are sworn to protect them. One of these incidents happened in Houston, involving a severely injured Bassett Hound named Hope. Unfortunately for Hope, the laws regarding stray animals in Harris County did not allow her to be given medical treatment right away, and she needed to live in a kennel for three days without proper medical attention or adequate food or water. In Texas, each county has its own set of laws instead of a unified set of rules and regulations. Hope's story shows that there are problems within the animal control system and there needs to be legislative action to correct these problems while also saving money. This is where the Companion Animal Protection Act (or CAPA), comes into play.

CAPA has been passed in several states such as Delaware, and now it is making its way into Texas. The bill offers simple, yet effective rules and regulations to ensure that each and every single animal that is brought into the shelter has a fair chance at life and that their lives in the shelters will be safe, clean, and well taken care of. Contrary to critical opposition, CAPA actually saves tax payer money and is much cheaper than to simply kill an animal. It provides a unified, simple approach to a patch-worked, complex problem.

To read a full or modified version of CAPA, click Here and then click on the CAPA tab, then click on either the "full" or "modified version" of CAPA to download the bill.