Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Medical Marijuana: Rogerian Argument

It's hard to say where I stand on HB 164 because I'm very much understanding of both sides. I understand why legislators and business people might be opposed to passing this bill. They see it more as a danger and a threat than anything else. Others see it as nothing more than any other substance that's used and abused nowadays; they say marijuana isn't any more dangerous than alcohol. In face, they argue that it's much less dangerous.

I will say that because of the background I grew up in, generally middle class with each of my family members and friends working in the service industry, I've been exposed to this issue for a while now.

I neither partake or encourage excessive use of any drug; however, I am understanding when it comes to its need for medical usage. I'm also an advocate of privacy--what you do with your money and personal time for recreation is your business.

Because research has proven that marijuana can, in fact, help anxiety, depression and physical pain I would like to see a law passed that enables those who truly need it to be able to access it in a timely and financially-efficient manner. Honestly, I don't believe that it would cause more harm than good. I don't think enough people are getting the proper medical care that they need in the first place, so if this is something that is proven to help, something should be done about it.

Alyson Morales
Blog Post 5
Partisan post

Looking at the Bigger Picture: the Texas Water Plan and Global Water Plans

There is increasing potential for a special session to be held this summer regarding the proposed state water plan. The 2013 legislation is nearing a close and yesterday, April 29, things heated up in the House as HB 11 did not manage to get the necessary votes for approval.  According to State Impact, State Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, presented an amendment to HB 11 requesting that the $2 billion that was proposed to be taken from the Rainy Day Fund instead be allocated from across-the-board budget cuts. This upset State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who felt Creighton was using supplementary state programs, and specifically education funding, as a way to coincide with the opposed House members in hopes of funding the water plan.

Similar to the Texas water crisis, population growth has resulted in limited water resources globally. Lack of access to clean water is a growing concern for many countries, such as Ethiopia. In addition, the shortage of sanitary drinking-water also leads to the spread of bacteria and disease. Similar to Texas’s projected Water Plan that includes conservation and harvesting of rain water, thanks to the help of Plan (http://plan-international.org/about-plan/resources/news/world-water-day-harvesting-rainwater-in-nepal) around 250 residents in Nepal now harvest rain water in their 6,500 liter capacity tanks.

A more structured and comparative example of the Texas Water Plan to a global plan would be the World Health Organization’s Water Safety Plans, the first edition being published in 1984-85 in three volumes: recommendations, health criteria and other supporting information, and surveillance and control of community supplies. The most recent version was updated and published in 2005 in Geneva. As stated in WHO's, “one-sixth of humanity lack access to any form of safe and improved water supply within 1 kilometer of their home and one-fifth of humanity lack access to any form of adequate and improved excreta disposal (WHO and UNICEF 2000)".

The WHO Water Safety Plans lists current management approaches, similar to the list in the Texas Water Plan: Water supply systems can be considered as a number of steps aimed at assuring the safety of drinking-water, including: preventing pollution of source waters;selective water harvesting; controlled storage; treatment prior to distribution; protection during distribution; and safe storage within the home.

-Becca Adkins
Looking at the Bigger Picture: the Texas Water Plan and Global Water Plans : Texas Water Plan - Post 4

Freeze in Tuition Freezes

Not much has changed with universities, trustees, and legislators on where they stand with tuition freezes. Although many have decided not to partake in the tuition freeze group,  there are still many universities across the county that have decided to take the step towards it and it is really starting to say something about those who aren't.

Earlier this April in Minnesota, a state senate member on the higher education committee voted to fund $80 million to the University of Minnesota's tuition freeze. The more schools that move towards these tuition freezes, the more pressure other schools will be under to do the same.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker also called for a tuition freeze, two year, at the University of Wisconsin after realizing how much money they had for back up in their reserved school funds, approximately $648 million.  It is ridiculous to think that a school would have that kind of money but still increase tuition.  If I found out I was out a school that did something of that sort, I would definitely make a stand.

On a lighter note, schools such as Peace University, that only has around 800 students, is even looking to not only freeze their tuition but their room and board as well.  If a school like Peace University has the ability to make tuition freezes, I think there are many more universities that are capable to do the same. 

-Shelby Campbell

CPRIT still struggling

"When the Texas House votes on a new two-year state budget this week, the proposal includes no new research money for CPRIT — a sign that lawmakers are still not convinced that the agency is back on the right track" (Dallas Morning News). 

More information has been uncovered about under the radar dealings between CPRIT and other companies. The House Committee on Transparency, whom Senator Wendy Davis appealed to all those months ago, is still deliberating how to deal with CPRIT. The Houston Chronicle believes that the House and the Senate's continuing consideration is a good sign that CPRIT will survive, "but if it's to survive, radical treatment is needed to restore the public trust." They suggest "tougher new operating rules," "no private foundation," and "a new board." New rules would ensure that nepotism and cronyism do not enter the foundation. By turning CPRIT into a state-run foundation, money would not be wasted on high salaries and would be subject to transparency. A new board would allow for the foundation to start new, away from the past year's allegations and tribulations (Houston Chronicle).

On April 3rd, the Texas Senate "unanimously passed a bill, authored by Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, to reform the agency." During this hearing, arguments were also made to completely eradicate CPRIT. Some believe the foundation has ruined Texas' credibility: "For many Texans, the scandal is evidence [...] that the state's leadership isn't reliable" (Texas Monthly).

Avery Ruxer

Post 4

Where Medical Marijuana Is Headed

According to The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice's article, The Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes, "A similar study of people age 18 and older, published in the journal ‘Drug and Alcohol Dependence’, found the odds of marijuana abuse or dependence were almost twice as high in states with medical marijuana laws compared with those without such laws. However, most would argue that, in fact, such laws may create the perception that medical marijuana is safe, because of its legal status, as has been demonstrated historically, with tobacco." The authors of the journal also go on to list the negative physical symptoms resulting from using marijuana, along with statistics on the use of driving under the influence of cannabis (DUIC).

On April 30, the San Francisco Chronicle republished an article written by the Associated Press (here) stating that the New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan has asked to strike down the fourth medical marijuana proposal in six years which allows people to grow in their own yards at home. Author Morgan True of the Associated Press also writes, "Home cultivation is crucial to ensuring access for patients in rural areas and for those who can't afford to buy the drug from dispensaries, said the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Donna Schlachman, an Exeter Democrat. Plus, many patients with terminal conditions who have waited years for medical marijuana don't have the 18 months to two years it will take for dispensaries to open." The proposal, True writes, is being rewritten in a Senate committee.

Where does this leave Texans?
No one really knows. It seems as if Texas is still very much in the planning phases of accepting marijuana for something other than harmful recreational use and something that can be used in the medical field as a healing agent. Actually, not many know if Texas will even get there anytime soon.

Photo credit: Houston Criminal Law Journal

Alyson Morales
Blog post 4
Medical Marijuana

Texas Republicans push back against stronger gun control legislation

With Obama’s very vocal push for more restrictive gun legislation to be passed, a just as loud opposition from the other side of 2nd Amendment-right-supporting, conservative Republicans can be heard loud and clear.

“It is saddening to see the President today, once again, try to take advantage of this tragic murder to promote an agenda that will do nothing to stop violent crime, but will undermine the constitutional rights of all law-abiding Americans,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in response to Obama’s attempt to use the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn. this past December to garner support.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) invited all individuals and companies who feel their 2nd Amendment rights have been infringed upon to move to Texas.

Even Governor Rick Perry has not been shy about his stance on keeping Texas a gun friendly state. “Guns require a finger to pull the trigger. The sad young man who did that in Newtown was clearly haunted by demons, and no gun law could have saved the children from his terror,” Gov. Perry said.

Texas has historically has had a culture that supports and encourages individuals to embrace their 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms. Legislators and state officials of the Lone Star State will not go quietly if 60 votes in the Senate are acquired to enact current legislation that is on the docket to restrict citizen’s rights to purchase and carry guns.

Ashton Theiss
Blog Post 3

Gun Laws Around the Globe

In December of 2012, a man walked through the entrance of an elementary school in central China and began knifing down students left and right injuring nearly two dozen people. No one died. It was a very similar scenario to what happened at Sandy Hook elementary except for the difference in weapons used. Thankfully, this man did not have a gun but it raises the question: what if he did?

Last year in the US., nearly 9,000 people were killed by guns, however, in similar countries like Canada there was only 150 and in Germany 170. This could be due in part to the higher availability to weapons such as guns, explosives, and rifles in the U.S. than in almost every other industrialized country. Almost every other industrialized nation has reasonable gun laws.

Unfortunately, as tragedies continue to happen in the U.S., with the most recent one being the explosions at the Boston marathon, the more states try to pass laws for people to carry guns to protect themselves. Many argue that people are going to find ways to get guns in their hands no matter what. Maybe the reasons why these other countries continue to have less homicides is because they didn't have relaxed gun laws to begin with and it is now too late for the U.S. to go back and mend their laws.

Right now, the gun issue in Texas and the rest of America is still up in debate. HB Bill 972 would eliminate the current ban on guns in universities but will allow public schools the choice to "opt out" of using weapons if they meet with faculty first and discuss the option.  The specific language of "opt out" has softened the opposition amongst people who were against the bill. Authors of the bill expect it to pass in the house but there is uncertainty of how it will do in the Senate. It will be interesting to see how this bill plays out in the final days of the legislature.

Rian Worm

Education Budget - A national look

The National Education Association ranks states based on how much they spend per student in the United States. According to the latest figures, Texas is ranked 49th of all states and the District of Columbia.

The following video looks at how much public education is truly costing the tax payers and how much we need to cover these costs. The study was completed by the CATO Institute in 2010.

The video reiterates the fact that public education costs more than we even know. So what are we truly spending on education and what needs to be remedied?

Texas currently spends about $8,400 per student while the national average is $11,455. Because of this Texas public education is behind other states and the students are missing out.

Ivy Anderson

Child Obesity

A lot has happened this month with this bill, but it is still standing to this date.

It wasn’t read until March 5, 2013, where it was immediately referred to Arriculture and Livestock. A month later, on April 10, it was considered in public hearing, and left pending until the 15th. On the 15th, it was considered in a formal meeting, recommended to be sent to Local and Consent, and reported favorably without amendment(s). The next day the Comte report was filed with the Committee coordinator, distributed that same day, and sent to the local and consent calendar the next day. A few days later, it was placed on local and consent calendars.

I found an interesting article on ABC news that argued whether child obesity was a sign of parental abuse or not. I thought that this was a very interesting point, and the other side of the argument is that the child’s health is not in the school’s hands, but in the parents. The article said that the problem starts when the child is an infant. When the infant cries, the mother automatically thinks the infant is hungry and feeds it. According to the article, Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs at the Child Welfare League of America said “There are often a lot of things going on," she added. "The question is what's going on with the family that's causing the situation in which you have an obese child with health consequences that are not being addressed." 

Instead of the school making changes to the food they serve, this side of the argument says that the parents should make the change. The parents could only allow their kid to bring their lunch to school, and not give them any lunch money, so the child has no choice but to eat the lunch they packed. This way, the parent can totally in control of what their child is eating for lunch. 

The parents also need to be good examples to their kids in order for this change to happen. Below is a video of COAK, the Coalition of Angry Kids, who completely blame their obesity on the example set by their parents. 

The next video is of Michelle Obama talking also about how the parents influence how their kids eat. 


Child obesity
Shelby Knight

Monday, April 29, 2013

Half Way There

The Texas 83rd Legislature has been in session for some time now and has continued to make progress with Senate Bill 245 and House Bill 915. Both bills relate to childcare and eligibility. Senate Bill 245 concerns the contracts and eligibility for advocacy centers to be allowed to provide services for children in abuse or neglected cases. House Bill 915 relates to the administration and monitoring of health care that is or should be provided to foster children.

Senate Bill 245 was passed by the Senate on March 13th and was received in the House on March 14th. Since then, it has been read for the first time in the House on April 4th and was referred to Human Services. Recently, it was considered in a formal meeting, underwent committee substitutions and recommended to be sent to Local and Consent. As of April 25th, SB 245 had been reported favorably from the House.

Senator Royce West, one of the three sponsors of this bill, provides a published analysis of the amendments and provisions he would like to see made through SB 245.

House Bill 915 has undergone numerous committee reports and has been read three times in the House throughout the month of April. The bill was passed by the House on April 19th and received by the Senate on April 22nd. Two days later, the Senate read HB 915 for the first time on April 24th.  That same day the bill was referred to Health and Human Services, and is now scheduled for a public hearing on May 2nd

Both of these bills have been passed by half of the Texas legislature and the sponsors hope to continue making steps forward throughout the next month.

-Brelle de Groot

Why I Care About Teacher Pay

I come from a long line of educators. My great-grandmother taught elementary school in Lubbock, TX. My grandmother taught high school english for 37 years at Paschal High School in Fort Worth. My mother has taught kindergarten for 18 years at Westcliff Elementary in Fort Worth. My cousin teaches elementary school in Aledo, TX. Another cousin is a psychology professor at Yale University in New Haven, CT.

As you can see, the Chilton family likes to teach. That is why I care about HB 176 and the need for an increase in teacher salaries here in Texas as well as nationwide. I believe teachers are underpaid and under appreciated when it comes to government action.

According to a 2011 article, the United States ranked 22nd out of 27 countries when looking at teacher pay. The top countries, minus New Zealand, are all in Europe. This makes sense because teaching in Europe is a highly valued profession, therefore they are paid more.

I am fortunate to have so many passionate family members that are teachers. I have always been told the importance of education, and I will continue to believe in its importance.

Final update: HB 176 is still in education committee.

"A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops."
 - Henry Adams

Preston Chilton
Post 5

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Awaiting Trial

Elliot Trejo
Final May Post

As of April 29, SB 1292 has been read and referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence and left pending in committee. It's good to know that the bill is slowly but surely making progress. In spite of this, however, it is still awaiting trial in front of the House to be reviewed, voted on, and passed. SB 1292 did very well in the Senate, and I'm hoping that the politicians inside the House have the same mentality.

I'm tired of hearing stories about someone being wrongfully executed because of a lack of evidence proving their innocence. More often than not, it's times like these where we as Americans question our justice system. I understand that this is a state bill, but it can be a catalyst for legislation all over the country. If a state like Texas can do it, so can America. I will continue to monitor the progress and activity of SB 1292 as it goes through legislation. I can only hope and pray for the best.

To keep up with SB 1292, click here

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Final Verdict

Elliot Trejo

SB 1292 is making significant progress in the Senate and is now laying its fate in the hands of the House.

On April 14, 2013, SB 1292, the same bill that proposes DNA testing of all evidence in a death penalty case, was passed by 31 "Yeas" and 0 "Nays" on its third reading. Later that day, the bill was engrossed by the Senate and sent to the House. This is great news for the justice system in Texas because the bill is getting one more step closer to being signed.

Still, many challenges remain for SB 1292. Even though it passed with flying colors in the Senate, it still has to be deliberated and passed by the House. This process could take a while, especially with so many other bills coming into the House. I don't suspect that SB 1292 will be passed by the time the semester ends, but it will definitely be brought to the spotlight to be debated and hopefully passed.

In the meantime, I'm going to have my fingers crossed and hope that the House Majority will consider passing this bill and make sure that only the true murderers belong in death penalty cases.

For more updates on SB 1292, click here

Friday, April 19, 2013

The History of Teacher Pay

As pressing as this issue is in today's world, it is important to know the history of teacher pay to see how it has changed over the years.

According to a CPRE article, there have been three major shifts in the way teachers have been paid in the United States. In the 1800s, teachers were paid by a "boarding round" system, which consisted of room and board for the teacher provided by the local community. In the early 1900s, teachers started to be paid on a position-based salary schedule. This meant that elementary teachers were paid less than secondary teachers because of the differences in educational requirements for each position. The third historical shift came in the latter half of the 1900s. The single-salary schedule paid teachers the same salary if they had the same qualifications, and race and gender were not factors anymore. This system also instituted a pay raise for increasing years of experience, similar to what is practiced today.

Similarly, looking at the salary amount of teachers over time is important too. In a Chicago Mag article, the author looked at average teaching salaries over time to comment on the change that has occurred. In 1966 (the first year the author looked at), the average starting salary of a teacher was $5,500. Fast forward to 2010 where the starting pay was $50,500.

It is amazing how far it has come, yet how far it still has to go. (Side note: Chicago's average teacher salaries are higher than the national average.)

In the 2013 Texas legislative session, HB 176 was referred to the Public Education committee on February 6 and is still "in committee."

Preston Chilton
Post 4

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Innocent until proven guilty?

I first became interested in the Innocence Project and other organizations working towards exonerating those wrongfully accused when I heard the story of Brian Banks. Banks was a standout player at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California. In 2002, Banks verbally committed to play for USC, and he was on his way to athletic stardom.

However, during the summer before Bank’s senior season at Poly (2002), he was arrested and charged after a classmate (Wanetta Gibson) accused him of kidnapping and rape. Banks was faced with a possible 41 years to life sentence. He chose to accept a plea deal that included five years in prison, five years of probation, and registering as a sex offender.

Forget football, Banks’ life was ruined. Or so he thought.

In March 2011, Gibson met with Banks and admitted she had fabricated the story. Banks was recording the conversation and with the tape and help from the California Innocence Project attorneys, Los Angeles County prosecutors overturned Banks' conviction on May 24, 2012.

As of April 3, 2013, Banks has signed with the Atlanta Falcons. He will begin off-season workouts later this month in hopes of gaining an insider linebacker position.

Banks now serves as a spokesperson for the California Innocence Project and is working on a documentary to tell his story.

For more information, click here.

Status of SB 89 in Austin: Since my last post, SB 89 still remains in Stage 1 (Filed). On April 18, 2013, another co-author was authorized: On motion of Senator Ellis, Senator Hinojosa will be shown as Co-author of SB 89.

Brian, Banks, Long Beach, California, Atlanta, Falcons, Poly, USC, Los Angeles, exonerate, Wanetta, Gibson, innocence, project, commission, NFL, DNA, football

Henrietta Williams

The Innocence Project goes global

Recently, there has been a lot of recognition in the U.S. media for the founder of the Innocence Project in the Philippines. Dr. Maria Corazon Abogado De Ungria is the head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory of the Natural Sciences Research Institute, University of the Philippines, the Director of the Program on Forensic and Ethnicity of the Philippine Genome Center, and the founder of the Innocence Project Philippines. De Ungria is a hero of science not only in her country, but globally. She almost single-handedly built the DNA forensics database in the Philippines in the late 1990s.

“[De Ungria] has played a major role in resolving forensic cases, bringing justice to victims of abuse and heinous crimes, and those who have been wrongfully accused or convicted,” the Asian Journal said.

According to the Innocence Project Philippines Facebook page, the project is "a network of law school clinics, scientific and academic laboratories and non-governmental organizations that seeks to make justice accessible for wrongfully convicted persons."

The Innocence Project at the National Bilibid Prison aims to:

• Provide coordinated free legal assistance to persons wrongfully convicted;
• Advocate reforms in policies, laws, judicial rules, legal education, and criminal investigative procedures and evidence handling to redress wrongful convictions in the Philippines;
• Enhance the capacities of justice stakeholders including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, criminal and forensic investigators, law students, etc. to eradicate or mitigate wrongful convictions in the country; and
• Establish an independent and accurate data bank containing all pertinent information on wrongful convictions in the Philippines.
For more information, click here.
Photo credit: Asian Journal

Status of SB 89 in Austin: Since my last post, SB 89 remains in Stage 1 (Filed). On Feb. 25, 2013, a co-author was authorized: On motion of Senator Ellis, Senator Rodriguez will be shown as Co-author of SB 89.

innocence project, innocence commission, Philippines, innocent, DNA, De Ungria, Bilibid, science

Henrietta Williams

Motivation to Act

For decades, the issue of international involvement has been a highly disputed topic in American politics. If a foreign nation is acting in a way contrary to what we deem moral, at what point do we have a responsibility as human citizens to stand up for the fair treatment of others? Many argue that governments of foreign nations have the right to deal with their own people as they see fit. That it isn’t our responsibility, as a diplomatic nation, to step in and defend the rights of those in other countries?

But what about when the people being wronged are our own?

Last year, there were 1900 calls to the National Trafficking Hotline from Texas alone, yielding 353 cases in which there was an instance of human trafficking in Texas. This means that 353 human beings were being bought and sold for sex or labor in the state we call home. Shouldn’t this alarming statistic be enough to propel legislators to action?

In the 2013 Texas state legislature, several pieces of legislation aimed at fighting this domestic issue are stuck in the committee stage. HB 91 is currently awaiting action by the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, as is SB 92. As the 2013 session of the Texas State Legislature winds down, it is hard to say if these pieces of legislation will ever get out of committee to be voted on by the House.

This issue should, however, motivate prompt action.

Rachel Adcock
Blog Post 5 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why SB 182 will not advance in this session of the Texas Legislation

Update on SB 182: this bill would make it legal to carry firearms on campuses of higher education. However, it has moved out of the Criminal Justice committee. Let’s be honest, it probably won’t advance anymore this session due to the slowness of the legislative system.  The trip to Austin to observe the Texas Legislation in action made it apparent that the session would no produce any results besides a few bills and the passing of the budget for the next two years.

For those of you who do not know, the Texas Legislation only meets every ‘odd’ year for six months. So that means that within that time two things happen: planning and passing of the budget and proposals of bills that are up for passing.

I’m sorry, but that isn’t a lot of time to plan and pass a budget that is suppost to last for two years. It is a faulty system because the population of our state is growing everyday so it is impossible to project what the spending is going to look like two years from now.

SB 182 will not succeed this session because of the system that is in place. The bill does not have a lot of push behind it, which is what it takes for a bill to be passed in the type of system. Currently, another big issue for this session is the education. In the 82nd session, education was cut by $5.2 billion dollars. This session is planning on putting about half of that back into the budget. We discovered this issue when we met with Holly Taebel, Director of Professional Development and Advocacy for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

This video shows Texas Representative Eric Johnson talking about the voucher system that would come with the new education budget. 

Video credit: YouTube
Blog Post #4
Topic: SB 182
Cody Coke

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Human Trafficking Internationally

Human trafficking is defined as modern day slavery in the form of buying and selling men, women, and children for sex or for labor. It is speculated that currently there are over 27 million slaves worldwide.

That means there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history.  

Last year, in 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime created the first comprehensive international report on the status on trafficking in persons. The report includes both the status of trafficking in each country, as well as the legal response to the crime. Alarmingly, the report revealed that as many as two of every five countries included in the report are yet to successfully convict a suspect of human trafficking. 

Globally, children account for roughly 20% of trafficking victims. Astonishingly, however, nearly 100% of victims in many parts of Africa are children. The report also reveals that 79% of trafficking is sexual exploitation, while 18% is forced labor.

The UN took its first formal actions against human trafficking in 2003 with the The United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons. This document laid forth the first international protocol against trafficking. Though many countries are yet to opt in to this protocol, momentum has increased significantly in recent years. The UN does acknowledge, however, that many governments are still reluctant to admit this shameful crime happens on their soil.

Until then, the UN has committed to increase public awareness as well as government knowledge on the issue of human trafficking.

Read the full UNDOC report here.

For more information on the global issue of human trafficking, check out this video made by fellow Schieffer school student, Lyndsey Evans.

Rachel Adcock
Post 4