Friday, April 22, 2005

Talton's amendment to suffer a timely death

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram today reports that the author and sponsor strongly object to an amendment Robert Talton (R-Pasadena), which would ban homosexual and bisexual couples from being foster parents:

"I will strenuously object to that amendment going onto the bill," said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.


Nelson said she is concerned that the ban on gay foster parents, pushed by state Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, would probably become a magnet for lawsuits and that it might cause upheaval for the thousands of children in homes where the foster parents might be gay or bisexual.

The House sponsor of Senate Bill 6, state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, said she would not support uprooting children already in a foster home.

Pink Dome posted on Wednesday links to a slew of bloggers covering the issue (hey, I'm at the bottom of the comments section!!)

I don't know who all saw CNN yesterday, but they covered the issue as well. They interviewed Talton and set up a debate between Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum and Heath Riddles (who the kept calling Randall Ellis, the Executive Director) of The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL). The debate was a bit ridiculous, but Cathie Adams stated that a child with gay foster parents are 11 times more susceptible to being sexually abused.

The website for the Texas Eagle Forum lists her e-mail address:

HB 1006 pulled down again

For the second time, the House debated HB 1006, and for the second time the debate went nowhere. Republicans still don't have the votes to push it through, so they ended the House floor much earlier than expected. Today will be a long day since Representatives didn't even touch any of the other bills they were supposed to vote on yesterday, but HB 1006 will have to wait a while for another floor debate.

Kudos to Rep. Fred Hill (R-Richardson) for his integral role in working against HB 1006 - he was key during both of the bill's debates, despite objections from fellow Republicans.

Today, the San Antonio Express-News reported on how Comal County's budget has increased at a rate far beyond inflation.

Last year, indigent health care went $369,000 over budget.

Expenses for public defenders went $83,000 over budget, and the cost of housing juveniles in detention centers also went $83,000 over budget.

Other major factors were autopsies, which went $39,600 over budget, and vehicle repairs, which went $39,000 over. Courthouse security was also a major unbudgeted expense, Ferrell said.

Sen. Hinojosa faces police retaliation over bills

Yesterday, Grits for Breakfast posted a story about how members of a South Texas drug task force have retaliated against state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa for his bills to increase accountability of the drug task forces.

I've been asked to help circulate this as much as possible, so please forward the link to your co-workers and friends to increase awareness of this problem since these drug task forces do need more oversight.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

School technology bill slips through

Yesterday, the House approved HB 4 with little debate. In fact only 5 amendments were offered and all but one - by Charlie Howard [PDF], which would have given the State Board of Education more control over textbooks. Howard's amendment was his HB 220 - a favor to SBOE member Terri Leo to try to cut evolution and paste creationism, or t(pr)each abstinence-only sex ed.

HB 4, highly touted by Ross Perot for its strides towards increased technology use in classrooms, will soon move to the Senate for debate. Out of the state's technology allocation - $150 per student - HB 4 would require that $60 per student be designated for a grant program for eligible school districts. However, the Houston Chronicle reported that "The state pays for textbooks, but HB 4 would require districts to put up $50 per student to qualify for the $300 grants."

Considering that schools would have to spend $50 per student to be eligible for the program, basically only the rich schools would get the grants - it is estimated that only 20 percent of school districts would qualify. On top of that, the Legislative Budget Board estimates that the state will have to spend $1.2 billion dollars through FY2010. HB 2 only allocated $3 billion in new money to schools, but this money only offsets inflation and restores cuts from last session. So, I see HB 4 as a way to skirt giving state money to all school districts - this would only consider the richer school districts.

And who's behind this bill? Apple executive Tom Burnett was one of three authors of the "The Texas E-Learning Initiative," which made many recommendations that were key parts of HB 4 (according to the same Houston Chronicle article). Dell backs the measure too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for technology. I'm all for quality education. I'm all for textbooks that don't list Ann Richards as the current governor of Texas. But the Devil's in the details, and I'm all for giving Texas students the same chances of succeeding, and that's where HB 4 falls short.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Well-funded anti-tax scare tactics

Today the Austin American-Statesman reported that Governor Rick Perry's office is soliciting over $1 million from lobbyists to pay for a grassroots campaign to support lowering property taxes through measures like HB 1006.

NOTE: The House has already killed HJR 35 and HB 784, the appraisal caps bills, meaning those two issues won't be brought up until the 80th Legislative session - well, barring any special session called.

Delisi asked lobbyists to consider paying for nearly $690,000 in radio spots in Austin and eight other cities, according to a copy of her presentation.

Three waves of mailings targeting more than 100,000 Republican voters would cost $282,000. About $100,000 would be spent on polling, and another $100,000 would cover follow-up phone calls to recipients of the mailers.


Perry on Tuesday kept up his press to restrict local taxes.

The Republican governor told Austin's KVET radio that unless lawmakers rein in local property taxes, homeowners will be overwhelmed.

"You're going to have senior citizens have to move out of their homes," Perry said.

The darker side of privatized case management

Yesterday the House passed CSSB 6 to engrossment by a 126-16 vote and will vote it out to the Senate in the coming days.

Dallas Morning News reported on Saturday the darker side of case management: "Private contractors that handle three-fourths of Texas' foster care have placed children with foster parents who later abused, molested or neglected them or even disappeared with kids in their care, records reveal."

Jack Downey, president and CEO of the Children's Shelter in San Antonio, made the case for privatization by saying: " Any businessperson knows the most expensive resource is people. By eliminating many caseworkers from the state rolls, more than $900 million could be saved." Okay, I understand that you're trying to save the state money, but who says that the private sector will ensure that enough caseworkers are hired? If non-profits are worried most about their bottom line, as Downey alludes to, then who says that caseworkers won't be more overworked and overburdened than they are now?

CSSB 6 would add 848 new case investigators by 2007 and add $250 million to the agency's budget, so my fear is that any improvements through privatization of these services will be attributed to privatization, not the added money and personnel by the state. I thought privatization was supposed to save the state money, not cost it money.

The House responded yesterday not by slowing privatization, which will completely privatize CPS over the next 6 years (except the initial case investigations) - affecting 26,000 foster children, but by passing an amendment ensuring that gay people can't step in as trustworthy foster parents. Makes sense: foster children need foster parents, so bar those eager to fill the needed role. Congratulations Talton for showing your hateful side at every chance you get.

Denny's poll tax bill sent back to committee

HB 1706 by Mary Denny (R-Flower Mound) was sent back to committee yesterday for further consideration.

Off the Kuff and In the Pink - Texas outline their feelings on the bill pretty well.

Shouldn't there be amendments to deal with Black Box voting or is that not really a problem?