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March 5, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Statewide Poll Declares Better Teacher Benefits Are Needed

AUSTIN- Discussed today at an early morning press conference, held by Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, was a Scripps-Howard Texas Poll, which surveyed 1,000 Texans concerning public school teacher and employee health insurance.

Final statistics rated 87% of participants agreeing that a better benefit program is needed for teachers, similar to the one already existing for employees of state agencies, colleges, and universities. Currently, these state and university employees are granted full premium coverage and up to 50% coverage for dependants.

As many as 85% of those questioned supported the notion that compensation for public school teachers and employees should be improved, whereas only 4% stated that job standard should be lowered, allowing for a less qualified staff. On another topic, 85% agreed that the state should pay to provide a quality, affordable health insurance plan.

During the conference, it was stressed that the revised system would cover both working and retired employees.

Senators David Bernsen of Beaumont, Royce West of Dallas, and John Carona of Dallas, were present with the four teacher groups; Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Texas Federation of Teachers; to show their support.

The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, spent most of Monday hearing testimony from senators, state representatives, teachers, school superintendents, and members of the public on the issue.

New Awareness Brought To Mental Illness

Houston Senator John Whitmire stated at a press conference this morning that steps need to be taken to get more funding to mental health and mental retardation programs.

Whitmire made clear that the issue needs to be dealt with up front, since necessary services are inaccessible by many suffering from mental disabilities.

Currently, Texas is thirty-fourth in the nation for mental retardation funding. Even worse is the state's forty-third slot for mental health funding.

Apparently, many are led into unfortunate situations because of the lack of available help. Whitmire stated that the lack of funding has led to an influx in the homeless and prison communities. He offered some statistics to support the claim, revealing that 10,000 Texans are waiting for community and home-based services.

According to the Houston senator, this was only the first in a long line of press conferences which will address the issue. He also urged all politicians to make a point of publicly acknowledging the problem during speeches.

Racial Profiling: A Solution?

Senator West, along with San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, representatives of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, along with DPS, Dallas and San Antonio Police Departments, and all the civil liberty groups met with the Capitol press corps today to talk about Senate Bill (SB) 1074, a bill which will attempt to put an end to police discrimination through racial profiling.

Through the years, statistics have shown that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to be searched when stopped by a police officer than Anglos. Houston and Arlington were the forerunning cities in the fight to stop the injustice, with Austin now closely following.

"We cannot and must not ignore repeated complaints that are received from citizens of this state and all over America who feel they are the victims of racial profiling," said West. He added that this practice is not only a violation of rights, but of the law.

The bill suggests a great number of steps to be taken in order to eradicate the dilemma, the most innovative of which being the installation of video cameras in law enforcement vehicles. Recorded tapes would be subject to review in order to properly examine all police encounters with the public. For this reason, Senator West stated that both parties would benefit.

West made clear that he believes the majority of law enforcement officers execute the proper procedures and judgement.

The true goal of the bill is to stop racial, not criminal profiling, eliminating it completely.

Session Brings Six More Bills Passed

In Session this afternoon, bills were passed in the following order:

A last occurrence of Session was the discussion of Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio Jr.' s SB 517. The bill would authorize certain counties to regulate land development, providing a penalty. Senators had qualms with a clause in the bill stating that the areas included would be low income or very low income.

A floor amendment sponsored by Waco Senator David Sibley was added giving the bill statewide impact rather than just the border areas. Many senators questioned how these terms would ultimately be defined and the worry was raised that the bill allowed all counties the same regulatory power and authority. Questions were raised as to what would constitute the definition of either, and that the possibility of counties discriminating against certain individuals might exist.

Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo felt that the bill's text was too broad, while Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister complained that the plan then gave uniform authority to every city in Texas to regulate all counties in the state.

The debate ended with the bill moving to third reading. Final passage is expected tomorrow.

Ratliff Clears The Air

Immediately following Session, Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff met with the press in order to discuss comments he made concerning illegal immigrants and federal funding.

Many felt that Ratliff had partaken in immigrant bashing by making the comments last week speaking to an Austin group.

The Lieutenant Governor began today's press conference saying, "I want to make sure everybody understands that I have absolutely no criticism of the individuals who take advantage of access to the various social services that we have in this state."

Ratliff added that his comments were directed toward the lack of federal assistance in dealing with Texas dilemmas. Texas is impacted by the effects of immigration and NAFTA traffic more than any other state in the country. He then made clear that the state needs to make those on the federal level aware of the situation.

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