From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23
For Immediate Release
January 29, 2001
Senator West eyes hot issues for 77th Legislative Session
It has been my pleasure to serve as State Senator for the 23rd District of Texas representing parts of Dallas and Tarrant Counties entering now, my ninth year. But just as important, are the the issues that we face statewide over the next four months of this 77th Legislative Session - now still in its early days They are ones that should be of importance to all of Texas, and of special significance to an African American population that Census estimates say will number 2.5 million when figures are released.
Texas, as you know is a vast and diverse state in terms of its climate and terrain. Just as vast and diverse are the issues that relate to the 20 million citizens of the Lone Star State. But issues such as those dealing with education, healthcare and criminal justice are ones that affect us all.
As it relates to public education, our task is to strive for continued academic improvement. The past two years have seen significant gains in reading scores for primary grade students and higher test scores in math. But to sustain and improve on those gains, it is important that no monies are taken away from our public schools. For the unfamiliar, that issue is school vouchers. It is urgent that not only do we not diminish the assets that we provide to public education, but that we, as a legislative body, do everything possible to place additional funding where it is most needed. We do that by providing for the future of Texas through our public schools.
More dollars must also be used to improve and enhance the basic infrastructure of our schools statewide. Many of our schools are decades old, and are ill-equipped to handle the technology based curricula of the 21st Century.
Last session, we were able to pass legislation that gave teachers statewide, raises on the average of $3,000. This year we have another issue that is of equal import. All over this state, our school personnel, not just the teachers, have made the outcry for a comprehensive, state-supported, healthcare package. That, I think, is our number-one priority over the coming weeks of this biennial session.
My goal also - as many of you may know - is to increase the accessibility and affordability of higher education in Texas. And to that effect, last session we were able to create the University of North Texas System Center at Dallas, prayerfully on the way to becoming the University of North Texas at Dallas before the end of this decade.
But there is another problem that hinders access to higher education, particularly in our community. We are plagued with the problem of more African American young men being placed behind bars than behind the desks in our college classrooms. One in four African American men under age 30 are either incarcerated or on probation. We must change that! Texas has an obligation and our community must make a commitment to change that ratio to see more of our males in enrolled in college.
How do we do that? I think that we should continue to stress prevention programs as opposed to building more prisons. Just last month, I was on hand to launch the opening of "75217," one of 14 Community Youth Development (CYD) programs around the state that target areas - by ZIP CODE - that have displayed a high rate of juvenile crime. These type programs have been shown effective in reducing the crime rate of a generation that we must count on to be tomorrow's leaders.
In discussing education, we touched just briefly on healthcare, but in addition to coverage for teachers, there are more issues that affect the welfare of Texans both young and old. Our senior citizens should not have to make the choice between eating and prescription drugs. But yet, that is the sad saga of a story that has been told all the way to Capitol Hill. More than seniors are affected as prescription plans through health maintenance organizations (HMOs) also face soaring costs. Monies that we spend at the state level can help in leveraging federal dollars that will aid in this cause.
Maslow's hierarchy, and plain common sense will tell you that a sick child cannot learn, and to that end, in 1999 we were able to put in place the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIPS. That legislation has made healthcare available to more than 220,000 children up to 18 years of age, at a small cost to working families who cannot afford private insurance, but whose incomes exceed Medicare standards. In this session, we must make sure that CHIPS is on solid footing financially and look at expanding its eligibility requirements.
As an attorney by profession, I have somewhat of an innate interest in matters of Criminal Justice. And as a member of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, I have worked to pass laws that will help secure the safety of citizens in their homes and on the many miles of highways in Texas. But as you know, our work is not done. The issue of hate crimes and racial profiling affect Texans as surely as they do all Americans. And that we will discuss during the coming weeks of the 77th Legislative Session.
Royce West Texas Senate
Please feel free to contact me through my District or Capitol offices at 214-467-0123 or 512-463-0123.