CAPITOL UPDATE
From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser

For Immediate Release
February, 2006
Contact: Daniel Womack
(512) 463-0124

Dear Fellow Texan--

Last month I told you about the wildfires that devastated some areas in Central Texas. On January 11, Governor Perry announced that President Bush had approved the state's request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration. The approval of this request makes Texans whose homes and property were destroyed or damaged by wildfires eligible to receive individual assistance; local jurisdictions that have been fighting the costly fires will be eligible for public assistance.

The Presidential Disaster Declaration replaces Perry's earlier request for an emergency disaster declaration and better ensures that Texas is eligible for all available federal assistance.

Since December 26, 2005, 456 wildfires have burned nearly 254,000 acres, consumed 340 homes, and forced the evacuation of more than 4,800 individuals in Texas. The state has coordinated a campaign to fight fires from the air with 1,600 aircraft sorties dropping 1.5 million gallons of fire retardant, as well as from the ground with state and out-of-state bulldozer crews assisting local fire fighters.

If you need information or assistance during this time, please feel free to contact any of my offices listed at the end of this e-mail. Here also are some other phone numbers of importance:

WHAT'S NEW

•  On January 20, 2006, Governor Perry declared a disaster in all 254 Texas counties due to severe drought conditions, and requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency provide disaster relief assistance for Texas farms and ranches that have suffered economic and physical losses as a result.

If Perry's statewide request is approved, qualified farm operators in all Texas counties will be eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA's Farm Service Agency. Producers can borrow up to 100 percent of actual production for physical losses, or a maximum of $500,000. The agency also offers additional programs, such as technical assistance, to eligible farmers.

Dry conditions may continue in the coming weeks and months. For a list of Texas counties that already have been approved for USDA assistance, or counties that currently have a pending assistance request, please visit http://www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/press/files/drought _requests.xls

•  Continued dry weather, according to the National Weather Service, could force lakes Buchanan and Travis to drop to their lowest levels in more than five years, with many Austin and Hill Country residents for the first time seeing islands in Lake Travis and the Pedernales River reduced to a trickle.

The drought conditions are a result of rainfall that was down by a third to half of its normal levels during 2005. Lakes Buchanan and Travis, which were full early in 2005, are now 75 percent full, according to LCRA.

Lake Travis, which is already 17 feet below its full-capacity elevation of 681 feet above mean sea level (msl), could drop another 21 feet during the year if the dry weather pattern continues throughout 2006. Some meteorologists have predicted a continued dry pattern through much of the year.

But basin residents will not run out of water. LCRA's Water Management Plan has provisions that anticipate and respond to drought conditions, so that residents will continue to have the water they need for municipal, business and agricultural uses. Water recreation on some area waterways could be affected, however.

The biggest shock for many area residents may be the sight of lower levels at lakes Buchanan and Travis, the two water-supply reservoirs in the Highland Lakes. Average or above-average rains kept the lakes at or near full elevation from late 2000 through last spring. During that time, the Austin area population grew by 15 percent, or about 192,000 people.

•  Additionally, the Brazos River Authority (BRA) has initiated their Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) on Lakes Proctor and Aquilla. Because of the recent weather, stream flows and lake levels have dropped significantly. BRA has informed me that customers who receive water from either of these projects will be notified of the pending implementation of this "Drought Watch" stage of the Drought Contingency Plan. The purpose of the Stage 1 "Drought Watch" is to make the public aware of the current drought situation and to promote careful use of water. There are no required water use reductions at Stage 1.

•  On January 26, 2006, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board unanimously approved the creation of a pharmacy school for Abilene. The school will be a branch of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and will offer the Doctor of Pharmacy degree with a major in Pharmacy.

Supporters of the pharmacy initiative formed the Abilene Community Partners and include the City of Abilene, the Economic Development Corporation of Abilene, Hendrick Medical Center, Sears Methodist Retirement Centers, the Dodge-Jones Foundation, the Dian Owen Foundation, and the Sheldon Family Foundation.

Private funding for the building and the first 4 years of operation has reached over $10 million. Building construction will begin soon and classes are expected to begin in the Fall of 2007.

ELSEWHERE

•  On February 3, 2006, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst announced his interim charges for the Senate. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst also announced four new Committee Chairs and the restructuring of several of the committees. For a complete look at the committee assignments, click Senate committee assignments.

I am happy to announce that I will remain Chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. I will also continue to serve on the Senate Natural Resources and State Affairs Committees.

Additionally, I will now serve on the International Relations and Trade committee instead of Veteran Affairs and Military Installations. I know some of you are disappointed that I was removed from this committee. Please know that I will continue to be thoroughly involved in issues for our military. Fort Hood and Dyess Air Force Base are important parts of my Senate District, and I will continue to represent our troops and those communities in the Legislature.

For a complete list of the Lieutenant Governor's interim charges, click Senate interim charges. To follow the committee hearings and schedules, click Senate Committee Hearings.

•  In December of 2005, Lt. Gov Dewhurst also announced the formation of a Senate Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance.

The committee will study issues regarding the Texas Supreme Court ruling in Neeley, et al. v. West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District, et al. The purpose of the committee is to make recommendations to the Texas Senate on legislation that ensures compliance with the Supreme Court's decision, improves public schools, and reduces school property taxes.

The Committee has met several times since their creation and you can watch the prior hearings as well as look at documents presented to the committee via the committee website, Senate Select Committee on Education Reform & Public School Finance.

NOTEWORTHY ITEMS

•  The 396th ShareLunker was caught Sunday on Lake Conroe in 12 feet of water on a crank bait. The big "lunker" bass weighed 14.8 pounds and was caught by Harry Durham of Houston. The catch moves things closer to lunker 400, which is the focus of a Budweiser ShareLunker program promotional push by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

The person who catches the 400th qualifying entry will receive the largest prize package the program has ever offered. In addition to the usual prizes of a jacket and a fiberglass fish replica, the winning angler will receive a cash award of $400 per pound of fish and a rod and reel valued at $600. If the angler is a Texas resident, they'll also receive a lifetime fishing license.

CONCLUSION

Now that we have our Interim Charges, I look forward to hearing from you on any or all of the issues we are studying.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance with a state agency or wish to voice an opinion on any matter before the Texas Legislature. I always appreciate hearing from you.

I hope to see you soon.

Sincerely,

Troy Fraser
State Senator
District 24

HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER
Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711
(512) 463-0124
FAX: (512) 475-3732
Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
(830) 693-9900
FAX: (830) 693-9603
Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
(325) 676-7404
FAX: (325) 676-8060
Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Suite 101
Belton, Texas 76513
(254) 939-3562
FAX: (254) 939-7611
Email: troy.fraser@senate.state.tx.us

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