JULY CAPITOL UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan--
As we begin to gear up for the 80th Legislative Session, which begins in January 9, 2007, Senate Committees have been meeting to address their interim issues.
• The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, chaired by Senator Whitmire, met on June 21 to consider several of their interim charges, including Charge 1, which requires the Committee to study the resources and facilities available to offenders with mental health needs in the Texas criminal justice system.
According to Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments director Dee Wilson, of the 650,000 people in Texas prisons, on probation or on parole. More than 120,000 have received mental health services since 1985. Of these individuals, 50,000 have what Wilson termed "the big three" disorders: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or major depression.
Chairman Whitmire (of Houston) expressed concern about the reasoning behind putting people in jail who would be better served through treatment of their mental disorder. "We ended up spending large amounts of money to incarcerate them, when it would have been better spent on the front end with their mental health issues. And I think that will be a large part of our report back to the Lt. Governor and to the Legislature that we're not doing the job at the front end," he said. "We're faced with a prison population backlog now, so we're looking at expanding that system at a very costly price, whereas if we spent that money on the front end, on mental health issues we could save a lot of heartache, help people that need help, and not have to expand our criminal justice system."
The deputy commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Dr. Dave Wanser, said the state is taking steps to funnel people with mental disorders into proper channels. The state is implementing jail diversion programs designed to get treatment for sufferers of mental disease, especially non-violent offenders who commit crimes related to their disorder. Officials are also developing a crisis intervention team model, that seeks to put offenders with psychological disorders into a mental health facility, rather than state or county jail.
Wanser added that Texas was one of seven states to receive a federal grant to improve mental health care for criminal justice systems. The bulk of the money, he said, will go toward information technology improvements that will help the various state agencies that deal with mentally-ill offenders better cooperate.
Wanser said that the state would be better served in the long run identifying and treating mentally-ill offenders before they enter the criminal justice system, and making sure that offenders get adequate treatment after they enter the system. "The savings play out across all kinds of systems. Everything from emergency rooms, to car crashes, to school performance, to reducing child welfare cases, all of those things play out as benefits of investing in mental health and substance abuse treatments in the community," he said.
• Additionally, the Senate State Affairs Committee met on June 27 to discuss electronic voting issues. Federally mandated electronic voting machines lead to increased costs and voting irregularities, local officials said at a meeting of the Senate State Affairs committee today. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002 by the federal government, requires the use of voting machines in elections involving federal ballots, and recent state legislation has extended this statute to all local and state elections.
County clerks and election officials from across Texas testified about the issues that their regions have faced as a result of new voting standards. Witnesses reported delays in getting machines from vendors, programming errors and bugs that lead to ballots being rendered useless, and at least one case in which a candidate's party affiliation was changed by the machines. The costs of implementing these machines, said some local officials, is prohibitive, especially when combined with the difficulty of getting machines to remote or rural polling places. Pat McGowan, clerk for Nolan County, testified that the cost of running elections has increased more than $8,000 per election.
Officials also cited difficulties in co-coordinating overlapping districts and jurisdictions, who must share machines due to lack of resources. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvior said that the most recent election was the most complex, difficult administration challenge she has faced in her capacity as County Clerk.
Austin county clerk Carrie Gregor, called the 2006 primary elections an "ultimate nightmare". The election in her district was plagued by machine delays and software problems that resulted in voting errors. "This is the technology that we are forced to use because of the HAVA mandate," she said "I am in full support of anybody having the right, regardless of disability, limitations, whatever your reasons may be, to go in and cast your secret private ballot, however, you should feel confident that it is marked correctly, and that is the vote of your intent."
Representatives of the electronic machine vendors testified that they are aware of the voting issues, and are taking steps to remedy them in Texas. Election Systems and Software, which provides and administers election machines in 149 Texas counties, is opening a dedicated facility in Addison to resolve customer service issues exclusively in Texas. The company has also increased its ballot printing capacity.
I have listed below the remaining posted Committee hearings for July. Always check the Senate and House websites for a more complete listing.
|Thursday, July 13, 2006||10:00 AM||Senate Committee on Natural Resources||Dallas City Hall, Room 6ES, 1500 Marilla St., Dallas|
|Friday, July 14, 2006||8:00 AM||Senate Committee on Natural Resources||Dallas City Hall, Room 6ES, 1500 Marilla St., Dallas|
|Wednesday, July 26, 2006||9:00 AM||Senate Committee on State Affairs||Capitol Extension, Room E1.036|
|Wednesday, July 26, 2006||9:00 AM||Senate Committee Transportation and Homeland Security||City Hall, Mission, TX|
|Thursday, July 27, 2006||9:00 AM||Senate Committee on State Affairs||Capitol Extension, Room E1.036|
The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has begun their second round of public hearings on the Trans Texas Corridor. Beginning July 10, the department will be conducting a series of public hearings throughout the study area to get public input on the draft environmental impact statement. For a complete list of the hearings visit www.keeptexasmoving.org.
The meeting in Temple will be held on July 26 at the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center (Main Hall) located at 3303 N. 3rd Street. I encourage everyone to attend the hearings and let TXDOT know how you feel about the Corridor and the proposed route.
Cultural arts are responsible for 19.8 percent of the tourism in the state. The nonprofit sector of the arts contribution to the state's economy, according to the report, includes $19 billion in total expenditures; $9.5 billion in gross product; $5.9 billion in personal income; and the creation of more than 200,000 permanent jobs.
"It's just good business," said Ricardo Hernandez, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA). Hernandez said of the revenue that state and local economies earn as a result of that investment, sometimes called a real money match. "If you wash away all the outside economic impact activities not directly related to an activity, for every dollar that we award there is a $98 return of real economic activity that is exclusive to the activity itself."
In January 2001, economist Ray Perryman released a study for the Texas Cultural Trust Council regarding the contributions of the arts in Texas. The report said that arts funding generated $63.7 billion in total expenditures; $31.5 billion in gross product; $18.7 billion in personal income; $9.2 billion in annual retail sales; and created more than 600,000 permanent jobs.
Texas has been the location for more than 1,300 film and television projects since 1910. One of the most notable films was "Giant," starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Shot in 1955 in Marfa, "Giant" generated $2.5 million in revenue for the local economy.
Any town that has hosted on-location filming will tell you, film projects bring a tremendous economic boost the local economy. A film's economic impact on a location is typically about half of the film's budget. Over the last 10 years, film and television productions have generated about $1.3 billion for state and local economies, according to the Texas film Commission.
While tradition says that the Roman emperor Nero combined ice and fruit toppings in the first century and that the Chinese emperor Tang created an ice and milk concoction in the seventh century, for many Texans the history of ice cream begins and ends with Blue Bell Creameries.
Texas is home to at least four ice cream producers, including Amy's Ice Cream, established in 1984; Marble Slab Creamery, established in 1983; San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B, which began producing an ice cream line, Creamy Creations, in 1999; and Blue Bell Creameries, which began producing ice cream in 1911.
The Comptroller reports that Texas is one of the top ice cream-producing states in the United States, churning out 53.1 million gallons in 2002. Although that amount is 24 percent lower than production figures for 1999, the growing popularity of frozen snacks and novelties such as ice cream sandwiches and fudge bars is filling much of that gap.
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.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER
Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611