DECEMBER CAPITOL UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan--
Over the past few weeks I have been traveling throughout Senate District 24 visiting with many of you about the upcoming legislative session. I always find the pre-session meetings are a great chance to listen to the concerns of the citizens throughout my large district and see how we can address the issues they bring forward in the upcoming session. It is also a chance to report on the issues the Legislature has studied during the interim.
As we approach the upcoming session I want to encourage you to stay involved in the process and more importantly, keep me informed of how you feel about important issues. That is what these pre-session meetings are all about. I welcome input from everyone because it helps me to better understand the needs of all my constituents.
Tuesday, January 9th is the first day of the 80th Regular Session. Monday, November 13th, was the first day legislators could pre-file legislation for the session. Since that time there have been 403 bills filed in the House and 130 bills filed in the Senate. To give you an idea of how many bills will be filed and subsequently passed into law, in 2005 there were 5,369 bills filed and 1,389 either sent to or signed by the Governor. In 2003 there were 5,476 bills filed and 1,383 sent to or signed by the Governor.
One way to stay involved is through bill tracking. The Texas Legislature Online is a great tool for tracking bills, monitoring hearings and record votes. You can customize bill searches, program bill alerts and even receive e-mail notification when bills on your list have selected actions added. It is a terrific way to stay involved.
Linda and I wish you a happy holidays and all the blessings for a prosperous new year…
• The Joint Committee to Study the Power of Eminent Domain, chaired by Senator Kyle Janek (R-Houston) and Representative Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) held a meeting on October 25th to consider how legislation passed in the Second Called Session of the 79th Legislature impacts the use of eminent domain to expropriate private property for public use. A 2005 decision by the U.S. Supreme court permitted the use of eminent domain for economic development. This decision prompted several states, including Texas, to pass laws prohibiting such use of eminent domain, except under some circumstances.
Jenifer Zeigler, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, said that Texas made good progress toward a fair eminent domain law with the passage of Senate Bill 7 in 2005, but that additional legislation is needed to better protect the rights of property owners. Because eminent domain expropriation is still permitted in Texas if the land is to be set aside for public use, Zeigler said that what is considered public use should be narrowly defined and enshrined in the state constitution. She said that constitutional definitions of public use, ownership, and occupation would solve a vast majority of all eminent domain issues in Texas courts.
Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said the state should also forbid the use of eminent domain to transfer ownership from one private owner to another, except in cases where the transfer is clearly in the public interest. In addition, he said that the eminent domain process should be weighted in favor of the original property owner, rather than the condemner, and force the condemner to prove that the contemplative use is both public and necessary.
The committee also looked at fair compensation for owners who have lost land to eminent domain. Witnesses in favor of better compensation said that appraisals performed on behalf of governments are unfairly low, and that future revenues earned by the property after it has been converted to public use should factor into the government's offer.
• The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), heard testimony on November 14th regarding the progress the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has made in implementing sweeping reforms to the state's protective service system. Senate Bill 6, passed during the 79th regular session, mandated a number of changes to the overworked Adult and Child Protective Service agencies. DFPS Commissioner Carey Cockerell testified that his agency has made excellent progress in complying with the Legislature's requirements.
Cockerell said that Adult Protective Services (APS) has complied 100 percent with the reforms set forth in SB 6, according to a fourth quarter review of the agency conducted last year. APS has hired 180 new case workers, lowering the average case load per worker from 51.3 per day to 42.3. The agency has overhauled its risk assessment procedures, allowing caseworkers to better anticipate and serve disabled or disadvantaged seniors.
SB 6 implementation has also lowered case loads for Child Protective Services (CPS) workers, said Cockerell. A new screening process eliminates cases involving minor complaints against guardians where the child's safety is not in question. This program has allowed CPS workers to eliminate 25 percent of more than 24,000 reviewed complaints since January 2006.
CPS has also significantly increased its workforce, hiring 2200 staff since September 2005, which in turn has led to decreasing case loads. Training for CPS workers has been expanded to twelve weeks, with five weeks spent on core subjects, and seven weeks dedicated to specialized training. CPS also hired 131 special investigators with experience in law enforcement to apply to CPS cases.
Cockerell added that more foster children are being placed with family or friends rather than strangers thanks to requirements set forth in SB 6.
As the interim hearings start to wind down, be sure to check the Senate website for the various committees Interim Reports.
Many of you have heard by now that former Senator Frank Madla was killed in a tragic house fire on Thanksgiving night. Also lost in the fire was Frank's mother-in-law as well as his granddaughter. Later, I was surprised to find out that the house did not have smoke detectors. While a smoke detector is not guaranteed to save your life, it could make a significant difference.
Nonworking smoke detectors are certainly common. The National Fire Protection Association says homes with nonworking alarms outnumber those with no detectors. Some allow batteries to die. Others disconnect them and fail to buy new ones. Fire experts recommend changing batteries twice a year. Every time you change your clocks, change your batteries.
This accident is a tragic reminder of the importance of having a working smoke detector in your home. Frank was an outstanding guy who had an enormous heart and sincerely cared about the people of Texas. He will be deeply missed.
• Computer keyboard manufacturers are keying into a disturbing fact: keyboards are one of the most unsanitary pieces of equipment in an office environment.
"Keyboards are a lunch counter for germs," said Charles Gerba, a researcher at the University of Arizona. Gerba's research since 2001 has found that desks, and keyboards in particular, contain more germs than elevator buttons, buttons on communal microwaves or office water fountains.
That's bad enough in a regular office environment, but in a medical environment, it can be a serious health concern. A recent study by researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago found that patients could contract infection from hospital workers who use computers.
A number of keyboard manufacturers are working to decrease the germ count with specifically designed medical keyboards.
Medical keyboards feature sealed or low-profile keys that are less likely to trap food or other substances that promote bacteria and are more durable for cleaning. Some, such as the ones manufacturer by Austin-based iKEY, Ltd., can withstand cleaning using a hospital bleach solution. Maryland-based Man and Machine developed a line of waterproof, latex-free rubber keyboards and mice that it claims can stand up to cleaning with alcohol, bleach solution or just plain soap and water.
For the millions of computer users on regular keyboards, Gerba suggests frequent hand-washing and using disinfecting wipes daily on keyboard surfaces.
• Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) found that an old-time Southern fold remedy really does make mosquitoes and other biting insects keep their distance.
Generations of southerners have used crushed leaves from the American beautyberry to drive away mosquitoes, ants and ticks, and according to USDA-ARS, they were on to something. Researchers found that the plant contains at least three chemicals--callicarpenal, intermedeol and spathulenol--that repel insects. The scientists are not sure why beautyberry generates these chemicals, but theorize that the plant may be protecting itself against bugs.
ARS already filed for a patent to use callicarpenal as a repellant, but it must face numerous hurdles before a beautyberry-based product hits the market. They must develop a commercial process for creating the product, and registering it with the Environmental Protection Agency would be a complex and expensive procedure.
In the meantime, keep rubbing on the leaves of a beautyberry bush.
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