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September 16, 1997     (512) 463-0300

The Texas State Senate News

AUSTIN - At the State Capitol on Wednesday, September 17, members of the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources met to begin discussing the Interim charges laid out by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. This first meeting of the committee served an organizational purpose in which the members adopted rules, heard testimony from participating agencies and discussed plans for future meetings. Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson serves as Chair along with Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, Jon Lindsay of Houston, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, and Steve Ogden of Bryan as committee members.

Employees of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Committee (TNRCC) provided the members with information regarding the agency's status and budget requirements and an insight into daily services performed, such as the extraction and removal of contaminated groundwater and soil. The committee also heard testimony on legislation that would allow the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to have certain licensing authorities.

Also meeting on Wednesday were members of the Joint Interim Committee on Water Resources Development and Management. Representing the Senate were Chair J.E. "Buster" Brown and Senators Carlos F. Truan, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Gregory Luna of San Antonio. Formed primarily to discuss implementation recommendations for Senate Bill 1 passed last Session, the organizational meeting specified a course of action for the Interim. Senate Bill 1 outlines a state water conservation and management plan and protects Texas's future water supply.

State agency personnel from the TNRCC, the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department testified in front of the committee Wednesday to get the studies underway.

The next scheduled meeting for the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources will be on October 30 in Lubbock, Texas. The Joint Interim Committee on Water Resources will also meet in Lubbock on October 29.

Photo: Senator Royce West questions Texas Department of Criminal Justice witness at Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Chamber
Senator Royce West of Dallas questions Texas Department of Criminal Justice witness at Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Chamber relating to safety conditions in Texas prisons and jails

The Interim Committee on Criminal Justice met on Tuesday, September 16, to hear testimony on current safety conditions in Texas prisons and jails. Committee Chair John Whitmire of Houston focused the meeting on effective training for correctional staff and analysis of appropriate security measures for offenders. Those Senators serving on the committee include Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Florence Shapiro of Plano, Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, and Royce West of Dallas.

Recent concerns have been raised regarding the over 135,000 offenders currently incarcerated in Texas institutions and state jail systems at all security levels. The expansion of Texas prison space coupled with low parole rates have offenders serving longer sentences.

"Clearly Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock wants to make this issue a high priority," commented Whitmire. "Texas prisons now house an increasingly hardened population who have diminishing chances of early release. This creates an ongoing potential for violence."

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) presented information to the committee members regarding the criteria for selection of correctional officers, employee training programs and orientations, health services, and legal responsibilities. The committee reviewed TDCJ's security responsibilities regarding the use of force in particular situations. Other areas discussed included defensive tactics, management of firearms, and riot security. Recent national exposure resulted in emotional testimony from public witnesses.

Among those testifying in front of the committee were officials who currently regulate corrections officers' training as well as the officers themselves. Also traveling to Austin to testify were inmate family members and organizations who voiced their concerns and comments.

Diez y Seis Celebration

Photo: Dancers from Ballet Folklorico de Texas

Photo: Dancers from Ballet Folklorico de Texas
Dancers from Ballet Folklorico de Texas
Photo: Senator Gonzalo Barrientos with 8 year old vocalist Ruby Marie Sambrano of San Antonio
Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos with 8 year old vocalist Ruby Marie Sambrano of San Antonio

Also at the Capitol on Tuesday were those celebrating the Twenty-Second Annual Diez y Seis Celebration, a commemoration of Mexico's independence from Spain. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin annually hosts the event in the Capitol Rotunda. Among the groups performing were Mariachi Estrella, Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico de Texas, Johnny Degollado y su Conjunto, and William B. Travis High School Mariachi.

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