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February 25, 1998     (512) 463-0300

SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE CONTINUES MEETING AT STATE CAPITOL

AUSTIN - he Senate Finance Subcommittee on Articles I, VI, and VII Agencies continued the public hearing's second day of testimony on Wednesday February 25th at the state capitol. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin presided over the committee which includes Senators Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Ken Armbrister of Victoria. The members heard invited testimony regarding Article VI agencies from Mike Regan, Executive Director of the Railroad Commission, Craig Pederson, Executive Director of the Water Development Board, and Doug Brown, Executive Director of the Veterans' Commission.

The committee will make any necessary recommendations for legislative or state agency action to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January, 1999.

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETS TO DISCUSS TELECOMMUNICATION UTILITIES

FORT WORTH - The Legislative Committee on Municipal Franchise Agreements for Telecommunications Utilities was called to order on Wednesday, February 25, by Representative Bill Carter of Fort Worth, co-chair of the committee. Committee members include Co-chair Senator Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, Senator David Sibley of Waco and Representatives Fred Hill of Richardson and Steve Wolens of Dallas. The committee was welcomed by Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr who also provided the committee with testimony. In addition, invited testimony came from Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Irving City Council Member Rowland Jeter, and Plano City Manager Tom Muelenbeck. Further invited testimony was provided from representatives from the telecommunications industry including such companies as Teligent, Allegiance Telecom Inc, the EDGF Group, and GTE network services. The committee is responsible for exploring ways to maintain fairness among franchise fee agreements between telecommunication firms and municipal governments. The committee will also try to balance the benefits to consumers because of disruption of roads and rights-of-way and infrastructure due to construction by telecommunications companies expanding into new markets.

The next committee meeting will take place on March 19 in Houston. A final report of the committee's findings will be submitted on November 1, 1998 with recommendations to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January, 1999.

EL PASO TEENS HOST HISTORIC SENATE HEARING

EL PASO - "Little kids are told not to play with fire, but sooner or later they do and they do until they realize what the dangers of playing with fire can cause. But in most cases, the realization comes too late. That is why we need to target them at a very young age." - student, Franklin High School, El Paso, Texas.

Over 100 students representing more than 10 El Paso area schools voiced opinions regarding gang-related violence present on their school campuses, in their classrooms, and in their neighborhoods. The public hearing, held in El Paso on Wednesday, February 25, marked an historic event in Texas government in that only high school students directly affected by these problems provided testimony. Calling the hearing a "move into the 20th century", Senator Royce West of Dallas led the members of the Senate Interim Committee on Gangs and Juvenile Justice. Those legislators present included Senators Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Chris Harris of Arlington, and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. Also in attendance was State Representative Norma Chavez of El Paso.

Interestingly enough, most of the comments made by the students concluded that gang-related problems center around poor family situations. Absent or ignorant parents or lack of positive role models send teens searching for the stability, companionship, and protection not provided in the home. Actual gang members stated that gangs provided the safety net they were looking for as escapes from poor family lives, race and peer pressures, or simply lack of friends. However, these safe havens quickly turn these teens into criminals committing acts of graffiti, violence, drug abuse or dealing, school drop-out, and in worst cases, prison or death.

The students offered the senators many solutions based on research and personal experience. Additional after school or extracurricular programs were suggested to keep teens off the streets, out of gangs, and into productive and entertaining activities. Putting more responsibility on the parent was also suggested such as placing fines on the parent when the child does not go to school or commits a gang-related crime or perhaps sending the parent to jail. Students also encouraged implementations of community service programs for repeat gang violence offenders.

Senator West closed the hearing by extending warm gratitude to the students who took part in the program. "We have really just touched the surface, but I know that the city of El Paso and the state of Texas is in good hands when they have students like you, volunteering your time to help solve a problem that affects all of us."

The committee will continue its investigations into gang-related violence on Thursday, February 26, at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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