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Tuesday, March 16, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Domestic abusers are under attack in the Texas Senate. Senators passed legislation increasing the penalty for a second assault offense against a family member to a third degree felony. Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson sponsored Senate Bill 24, and said, "Despite all of our efforts to curtail family violence this epidemic is only getting worse. The status quo is not working and it's obvious we're only going to get a handle on this through stronger punishment. This is a serious crime that deserves serious consequences."

Gang violence is a growing problem in Texas. Lt. Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General John Cornyn, and a group of senators have announced legislation to stop it. In a press conference held today, Perry said, "To gang leaders across Texas the message is simple--you have terrorized our neighborhoods long enough. You are no longer going to be able to run free in our communities. We're going to give Texas law enforcement the tough laws and the tools they need to take those communities and take those streets back."

The legislation increases penalties for recruiting new gang members and would provide law enforcement officials with tools such as a statewide database of information. Dallas Senator Royce West says he will also try to increase funding for preventive programs, "We cannot only have gang suppression and expect reduced gang activity in Texas. We must also concentrate at the same time on programs designed to address the factors that lead to juvenile crime."

The dropout problem in Texas may be larger than one expected. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos says the Texas Education Agency (TEA) statistics may not be accurate and that reported decreases in drop out rates might be false. He thinks TEA statistics may neglect a large number of students that disappear from the system. Barrientos says he does not know whether schools are under reporting or if the TEA is trying to cover up, "I'm trying to stay as positive as possible in looking at such negative information."

Barrientos says the drop out problem affects more than those students-- it is expensive for the state and its citizens, "Think about this. Ten years ago we found that each drop out class, over their lifetime, would cost you and me 17 billion dollars-- more cops, more courts, more jails, more welfare etc., that's scary." The senator introduced legislation to try to stop that. Senate Bill1561 reduces the dropout rate goal for Texas schools to 5%. Senate Bill 1562 reforms the compensatory education program which is supposed to help at-risk students.

A bill banning the use and possession of eight-liner machines in Texas passed out of the Economic Development Committee. Last week, bill sponsor David Sibley of Waco said the legislation was a result of a recommendation from the Governor's Task Force for Illegal Gambling and problems with enforcement of the current law. The bill clarifies the difference between amusement and gambling machines.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, March 17, at 10:00 a.m.

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