What's new . . .
The months of news articles and headlines reading, "Expected to call a special session this Spring," finally reads, "Has called a special session." The wait is over. On April 20, legislators reported to Austin for a special session on public school finance, other education issues, and property tax relief. (The Governor's Proclamation for the special session may be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.house.state.tx.us/resources/pro78s4gov.pdf) The special session can last up to 30 days, and the Governor has stated that he will call additional sessions if necessary. While the Governor has released his plan for education and tax reform, there is no consensus yet on a plan in the Texas Legislature. Both the House and Senate education committees are hard at work holding public hearings to review the Governor's plan, hear from the public, and build agreement on a legislative plan. With the pressure of a May 19 ending date for the special session, I am hopeful that the Legislature will fashion a school finance plan that properly funds education, increases the state's share of education funding, repeals the Robin Hood share-the-wealth system, reduces the property tax burden on Texans, and promotes excellence in our public schools. Stay tuned.
You can follow the process and view hearings on-line at the following websites: www.house.state.tx.us/committees/415.htm, www.capitol.state.tx.us/psf/capitol.htm, and www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c530/c530.htm.
In other news, on April 19, the Lieutenant Governor announced changes in Senate committee assignments for the interim. I am pleased to report that I am now Vice Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the Senate Business and Commerce, Government Organization, and International Relations and Trade committees. The House Speaker has also made changes in committee assignments. Press releases outlining the new House and Senate committee assignments can be found on the Internet at: www.house.state.tx.us/news/release.php?id=782 and www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/ltgov/pr04/p041904a.htm.
And finally, I have filed a constitutional amendment for consideration in this special session to require record votes in the Texas Legislature. The amendment is Senate Joint Resolution 5 and can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo/legislation/bill_status.htm, then select "78th Legislature 4th Called Session - 2004", enter SJR 5 in "Bill Number" and press "Submit". While the primary objective of the special session is education, I feel that it is also the perfect time to emphasize the need for recording votes in the Texas House and Senate.
Focus . . .
In 1994, citizens and professionals envisioned comprehensive access to health and human services information for Texans beginning with a human point of contact. The objective was to improve the flow of information between state and community services. The outcome of this vision is the 2-1-1 Texas Program.
The 2-1-1 Texas service is the new abbreviated dialing code for free information and referrals to health and human services and community organizations. It is available in English and Spanish and serves as the number to call for information about community organizations. The 2-1-1 service links individuals and families to critical health and human services provided by nonprofit organizations and government agencies in their own community. Just like 9-1-1 has become the universal number to call in emergency situations, 2-1-1 is now the number to call when seeking assistance for social services, health care, and other community resources.
The 2-1-1 program was created because of the difficulties Texans were having in knowing who to contact when they needed assistance due to the ever-growing complex maze of community service agencies and programs that are available. By making information about services much easier to find, 2-1-1 will promote self-sufficiency and encourage people to act before their situations become life threatening.
The 2-1-1 service is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is available to anyone in Texas. Even though 2-1-1 is a statewide program, it is divided into regions. For example, when you call 2-1-1 from the Dallas area, your call will be directed to the region that is familiar with the resources serving the Metroplex. The 2-1-1 service receives calls regarding health services; food; clothing; housing; government resources; education; employment; counseling; support groups; recreation; community groups; services for children, youth, families and older adults; and many more services. The 2-1-1 Texas system is also an important statewide tool for information sharing and resource mobilization during local, statewide, or national disasters. You can visit www.helpintexas.com to learn more about the 2-1-1 Texas Program for the Metroplex region.
Did you know . . .?
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has recently introduced the Texas State Park Pass. The Texas State Park Pass is an annual pass that will offer many special benefits to its members. As a member, you and your guests can enjoy unlimited visits to 120 state parks and state historic sites without paying the daily entrance fee. At a cost of $60 for a one-card membership, the pass is valid for twelve months from the time of purchase. This membership fee helps to support the care and operations of Texas' state parks and historic sites.
For those of you who have not had an opportunity in the past to enjoy our many state parks, I encourage you and your family or friends to take the time this spring or summer and visit at least one park. The State of Texas has been very blessed with its diverse landscape. Whatever your preference in geography, I can assure you that there is a state park that you will enjoy.
Following is a summary of three parks close to the Dallas area:
Located in Glen Rose, Texas, approximately 1.5 hours southwest of the Metroplex. This 1,524 acre park, set astride the Paluxy River, contains some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. No matter what age, if you have an interest in dinosaurs this will be a very exciting and educational trip.
Located in Caddo, Texas, approximately 2.5 hours west of the Metroplex. This 1,528 acre park lies in the rugged canyon country of the Palo Pinto Mountains and Brazos River Valley, adjacent to Possum Kingdom Lake.
Located in Tyler, Texas, approximately 2 hours east of the Metroplex. This 985 acre park, including a 64-acre lake, is nestled in the lush piney woods of Texas and offers many recreational activities for outdoor lovers.
For additional information regarding the Texas Park Pass, other state parks, or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Happy trails!
In closing, I urge you to closely follow the education special session and let me and our state leaders know what you think about the plans being considered. As always, if I or my staff can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact us.
State Senator - District 16