Senator Carona's Email Update
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EMAIL UPDATE

August 20, 2004

What's new . . .

While I and many of my legislative colleagues continue to push for a special session on school finance, all eyes have shifted to State District Judge John Dietz's court room in Austin. On Monday, August 9, Judge Dietz began hearing testimony in Austin in the lawsuit styled, West Orange-Cove Consolidated I.S.D. v. Felipe Alanis (No. 02-0427). More than 300 school districts have sued the State of Texas, arguing that the current school finance system is unconstitutional. The lawsuit is expected to continue into September and Judge Dietz has stated that he will rule as soon as both sides have presented their cases. The ruling of the district court most likely will be appealed directly to the Texas Supreme Court, which could mean a final judgment in the case may not be made until well into the 2005 session of the Texas Legislature. I have no idea what the outcome of the court case will be, but I stand firm in my belief that the Legislature should meet now to reform the school finance system. This issue will continue to be in the forefront until it is addressed legislatively.

When the Sunset Advisory Commission met in July, one of the agencies that received considerable public testimony was the Office of Public Utility Council (OPUC). The Sunset Commission staff recommended that the Office of Public Utility Council be abolished. OPUC was created in 1983 by the Texas Legislature to represent the interests of residential and small commercial consumers. The agency appears in rate cases and other contested cases before the Public Utility Commission (PUC); participates in rulemaking and projects at the PUC; and advocates on behalf of residential and small commercial consumers in federal regulatory proceedings, state and federal court cases, and at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The full Sunset Commission is expected to vote on OPUC at its September 2005 meeting. Having reviewed the Sunset staff report on the Office of Public Utility Council, public testimony, and constituent correspondence, I will be voting to continue this agency which provides an important service for consumers and small businesses.

Focus . . .

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is a state agency established by the Texas Legislature in 1907. The Commissioner of Agriculture, who is elected in the general election every four years, heads the agency. The current commissioner, Susan Combs, was elected in 1998, and is a fourth-generation rancher. The mission statement of the Texas Department of Agriculture is: "Making Texas the nation's leader in agriculture, while promoting excellence in children's nutrition, rural economic development, and providing efficient and extraordinary service."

The Texas Department of Agriculture has a wide variety of responsibilities which include the following:

Marketing & Promotion

TDA promotes Texas agriculture products locally, nationally, and internationally. The marketing program is designed to increase the sales of agriculture commodities such as livestock and Texas-grown food, fiber, and horticulture products. TDA has also recently launched the GO TEXAN consumer advertising campaign highlighting products grown, sewn, and processed in Texas. This initiative was established to encourage Texas consumers to seek and purchase Texas products. Another program that TDA administers is Texas Yes!, a new initiative designed to promote the growth and prosperity of every rural Texas city and county. Those of us in the Dallas area who frequent the State Fair of Texas are familiar with the Food and Fiber Pavilion that is coordinated by the TDA to promote our Texas agriculture products.

Regulation

TDA regulates a wide gamut of products and services. These duties include the regulation of pesticides, inspection of gasoline pumps and grocery store scales, ensuring egg quality, and the compliance of nursery/floral products, just to name a few.

Child Nutrition

TDA is now the administering state agency for Child Nutrition Programs in Texas public schools. The purposes of this program are to combat the problems of childhood obesity and nutrition-related diseases and contribute to children's growth and development by providing balanced, healthy meals and promoting healthy food choices and physical activity. TDA Commissioner Susan Combs issued a policy for Texas schools effective with the start of the 2003-2004 school year that bars elementary schools from providing children access to snacks known as "Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value" (FMNV). FMNVs include soda water, water ices, chewing gum, hard candy, marshmallow candies, licorice, and candy-coated popcorn. Under the Texas policy, middle schools are not allowed to sell or serve FMNVs until after the last lunch period. For high school campuses, FMNVs are not to be sold or served in the cafeteria during lunch periods to encourage students to eat a well-balanced nutritious meal. If schools have carbonated drinks on campus, they must transition to containers no bigger than 12 ounces. For more information click on Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value.

Facts about Texas Agriculture

If you are interested in further details regarding the previous topics or other programs and services at the Texas Dept of Agriculture, click on TDA.

Did You Know...?

For those interested in Texas musical history and to learn more about the state's music scene today, the Texas Department of Transportation's Travel Division has prepared a new tourism publication, Sites & Sounds: A Texas Music Road Trip. The 48-page publication, which lists museums and monuments commemorating Texas music, is available free by calling 800-452-9292.

If you would like more information on this tour or others, click on Texas Tours.

In Closing . . .

With the start of the new school year, I want to remind all drivers to slow down around school campuses and be aware of school buses coming to a stop. Also, remember to slow down in neighborhoods where children are walking to and from school and waiting for the school bus. State law requires all approaching drivers to stop when a school bus is displaying flashing lights and/or a stop sign. Motorists can be fined up to $1,000 for passing a bus while its alternately flashing red warning lights are activated. Speeding through school zones also comes with a hefty price. Injuries among passengers and drivers on school buses increased from 826 in 1991 to 1,058 in 2001, marking a slightly more than 28% increase. Let's all work together to keep our children safe as they return to school.

Sincerely,

John Carona
State Senator - District 16
http://www.carona.senate.state.tx.us/

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