What's new . . .
As expected, State District Judge John Dietz ruled the state's school finance system unconstitutional on September 15. Ruling in favor of the more than 300 school districts that sued the state, Judge Dietz stated that the state's school finance system fails to provide an adequate suitable education as required by the Texas Constitution; that school districts have lost all meaningful discretion in setting the tax rate for their districts which violates the Texas Constitution; and that the system is not financially efficient, does not provide for adequate education, nor does it provide the statutory regime of accreditation, accountability, and assessment. A final order will be issued around October 1, 2004, after which the state will have one year to enact legislation making the system constitutional. To view Judge Dietz's ruling, click here. Attorney General Greg Abbott is expected to file an immediate appeal to the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of the state.
It continues to be my firm belief that the Texas Legislature should restructure the school finance system, including the Robin Hood share-the-wealth system, provide local property tax relief, and significantly increase the state's share of public education funding. I stand ready to go to work with my colleagues, whether in a special session or the regular session in January, to tackle this issue. Perhaps Judge Dietz's decision will finally provide the momentum for the Texas Legislature to act on a new school finance plan.
I am pleased to announce that the Sunset Advisory Commission voted on September 15, 2004 to recommend continuing the following state agencies: Texas Optometry Board, Public Utility Commission of Texas, and the Office of Public Utility Counsel. In addition, the Sunset Commission adopted recommendations which, if passed during the upcoming legislative session, would make significant changes in the structure and the function of the workers' compensation system, benefiting employers and injured workers across the state. Specifically, the commission recommended a plan requiring the workers' compensation system to function like group health insurance, abolishing the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission (TWCC), and transferring the regulatory function of workers' compensation to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) and the educational function to the Texas Workforce Commission. All Sunset reports can be viewed at www.sunset.state.tx.us/79.htm.
Writing a two-year budget is one of the main tasks the Texas Legislature performs, and this budget process begins before the legislative session starts. On September 2, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and the Governor's Budget Office began joint hearings with all state agencies to discuss their budget requests for the 2006-07 budget cycle. State budget officials have instructed agencies to submit "baseline" budgets that reflect a five percent reduction from their 2004-05 spending. Additional details regarding the LBB, budget hearing schedules, and the budget process can be found at www.lbb.state.tx.us.
As part of the August Email Update, I discussed the Texas Department of Agriculture and their Child Nutrition Program. Since that update, the Agriculture Department has relaxed the ban on certain treats because of many complaints throughout the state. Sweet treats, such as cakes and cupcakes, ARE allowed during a birthday party after the last lunch period. For detailed information regarding the state's new public school nutrition policy and clarifications on classroom parties and food sales fundraising, visit www.squaremeals.org.
Office of the Attorney General - Child Support Services
The Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, is the lawyer for the people of Texas. He is charged by the Texas Constitution to defend the laws and the constitution of the state, represent the state in litigation, and approve public bond issues. Although the Attorney General (AG) is "the lawyer for the people," he is prohibited from offering legal advice or representing private individuals. Instead, he serves and protects the rights of all citizens of Texas through the activities of the various divisions of the agency. Some of the divisions within the office of the Attorney General include Consumer Protection, Crime Victims Services, Criminal Justice, Cyber Crimes Unit, Open Government, and Child Support Services. I will focus on Child Support Services.
The AG's office is the official child support enforcement agency for the State of Texas. For the benefit of the children, the AG's Child Support Division provides services to parents who wish to obtain or provide support for their children. The division can provide assistance:
- Locating a non-custodial parent
- Establishing paternity
- Establishing and enforcing child support orders
- Establishing and enforcing medical support orders
- Reviewing and adjusting child support payments
- Collecting and distributing child support payments
The AG's office DOES NOT assist with child custody matters. The AG's office DOES NOT have authority to send any dead-beat parent to jail - that authority resides with the judge hearing the case. The AG's office CAN bring a motion to enforce child support before the court.
During my years as a public servant, the number of complaints and requests for assistance with the AG's Child Support Services division has decreased dramatically, even as the AG's caseload has increased. This is due to implementation of improved information technology systems and increased focus on these services by our Attorneys General. The Child Support Services division is responsible for over 1,000,000 cases, 172,000 of these cases (or 17.2%) are in the North Texas Region (Region 4). This year, the AG's office has already collected and disbursed $1.65 billion in child support payments through the end of August 2004 and has assisted in the establishment of 54,000 new child support orders for non-custodial parents who were not previously obligated. Although the statistics in this division are improving, another area on which the AG is focusing is improved customer service. While the system is over-burdened, focusing on enforcement of child support may ease the impact on other health and human services that are needed to fill the gap when non-custodial parents fail to provide financial support for their children.
If you or someone that you know needs to apply for child support services through the AG's office, contact your local Child Support Field Office or call 1-800-252-8014 to receive an application by mail. Complete the application, and send it to the nearest Child Support Field Office. Or, you can use the AG's interactive web page to apply on-line. If you need assistance with the AG's office regarding your child support case, please do not hesitate to contact me by email, or call my Dallas Central office at 214-378-5751.
Did You Know...?
Did you know that NASA sponsors an annual program, Texas Aerospace Scholars, an education program that offers high school juniors the opportunity to participate in a science-, math-, and engineering-based online learning program, and features an all-expense paid, week long summer residential experience at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston? Students are recommended for the program by their state legislator. Eligible students are required to meet the following criteria:
- U.S. Citizen
- At least 16 years of age
- Texas resident
- Currently a high school junior
- Interested in science, math or engineering
- Able to commit to a relationship with JSC, including a one-week residential experience during the mer
- Access to the Internet and email (home, school, or public library)
As a State Senator, I can place only two qualified students in the program and one alternate. However, I will forward all complete applications for qualified students to the Texas Aerospace Scholars program for consideration. For more information, visit the Aerospace Scholars website, or you can download an application. Submit your completed application to my office no later than October 15, 2004 for consideration. Mail your application to my Austin office at P.O. Box 12068, Austin, Texas 78711.
In Closing . . .
If you are not registered to vote, there is still time. To vote in the general election on November 2, you must register by October 4, 2004. To register, or update your voter information, you can go to the Secretary of State
website and download a form. You can also contact the Dallas County Elections
office at 214-637-7937 and request a form be mailed to you. Once you receive your voter registration application, and you have completed the form, your application can be mailed back to the Dallas County Elections office. The zip code for their office is 75207. If you can't cast your vote on November 2nd, early voting starts on October 18th and ends on October 25th. During early voting
, registered voters can vote in person at any convenient polling place. Mail-in ballots are also available for the sick or disabled, elderly, or others who will be away from their county on Election Day, such as college students. Request for mail-in ballots
can be made to the early voting
clerk until the 7th day before Election Day. Remember, if you don't vote, your voice will not be heard. For more information about the November 2, 2004 ballot, visit the Dallas County Elections
State Senator - District 16