Senator Carona's Email Update
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EMAIL UPDATE

December 14, 2007

What's New . . .

The University Interscholastic League, the state agency charged with implementing SB 8, has released proposed rules relating to the implementation of the testing program for steroids. The program will randomly test approximately 20,000-25,000 students each school year. Under the proposed rules, students will be suspended from school for 30 days following the first positive test and one calendar year following a second positive test. More information on the program and a complete list of the proposed rules is available online. The public comment period on the proposed rules will last until December 19.

The University of Texas at Dallas has announced it will create a program, UTeach Dallas, aimed at increasing the number of math and science teachers who graduate from the school. UTD currently graduates about 10 math and science teachers a year; under UTeach Dallas, the school hopes to increase that number to 30. Modeled after a similar program at UT-Austin, the program is unique in that it puts future teachers in the classroom beginning in their first semester in college. The program is funded by a $2.4 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative, a non-profit based in Dallas.

Recognizing that older cars release more air pollutants than newer, cleaner burning cars, the Legislature increased funding for the AirCheck Texas Repair and Replacement Assistance Program last session. Implementation began this month, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality worked to simplify its rules. Under the program, drivers in the Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston areas, who earn three times the federal poverty level or less, and whose vehicles have failed an emissions inspection or are older than ten years, will be eligible for a $3,000 voucher ($3,500 if they purchase a hybrid) towards the purchase of a new vehicle or a used vehicle up to two years old. Also, if their vehicle fails the emissions test, those drivers may be eligible to receive up to $600 to repair it.

Last month, Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, released interim charges for House committees. Prior to the next regular session, the committees will hold hearings on these charges and issue recommendations to the 81st Legislature. These recommendations will form the basis of a great deal of legislation considered next session. Among the issues the committees will study are: voter fraud, eminent domain and private property rights, the expansion of alternative energy sources, improving services for aging Texans, and strengthening laws intended to reduce illegal gambling. Interim charges for the Senate have not yet been issued. For a complete list of House interim charges, click here.

The open-enrollment period for the Medicare Advantage health insurance plans runs from November 15 through December 31. During this time consumers may choose a new carrier or plan. To guard against fraud or other questionable sale tactics, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) has released some tips for those who are considering changing their Medicare Advantage plan. Among the recommendations, TDI urges consumers to confirm with their health care providers that they will accept the plan and to verify that the agent and company are licensed. If you feel you have been a victim of Medicare fraud or subject to other questionable sales practices, call the Medicare Help Line at 1-800-633-4227.

Last month, a statewide election was held on the adoption of sixteen amendments to the Texas Constitution. The amendments ranged from authorizing the issuance of $3 billion in general obligation bonds for funding cancer research, to requiring all substantive votes taken by the Legislature be recorded and made available on the Internet. Voters approved all of the amendments. A complete list of the amendments is available online.

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, which I chair, held a hearing in El Paso on November 11. During the hearing, the committee heard testimony relating to El Paso's unique transportation needs, as well as enhanced driver's licenses, which could be used in lieu of passports when crossing between Texas and Mexico, and the continued threat that drug trafficking cartels pose to border security.

Focus . . .

Being in the midst of the holiday season, I wanted to take this opportunity to alert you to the dangers of identity theft and give you information on how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim as well as what to do if someone steals your identity.

Identity theft is usually defined as the use of your personal information without your permission. Such information is generally used to obtain credit, merchandise or services in the victims name, and thieves may use it to get new credit cards, open a checking account or even get a driver's license or Social Security card. Thieves get your personal information in a variety of ways including stealing credit card applications, bank statements, or checks from your trash or mail; finding a lost or stolen wallet or purse; or hacking into a corporate database. Because a great deal of information is obtained by going through trash, it is recommended that you shred anything with your personal information before throwing it away.

One of the most difficult aspects of fighting identity theft is that victims are not aware that their identity has been stolen until they have already been victimized, and victims can spend months, if not years, repairing their credit. Among the warning signs that you may be a victim of identity theft are you receive bills from a credit account you did not open, your credit reports show accounts you did not authorize, or you are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you did not incur.

The Legislature passed numerous bills during the past regular session to combat identity theft and aid those who have had their identity stolen. One of the most important was SB 222, which gave consumers the ability to freeze their credit file for any reason. Prior to the passage of the bill, consumers were only able to freeze their credit file if they had a copy of a police report, which may have been too late if thieves had stolen personal information. The Legislature also passed HB 460, which strengthened penalties for possessing a person's identifying information with the intent to defraud that person. And to assist those who have already had their identity stolen, the Legislature passed HB 2002, which requires banks to notify check verification services when their customer is a victim of identity theft, making it harder for thieves to pass bad checks.

If you become a victim of identity theft, you should immediately file a report with your local law enforcement agency, contact the three primary credit reporting agencies to have a freeze or security alert placed on your credit file, and request a copy of your credit report to see if there has been any unauthorized activity. For the Attorney General's Identity Theft Victim's Kit, click here.

Did You Know . . . ?

Comptroller Susan Combs has expanded the college savings plans offered by the state. The new plans are convenient, flexible and affordable. Assets in the plan may be used to pay tuition and fees, plus other college expenses like room and board, books and supplies. Money invested in the plan earns tax-free returns, and account withdrawals are also tax free if the money is spent on qualifying college expenses. For more information go to www.texascollegesavings.com or www.lonestar529.com.

With the holiday season upon us, the Texas Department of Transportation is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to spread the message that "Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving." To avoid endangering yourself or others, you are encouraged to plan a safe way home before drinking, designate a driver or use a taxi. And if you see a drunk driver on the road, do not hesitate to call local law enforcement. For more information relating to drunk driving and how you can help prevent it, click here.

Student Opportunity . . .

State Senator Kip Averitt is sponsoring the Drive a Clean Machine logo contest, which is intended to raise awareness of the AirCheck Texas Repair and Replacement Assistance Program. The contest is open to students in grades 9-12 and the first prize winner will receive $3,000. Entries must incorporate the program's slogan "Drive a Clean Machine," and the winning design will be used in various promotional materials for the program. Entries must be postmarked no later than January 4, 2008.

In Closing . . .

As my family and I celebrate Christmas, I wish for you a blessed and joyous season and a very happy new year!


Sincerely,

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

Capitol OfficeDistrict Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-0116
800-662-0334
512-463-3135 (fax)
john.carona@senate.state.tx.us
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5751
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-521-3884
214-953-1886 (fax)

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