What's New . . .
The Sunset Advisory Commission has been very active over the past month. The Sunset staff members are finishing their initial reviews of the state agencies that are being reviewed this interim, and the Commission is holding hearings during which staff lays out their recommendations and each agency is given the opportunity to respond to the report. Among the agencies that the Commission reviewed in June were the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Insurance. The Texas Department of Transportation is scheduled to be reviewed on July 15. For more information on the Sunset Commission and to read completed reports, click here.
The Attorney General's Office announced that victims of family violence, stalking and sexual assault are now eligible for a state-sponsored address confidentiality program. Under the program, participants receive a substitute address that will appear on voter and school registration cards, driver's licenses and most government documents. The Attorney General's office will also receive mail for participants and forward it to their actual address. Prior to enrolling in the program, victims must meet with a local domestic violence shelter, sexual assault center, law enforcement or prosecution staff member to discuss a safety plan and learn about the enrollment process. For more information on the program, click here.
In recent weeks, five retail electric providers (REPs) have gone out of business. There is no interruption of service when a retail electric provider goes out of business. However, their customers are switched to a provider of last resort (POLR). It is very important to note that rates charged by a POLR may be significantly higher than rates charged by the previous REP. For that reason, if you should find yourself in this position, you should immediately shop rates among REPs to find the best competitive rate plan for you and initiate a change to a provider of your choice as soon as possible. Once you have selected a new electric provider, be sure to request that the new provider do an out of cycle meter read, and also let them know that you would like to waive the postcard from Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
(ERCOT normally sends customers a postcard prior to changing electric providers, to ensure the customer has initiated the change.) Doing these two things will help guarantee a faster switch over, which in turn will save you money. For more information about what to expect if your REP goes out of business, click here.
Focus . . .
As most of you are aware, the Governor's mansion was severely damaged by fire in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 8. Surveillance videos captured an individual lighting an object and throwing it on the front porch. A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of this person. The good news is, despite the damage, the mansion can be rebuilt according to engineers and architects. At this point, however, it is not known how much it will cost or how long it will take to rebuild the mansion.
The Greek Revival mansion was built in 1856 and has been the home of every Texas governor since then. The first residents were Governor Elisha Marshall Pease and his family. It is a national historic landmark and is the oldest executive residence west of the Mississippi and the fourth oldest in the nation. Since it was first built, it has been renovated twice. The first renovation was in 1914 when the original kitchen wing was demolished to make room for an addition to the back of the main house. The additions included a new family dining room on the main floor and additional living space upstairs; a new enlarged kitchen wing was also built. The mansion still features this floor plan. The mansion was last renovated in 1979 when the house was subject to a complete structural renovation. During the 1960s, First Lady Nellie Connally guided the landscaping of the formal gardens that are still in use.
Fortunately, at the time of the fire, the mansion was being renovated to include (ironically) a fire suppression system, replacing plumbing that dated back to the 1914 renovations, and abatement of lead paint and asbestos. Because of the current renovations, the house's historic furniture, chandeliers and doors had been removed and the mirrors, mantles and windows were covered with protective coatings. Most importantly, the exterior walls were not severely damaged. However, the roof, front door and transoms were ruined, and six feet of water accumulated in the basement ruining the mansion's wiring and electricity. The mansion's six, twenty-nine foot columns were damaged but can be repaired. The current renovations were scheduled to be completed during Spring 2009.
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is responsible for security at the mansion and this incident raises obvious concerns in the public's mind. Shortly after the fire, it became public that security at the mansion was understaffed and undertrained and that seven of the twenty security cameras on the grounds were not working. DPS has called for a full assessment of security in the Capitol complex by outside experts.
The fire was a senseless tragedy that robbed all Texans of a piece of our history. General contractors are now working on stabilizing and cleaning the building. This work is being paid for with funds that were earmarked for the current maintenance project. At this point, it is not known how the rebuilding will be financed, although it will likely be a combination of private donations and state funds.
Did You Know . . . ?
With the price of gasoline at historic highs, saving gas has never been more important. By changing your driving habits through driving less and combining trips, you can save money and reduce the amount of pollutants your car emits. The US Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency have developed, a website that, among other things, contains information on driving more efficiently and allows you to find and compare gas prices in our area.
Student Opportunities . . .
The Texas Department of Public Safety is accepting applications for the Speir Scholarship. Students must be enrolled full-time in a Texas university and majoring in criminal justice. Two scholarships will be awarded for $500 per semester for up to two semesters. Applicants should submit their resume and a transcript of completed college work to: Director's Office, c/o DPS, P.O. Box 4087, Austin TX 78773-0110. The deadline is August 15, 2008.
In Closing . . .
I hope that you are finding cool ways to beat the heat and enjoy the summer break. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if I or my staff can be of assistance to you.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205