What's New . . .
The Texas Department of Insurance has launched a website to help consumers shop for auto and homeowners insurance. Helpinsure.com was created in response to SB 611, which the Legislature passed in 2007. The website allows consumers to view sample homeowners or auto insurance rates based on a personal profile submitted by the consumer. Consumers can also find a wealth of information relating to insurers' financial ratings and complaint ratios, as well as explanations of what each policy covers.
During the 2007 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed HB 735, which repealed the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund. The TIF was created in 1995 to expand telecommunications and improve digital communications throughout the state with an emphasis on rural areas. Since its creation, it has generated more than $1.5 billion though surcharges on telephone bills; in recent years the tax has generated approximately $200 million annually. With the TIF having served its intended purpose, the tax was repealed, effective September 1, 2008.
The Texas Transportation Commission has voted to approve the issuance of $1.5 billion in bonds, which were approved by voters through the adoption of Proposition 14 in 2003. The funds will be used to support development and construction projects in 2009. To date, the Texas Department of Transportation has issued $3.1 billion in Proposition 14 bonds to improve our state's transportation infrastructure
Last session, I authored SB 11, which, along with HB 1121, directed the Attorney General to study the impact of human trafficking in Texas and recommend areas of improvement to the state human trafficking laws. The study, which was released in September, addresses necessary changes to our state's criminal laws and the adequacy of social services for victims of human trafficking, as well as providing an overview of human trafficking in Texas. Among the report's recommendations: create a statewide human trafficking task force; capture and report data on human trafficking investigations, prosecutions and victims; enhance criminal penalties for human trafficking; and make traffickers financially responsible to both their victims and the state.
Comptroller Susan Combs has announced the creation of the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, which will allow families to save for college without having to worry about how high tuition will rise. The plan features varying contribution levels and payment plans; however, prepaid tuition accounts must be paid in full and open for at least three years before tuition benefits can be paid.
Focus . . .
On September 13, Hurricane Ike made landfall on the Texas coast at Galveston. It was the fourth hurricane to strike the Texas coast this year. This was the first direct hit on the Houston/Galveston area since Hurricane Alicia in 1983. Initial estimates are that the storm caused $25-$40 billion in damage throughout the state. Twenty-seven Texans are known to have died (to date) as a direct result of the storm.
Following the storm, over 2.6 million people were left without power. Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula were left uninhabitable. Prior to the storm, approximately one million individuals had evacuated from the area where the storm was projected to make landfall. In the days after the storm hit, countless more individuals left the areas that had suffered significant damages or loss of power.
The successful preparations for and response to Hurricane Ike can be attributed to the complete re-evaluation of our state's disaster plans following Hurricane Rita, which struck Texas in 2005. During the evacuation for Hurricane Rita, traffic was at a standstill coming out of Houston, and numerous people ran out of gas while idling on freeways. At the same time, there was no protocol for evacuating medically fragile individuals or those with special needs.
In the three years following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, our state has worked to identify and address flaws in our disaster preparedness and response systems. These efforts have concentrated on ensuring safe and efficient evacuations and improving coordination among federal, state and local governments.
To spearhead these efforts, the Task Force on Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics was created. The Task Force focused on five areas: command, control and communication; evacuation of people with special needs; fuel availability; flow of traffic; and public awareness. Many of the Task Force's recommendations were implemented by Governor Perry through executive order. Among these executive orders were the identification of people with special needs and the development of a statewide evacuation and shelter plan for such individuals and the development of contra-flow traffic plans along evacuation routes, as well as measures relating to improving communication among state and local government.
Initial assessments indicate the response and preparations for Hurricane Ike were successful. Evacuations were staggered, avoiding the gridlock that accompanied the evacuation for Hurricane Rita. Also, the specific preparations for evacuating individuals with special needs, such as the medically fragile, nursing home residents and those with disabilities, and focusing on their unique transportation and housing needs reduced the hardships these individuals faced during the evacuation.
Despite these efforts, there were still valid criticisms of the preparations for and response to Hurricane Ike. Just as the state did following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, we will identify and correct areas of needed improvement in our preparations and response. At the same time, we must strive to better address the needs of elderly, fragile and nursing home residents through the entire course of a disaster and evacuation.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the response from our community and the tremendous outpouring of concern for our neighbors who donated time, money or goods to help others in need. Unfortunately, some offers did not find a home, which suggests to me the need to improve our structures so volunteers can be better matched to the needs.
Did You Know . . . ?
October is Texas Archeology Month. To commemorate this recognition, there are a number of events throughout our state that are focused on bringing history to life. From exploration of prehistoric dwellings to shipwrecks and Civil War sites, these events are designed to shed light on our state's past.
Also, the Texas Historical Commission is offering grants of up to $1000 for collections-related preservation or conservation projects. The deadline to apply is November 5.
Student Opportunities . . .
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (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-expenses paid, week-long summer residential experience at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Eligible students are required to meet the following criteria:
At least 16 years of age
Currently a high school junior
Interested in science, math or engineering
Able to commit to a relationship with the Johnson Space Center, including a six day residential experience during the summer
Access to the Internet and email (home, school or public library)
The procedure for submitting applications has changed. Applications must be submitted directly to the NASA Johnson Space Center, by November 14. Please note that this procedure is a change from previous years. NASA will review the applications first and then forward them to the appropriate legislators for review and recommendation.
In Closing . . .
Don't forget the last day to register to vote is October 6th in order to be eligible to vote in this year's historic election. Visit the Secretary of State's website for information and applications for registering to vote, updating your voter registration if you have moved within Dallas County, early voting in person, and absentee voting by mail.
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