What's New . . .
The real time verification system for automobile liability insurance identification cards, TexasSure, is now up and running. During the 2005 legislative session, SB 1670 was passed which created TexasSure. It is estimated that one-quarter of Texans do not have automobile liability insurance although it is required by law to have proof of financial responsibility when driving in Texas. TexasSure is aimed at reducing the use of counterfeit or expired identification cards by allowing law enforcement officers to verify insurance coverage by using a license plate number or vehicle identification number. The program is funded by a $1 fee paid when individuals renew their vehicle registration. Prior to statewide rollout, TexasSure was tested in the Austin area. It is now operational across the state.
On October 27, the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, which I chair, held a hearing in Austin to review the state's disaster response and preparedness capabilities. The hearing was originally scheduled for September 23; following the landfall of Hurricane Ike, it was rescheduled. As one can imagine, a great deal of testimony concentrated on Hurricane Ike and the depth of its impact across the state. The committee heard testimony related to the challenges of restoring power to areas affected by Hurricane Ike, the success and challenges of the evacuation for Hurricane Ike, as well as Ike's impact on agriculture along the coast. Additionally, the Committee heard from representatives of Parkland Hospital regarding public health emergencies, such as pandemic flu and the impact of natural disaster on our public health system.
The Sunset Advisory Commission has continued to meet and make recommendations on changes to state agencies that are undergoing sunset review. As you may know, the Sunset Commission is charged with identifying and eliminating waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. Each state agency is reviewed approximately once every 8-12 years. The Commission's recommendations for each agency are then drafted into legislation that will be filed in the upcoming session. Since I last wrote about the sunset process, the Commission has voted on its recommendations to make to the Legislature. Among the recommendations are that the Department of Public Safety operate its driver's license program using a civilian management model and the Texas Department of Insurance collect more information on the processing of automobile and homeowner's insurance claims. Although staff reports have been issued, the Sunset Commission has not yet voted on its final recommendations relating to the Texas Department of Transportation or Texas Youth Commission. For a complete list of the agencies under review and recommendations click here.
The Texas Higher Education Commissioner, Raymund Paredes, has released his recommendations for uniform GPA calculations for Texas high schools, which will be used for calculating GPAs for admission purposes to public universities in Texas. The growing number of students being admitted under the top ten percent rule, which grants automatic admission to any public college or university to students graduating from the top ten percent of their high school, resulted in the passage of legislation requiring the uniform GPA calculations. Under the plan, an additional point will be given for Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and dual-credit classes, while an additional half-point will be given for pre-AP and pre-IB classes. The Higher Education Coordinating Board will consider the new rules at a meeting on January 5, 2009; the new standards will apply for high school freshman in 2009.
Focus . . .
As the Chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, one of my key goals during the upcoming legislative session will be to improve our transportation infrastructure. While roads, bridges and highways will always be an important component of such infrastructure, I believe that expanding mass transit throughout the North Texas area with a focus on rail, including light and high speed rail, is essential to addressing our transportation and air quality needs. I would like to take this opportunity to provide an overview of our area's transit systems and update you on efforts for expansion throughout the region.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is the regional mass transit agency for our area. It was created by voters in 1983 and is funded with a one-cent local sales tax. Thirteen cities participate in DART, including Dallas, Garland and Richardson, covering 700 square miles. DARTís multi-modal system includes the operation of over 1,000 vehicles, including buses, van pools, and vans for disabled individuals. DART Light Rail currently consists of two lines (Red & Blue Lines), which total 80 miles and feature 45 stations. DART also jointly operates with the Fort Worth T the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth, which consists of 35 miles and 10 stations. The DART Green Line, the longest project of its kind in North America, is under construction and scheduled to begin operating in September 2009. Construction on the Orange Line to DFW Airport and the Blue Line extension from Garland to Rowlett are scheduled to begin in early 2009. (For a map of existing and planned DART lines, click here. With more than 19.4 million passenger trips in fiscal year 2008, DART Rail increased its ridership 8.6% over the previous year. The Trinity Railway Express, with more than 2.7 million trips, increased its ridership nearly 11% over the same period. Since opening in 1996, these rail lines have improved traffic, air quality, and quality of life.
Last session, I authored SB 257, which would have allowed cities in the North Texas area that have not dedicated a portion of their sales tax to mass transit to have a local option election that would add an additional one percent sales tax dedicated to mass transit. However, this bill did not pass because of late-session opposition to the sales tax mechanism. Had the bill passed, other North Texas cities would have been given the opportunity to join DART, which would have allowed DART to further expand transit throughout our region.
Since the last legislative session, community leaders have been working on the best way to fund and implement an expanded transit system throughout the area. These efforts are being spearheaded by the Regional Transportation Council of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is working to find a consensus on a possible menu of options that could serve as a funding mechanism for implementation of expanded transit in the North Texas region. For more information on these efforts, click here. Although no concrete plans for an expanded rail (light and commuter) system in our area have been developed, it is important that the community is working together in developing consensus. In the upcoming legislative session, I look forward to advocating for the most acceptable and promising solutions to our transportation needs.
Did You Know . . . ?
Comptroller Susan Combs published the annual Unclaimed Property List in October. Examples of unclaimed property include dormant back accounts, forgotten utility deposits, old uncashed checks, unclaimed investment income, securities and family heirlooms from abandoned safe deposit boxes. At present, the Comptroller's Office has more than $1.7 billion in unclaimed property. In fiscal year 2007, the Comptroller returned approximately $119 million in unclaimed property to its rightful owners. For more information, you can visit the unclaimed property website. You may also call 800-654-3463 to speak to a customer service representative.
Student Opportunities . . .
The Texas Round-Up is accepting submissions for the T-shirt design competition for its 6th annual Texas Round-Up Family Mile. Entries will be accepted through January 31, 2009. The race will be held April 25 in Austin and is intended to highlight the benefits of physical activity. The winning artist will have their design featured on all Family Mile T-Shirts. For more information go to www.texasroundup.org.
In Closing . . .
This will be the last Email Update for this year. The next edition will be in January to update you as the Legislature convenes on Tuesday, January 13, 2009. As this year comes to a close, I will enjoy the closeness of family and friends as we celebrate the holidays. I hope that you also will find joy and peace this season.
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