MARCH CAPITOL UPDATE
High winds fanned wildfires in many parts of District 24 in the past few weeks. The flames destroyed property, and the fire threat forced many people to evacuate their homes. Luckily, the damage in the district was limited, and there was no loss of life. Our thanks go out to the brave firefighters - who worked for hours to stop the flames. Many of them are volunteers - giving their time to keep their communities safe. Their efforts saved homes and saved lives all over Central Texas.
The flames have died down - for now. But keep in mind the wildfire danger is high, even when the winds aren't blowing. It's dry out there - and there's not much rain in the forecast. Be careful - all it takes is a small spark to start a huge fire.
I made a lot of people unhappy last session when I opposed moving the Texas primary election up one month. I just didn't see any good reason to change the date. People who wanted the move said that Texas would be meaningless in the presidential race if we stayed put. Fast forward to election day: Texas voters played a pivotal role in the race for the White House - pushing John McCain over the top to win the Republican nomination. By the time the polls closed, more than four million Texans cast their ballots. That's a new record. And no one seems unhappy about my stand.
For many of you, this election is not over, yet. Some of the primary candidates now face a runoff election to earn the party nominations. The vote is April 8th. Early voting for the runoff starts on March 31st. These races won't have all the buzz of the presidential primary, but it's still important for you to get to the polls and cast your ballot. It's your duty as an American and as a Texan. It's also your chance to have your voice heard by the people who make key decisions that affect your life.
Most of you know that the Texas Legislature meets once every two years. But we still have a lot of work to do here at the Capitol. The Lieutenant Governor gave out his interim committee charges. Those charges often lead to legislation in the next session. You may know that I am the Chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. Here are two charges that I look forward to working on with the Committee in the coming weeks:
- We're going to take a closer look at the way electric cooperatives are run here in Texas. You may be familiar with issues raised by customers of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. The Texas Attorney General's Office is having to help sort the whole thing out. I'm concerned that customers at other Texas co-ops may face problems like the ones at PEC. I plan to schedule hearings in the coming weeks to look at whether there's any need for legislative changes to protect customers of electric co-ops around Texas.
- My Capitol Office and my District Offices are receiving calls and e-mails from people in the district who are concerned about the construction of wind turbines. We're going to compare the process for building wind turbines to processes for other forms of electric power. We'll also look at whether there should be new regulations on building wind turbines in Texas.
You can find a full list of the interim charges on the Senate's website. Here's the address: http://www.senate.state.tx.us.
Interim Committee News
Several committees met over the past month at the Capitol. The Medicaid Reform Legislative Oversight Committee discussed the next steps to improve the state's Medicaid program. Right now, Medicaid accounts for more than a quarter of the state's budget - and the costs keep growing. So, last session, we approved legislation to reduce the rate of people without medical insurance by making private coverage more affordable for poor Texans. The committee heard testimony from citizens, as well as medical providers, and businesses that are working to develop plans to help needy Texans get medical coverage. There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved. Meanwhile, Medicaid costs continue to grow at an unsustainable rate.
What are the best ways to make sure our kids are getting a good education? That was the question facing the Select Committee on Public School Accountability. The committee is reviewing the current accountability system, to see what needs to be changed or adjusted. They heard invited and public testimony. A representative from the U.S. Department of Education defended the No Child Left Behind Act, saying it has led to progress, and noting that test scores are at an all-time high for Hispanic and African American students. Others who testified, however, raised concerns that too much emphasis is being placed on testing and test preparation at the expense of teaching and learning. The committee heard presentations and public testimony about alternatives to the current testing methods. Some committee members also raised the concern that a shortage of math, science, and bilingual teachers could affect Texas test scores. The committee will meet again on March 27th.
The Legislative Oversight Committee on the Edwards Aquifer met to hear invited testimony by the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Last session, we passed legislation that gives the EAA more authority and more responsibility. EAA leaders told the committee how they're reissuing permits in light of the new, higher pumping cap provided by the Legislature. The testimony also covered the steps the EAA is taking to protect the aquifer in droughts, and how it will manage aquifer withdrawals to comply with the Endangered Species Act. One concern raised at the hearing was how residential development is affecting the water available for agricultural use in Texas. This issue will likely be taken up in the next legislative session.
Low-Income Electricity Discount
Many low-income Texans can get a bit of relief from higher summer energy bills. The Public Utility Commission authorized a 20% discount effective May 2008 through September 2008. It's for low-income residential electric customers in areas participating in retail electric competition.
You qualify for the discount if your family income is at or below 125% of the federal poverty level - that's $26,500 annually for a family of four. According to the PUC, most of the people eligible for the discount are automatically enrolled based on data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The PUC encourages customers who qualify for the Low-Income Discount but are not automatically enrolled to apply directly by calling 1-866-454-8387 toll-free. In addition, customers who self-enrolled over the past year need to re-enroll. Self-enrolled customers must re-enroll every seven months. You can find more information at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/ocp/assist/liteup/index.cfm.
Funding for the discount comes from the System Benefit Fund. The fund collects 65 cents per 1,000 kWh from electric customers in areas of retail electric competition within Texas.
Champions Among Us
I'd like to congratulate the Jim Ned Lady Indians basketball team. The young women from Tuscola brought home the Class 2A Girls' State Championship. They faced defending champion Poth in the finals March 1st in Austin. The team's tough defense helped Jim Ned take a 19-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, and they never let up, winning 65-49. I believe that it takes a lot of hard work to build a great, successful team like the Lady Indians. That hard work and success is good for the community. Kudos to the team and the coaches. As I write this, the Jim Ned boys basketball team is making its own title run. They advanced to the Class 2A State Championship game. We wish them good luck as they work to bring another title home to Tuscola.
I thank all of you in District 24 for giving me the opportunity to serve you in the Texas Legislature.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER
Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611