LEGISLATURE CONTINUES ACTION ON TYC
(AUSTIN) — A special joint committee charged with fixing the Texas Youth Commission met for the first time Thursday, March 8, to hear testimony as to the progress of the investigation into alleged abuses within the agency. The TYC has been under scrutiny since a two year old report alleging incidents of sexual abuse at one school in west Texas was revealed. Last week, the Governor appointed Jay Kimbrough as special master to take control of the agency and facilitate co-operation between all the various state agencies dealing with this issue.
Senator John Whitmire, one of the co-chairs of this committee, said the purpose of this committee and of the investigation as a whole is clear. "We're trying to protect the children, the good employees, hold those accountable for wrongdoings, and the move forward to fix this agency, once and for all, so that nothing like this will ever be repeated," he said.
State Auditor John Keel testified that his office has begun the process of analyzing and interpreting financial and operations data taken at three TYC facilities. The Auditor's Office distributed surveys to staffers, corrections officers and inmates to give those individuals a chance to make confidential reports about the operations within the TYC. Many of these surveys have been returned, said Keel, and those that alleged abuses have been sent to the special investigation division with in the Attorney General's Office.
Kimbrough testified that he is expanding efforts to collect complaints from those employees and inmates who are no longer within TYC. He added that he intends to even contact adult inmates in Texas prisons who were in TYC as youths to see if they have any allegations of abuse to report.
Wednesday, March 7, lawmakers filed a bill that would mandate random drug tests for all high school athletes in Texas. Senate Bill 8, authored by Galveston Senator Kyle Janek, is part of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst's Texas Children First child safety and welfare initiative. Under this bill, the University Interscholastic League would be empowered to create a random testing program for performance enhancing drugs, like steroids, and would also have discretion to determine sanctions. Janek says while he wants to leave rule making authority up to the UIL, it is possible that an athlete who violates the law would be barred from competition.
Dewhurst said this bill delivers a clear message to young Texans. "I think mandatory, random sampling will send a chilling effect to all of our high school athletes: don't use steroids in Texas," he said. Dewhurst added that it is estimated that 42,000 high-school athletes have used performance enhancing drugs.
Also Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry announced legislation that would create a multi-billion dollar endowment that would put an estimated $300 million to cancer research in Texas. Senator Jane Nelson of Lewisville, who authored Senate Joint Resolution 43, said her bill will bring together all of the major stakeholders in the fight against cancer. "For the first time in history, we have the opportunity to bring together all of those individuals and all those organizations that are working to fight cancer in our state, and we can move forward together under this new umbrella this legislation creates," she said.
SJR 43 would amend the Texas constitution, which means it needs approval from the voters in November to become state policy. The amendment would authorize the issuance of $3 billion in general obligation bonds to create the Texas Cancer Research Institute. Revenue earned from the endowment would be aimed at Texas universities and labs and is intended to hasten research and bring the top researchers and doctors in the cancer field to the state.
Two Senators held a press conference Thursday to announce legislation that would let Texans vote on whether to allow casino gaming in Texas. Senators John Carona of Dallas and Rodney Ellis of Houston said SJR 45 and its companion bill SB 1359, if approved by the Legislature and public, could bring up to $4.5 billion per year in revenue to the state, without factoring in job creation and local economic impact. Ellis says he wants to keep the $10 billion per year Texans already spend to gamble in other states or online in Texas. "We can either continue to allow the majority of that money to fund education and health care in other states, or use it to fund our own critical needs here in Texas."
The announced legislation would create the Texas Gaming Commission and authorize up to 12 destination casino resort projects around the state. It would also set up a billion-dollar higher education trust fund, which could fund the college education of a quarter of a million students in Texas, said Ellis. Carona says that Texans have shown overwhelming support of gaming in Texas in polls and surveys, so lawmakers should allow them to decide. "Because we've been sensitive to protect neighborhoods and specifically limit the number of these [casinos] in Texas, why not have the benefit for all of these in Texas, or at least allow Texans to vote on it themselves," he said.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 12, at 1:30 p.m.