The 81st Legislative Session Begins
On Tuesday, January 13, the 81st session of the Texas legislatures officially began. The Texas House of Representatives elected a new speaker, Rep. Joe Straus, III of San Antonio. While his election has been seen by most as a positive step for the House that will promote bipartisan cooperation and a more collegial atmosphere some observers are concerned about the new speaker’s record on certain issues.
Of concern for the CLC are his close ties to the gambling industry. His father, Joe Straus, Jr., is one of the founders of Retama Park horseracing track just north of San Antonio of which the new speaker is also an investor. Speaker Straus has already commented on his ties to the industry saying "I will not be involved in an issue, any issue, where my personal interests will be advanced," and that “As speaker, I’ll stay away from it … and not allow it to be a distraction or an issue.”
The CLC is pleased to hear these comments from Speaker Strauss. We will continue to fight against the expansion of gambling in Texas which will surely result in a net monetary loss for our local family friendly economy, prey on the poor and create expensive social costs associated with a rise in pathological gambling. In our current economy, any public policy that promotes and expands gambling as a responsible, harmless way for Texans to spend money would be foolish.
Watch your email inbox for more frequent public policy focused newsletters and alerts in the coming weeks. The session will run for 140 days, until Monday, June 1st.
Gambling Bills Filed
According to our coalition partner, Texans Against Gambling, 11 gambling bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature, including Senate Bill 309 and House Bill 75, to legalize slot machines (or, as the bill calls them “Amusement Redemption Machines”). They are joined by House Bill 73 and Senate Bill 311, which clears the way for video slots or video lottery terminals (VLTs) by redefining what’s currently legal or allowed in Texas. House Bill 357 would allow alcohol retailers to have VLTs, should they be legalized, on their premises. Read more information on gambling…
Sunset Recommendation on Juvenile Justice Agencies
On Wednesday, January 15, the Sunset Advisory Commission voted 6-5 to adopt a staff recommendation that the legislature abolish both the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and combine their function into one new agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The close vote demonstrates the controversial nature of this drastic measure. Chairman Carl Isett proposed several additional recommendations which seek to ensure that one function of the new agency, incarceration is not favored over the other, probation.
The debate over the best way to reform these two agencies will now move to the legislature itself which will have to pass a bill with the final orders for the agencies. While all agencies, advocacy groups and legislators involved in this process hope to improve juvenile justice services in this state, the dismantling and combination of two state agencies will generate a great deal of debate once the legislation is filed.
Adult Basic Education and Literacy Day at the Capitol
The Executive Board of the BGCT and a 2006 BGCT resolution emphasized the importance of re-entering and or finishing high school. The Christian Life Commission will be working this session to support an increase in state funding for adult education. The Texas Education Agency has submitted a Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) requesting an increase in funding from $7 million to $50 million. Such an increase is drastically needed and studies show a high return on investment for adult education and drop out recovery spending. Texas has the highest percentage of adults without a diploma in the US. Over 6.5 million Texans need adult education services but only about 100,000 receive services. Adult basic education improves two generations – children of adult education students stay in school.
The CLC is hosting a Literacy Day at the Capitol on February 12 with the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas. Join more than 300 adult learners in Austin. For more information please see the invitation… (pdf)
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