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Suzii Paynter, Director, Christian Life CommissionLive! at the Legislature

On February 22, 2011 the Senate Business and Commerce Committee met for a hearing on SB 253 (Davis), SB 251 (West) and SB 254 (Davis). All three of these bills address limiting fees and abuse by payday lenders by closing the CSO loophole that allows them to operate outside the Texas Finance Loan Code. Below is excerpts of testimony by Suzii Paynter and Dr. Chad Chaddick of Northeast Baptist Church in San Antonio

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Food Security Updates

According to the USDA, 17.4% of our state’s households are hungry or food insecure. In other words, a staggering number of families in our communities do not have appropriate access to nutritious foods that allow them to lead an active and healthy life. Though the problem may seem overwhelming, we have the tools to fix it. We produce enough food in America to feed everyone – the problem is getting food to the right people, at the right time, and at the right price. This is a logistical problem, not a resource issue, and so is solvable.

Texas leaders, organizations and communities are responding to food insecurity in Texas. Hunger has become a priority among our elected and appointed leaders for the first time in recent history, and the result of these efforts is the beginning stage of a paradigm shift on how we view hunger in Texas – including the steps we take to become food secure.

Now, alongside the great work happening in local communities, the 82nd Legislature has begun to consider food-related bills on the state level. We will be monitoring these bills as this legislative session continues and will send updated e-mail alerts on their status. Now is also a great time to begin contacting legislators and their staff at the capitol about food policy! If you are interested in visiting legislative offices, please contact Anne Olson, Public Policy Specialist at the Christian Life Commission, or call 512-473-2288.

Bills of Interest:
You can also view the bills in more detail at Texas Legislature Online…

House Bills

HB 75 (Flynn):   Relating to the regulation of raw milk and raw milk products
Committee Referral: House Public Health
Identical Companion:   SB 237 (Deuell)

HB 127 (Alvarado):   Relating to the types of beverages that can be sold to students on public school campuses.

HB 642 (Rodriguez):   Relating to free breakfast for certain public school students.
Identical Companion:   SB 88

HB 643 (Rodriguez): Relating to summer nutrition programs provided for by school districts.
Identical companion: SB 89

HB 710 (Walle):   Relating to electronic imaging used in the financial assistance and supplemental nutritional assistance programs.

HB 1139 (Rodriguez):   Relating to the regulation of cottage food products and cottage food production operations.

HB 1151 (Raymond):   Relating to the prohibiting the purchase of certain food items under the supplemental nutritional assistance program.

Senate Bills

SB 39 (Zaffirini):   Relating to improving application and eligibility determination processes and efficiencies for certain benefits programs.
Committee Referral:    Senate Health and Human Services

SB 77 (Nelson):     Relating to certain requirements for sponsoring organizations and other institutions participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Committee Referral:    Senate Health and Human Services

SB 81 (Nelson):     Relating to food manufacturers, food wholesalers, and warehouse operators required to hold a license.
Committee Referral:    Senate Health and Human Services
Hearing Date:   2/15/2011 11:00AM 2E.20

SB 88 (Lucio):     Relating to free breakfast for certain public school students.
Committee Referral:    Senate Education

SB 89 (Lucio):     Relating to summer nutrition programs provided for by school districts.
Committee Referral:    Senate Education

SB 171 (Hinojosa):     Relating to disclosure of calorie content and nutrition information by certain food establishments; providing an administrative penalty.
Committee Referral:    Senate Business and Commerce

SB 184 (Nelson):     Relating to the use of certain state property for community food gardens.
Committee Referral:    Senate Natural Resources

SB 199 (West):     Relating to the eligibility of nonprofit organizations that partner with certain schools to receive grants for agricultural projects.
Committee Referral:    Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs

SB 237 (Deuell):     Relating to the regulation of raw milk and raw milk products.
Committee Referral:    Senate Health and Human Services
Identical Companion:   HB 75 (Flynn)

SCR 9 (Lucio):    Urging the United States Congress to amend the list of allowable foods under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to eliminate sweetened drinks and snack foods of minimal nutritional value.

Most Texans, regardless of politics or party, agree that in a state as great as Texas hunger is simply unacceptable. Just like social problems of the past, we can end hunger through cooperation and creative problem-solving. There are people like you across Texas taking steps to end hunger in Texas each and every day, and together we have the power to end it for good!

Here’s how YOU and YOUR CHURCH can help:

Call or write your legislator. Let yourself be heard! As a constituent, you have an influence on what issues our state legislators pursue. Let your legislator know that ending hunger is a priority by calling, writing, or visiting your representative or senator. Not sure who your legislators are? Find out who represents you…

Become a Summer Food Site. Our colleagues at Texas Impact have created a wonderful toolkit for folks interested in helping with the summer feeding program. “Feeding Texas Kids with the Summer Food Service Program” gives you step-by-step information on the many different ways you can get involved with SFSP as a faith community.

We value your input and suggestions.
Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.

Isaac Updates

THE IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON LOW-SKILLED AMERICAN WORKERS

In an effort to provide accurate, non-biased information on immigrants and immigration in the United States, the ISAAC Project presents a summary of a noteworthy study published by the Migration Policy Institute in January of this year. The study, Immigration Policy and Less-Skilled Workers in the United States: Reflections on Future Directions for Reform, tries to gauge the impact of immigration on the wages and prospects of employment of less-skilled Americans. It also offers practical suggestions for policy makers.

The author of this study claims that the impact of immigration on high-school dropouts and other less-educated groups is not as big as people might expect. In fact, “even the most negative estimates of the impact on similar US workers suggest that in the long run, immigration accounts for only a small share of the deterioration observed in less-skilled Americans’ labor market employment and earnings”.1

There are a few factors that explain such a small impact:  In the first place, immigrants are also consumers of American goods and services.  Their consumption creates a demand for labor in the United States.  A second factor is that immigrants tend to work in jobs that require limited verbal skills (such as agriculture, landscaping and restaurants).  This makes them compete more with earlier groups of immigrants than with American-born workers.  A third factor relates to employers, who are less likely to substitute capital and/or technology when there is a large pool of less-skilled workers available due to immigration.

Whereas the costs of low-skilled migration on the native-born, less-educated population are modest, the benefits go directly to the employers of these immigrants due to the lower wages they are paid.  But there is another benefit to the economy as a whole derived from the lower prices of goods and services that result from those lower wages.

The economic picture is very complex and too many uncertainties remain, the study says.  This makes it almost impossible to define an optimal level of less-skilled immigration.  Economics, however, points to significant improvements that could be made to our immigration system.  Much of the currently illegal immigration could be channeled through legal routes if low-skilled workers are granted employment-based visas that allow them to switch employers and gain a path to citizenship.  There should also be more flexibility in the numbers of low-skilled workers allowed so that they respond more realistically to macroeconomic conditions and employer demand.

Immigration is a federal concern, but states and local communities feel the brunt of costs involved in it.  This makes it necessary for policies to allow for state-level variability so that, for instance, guest worker flows may be determined by state need rather than by federal unemployment rates.  Policies that will facilitate immigrant integration may also vary across states.  National immigration policies must be re-designed so that benefits and costs of immigration may be better distributed between the federal, state and local levels.

These findings are most welcome, especially at a time in our country when immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, continue to be used as scapegoats of our economic downturn.  Most of the immigration policies becoming law in more than a decade are harsh, punitive, and focus exclusively on increased border security and dealing out harsher penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers.  The data contained in this study help put the plight of immigrants in a proper macroeconomic perspective.  The complexities and many uncertainties of the economic map of our dynamic country should give us pause as we try to assess the repercussions of documented and undocumented immigration in a fair and honest way.

__________________________________________

1 Holzer, Harry J.  Immigration Policy and Less-Skilled Workers in the United States at page 1. January 2011.  Found at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/Holzer-January2011.pdf.

World Hunger Updates

Missouri Baptists join hands with Texas Baptists to meet hunger needs around the world.

Missouri Baptists have joined with Texas Baptists to meet world hunger needs. Churchnet (the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) will promote the same offering projects in Missouri that the Christian Life Commission promotes in Texas. This means Baptists in each state will be supporting ministries in the other state, as well as the many other national and international projects.

This is an important expansion of the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, which will serve as the administrative framework for the Missouri offering.

Jim Hill, executive director of Churchnet, says it this way: “We are delighted to be partners with Texas Baptists in promoting our World Hunger Offering. Missouri Baptists, like our Texas friends, know our commitment to love God includes a commitment to love others, particularly the poor and vulnerable in our world.

“Our partnership with Texas Baptists is allowing us to provide information and resources to our churches as they help church members to learn about hunger needs and provide an opportunity for them to give to meet these needs. We would not be able to provide some of these resources without our partnership with Texas Baptists. …

“It is staggering to learn about the hunger that exists in our own communities. … We believe our partnership with Texas Baptists can be a very effective and efficient way for us to provide resources to our churches, channel our World Hunger offerings, and help provide food for the hungry in our world.”

Recalling Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man who was unwilling to part with his material possessions, Hill noted: “We have to get our focus off ourselves and off our possessions. Jesus pointed the man to the needs of the poor.”

That’s good instruction for all of us. Texas and Missouri Baptists are now working together, taking our focus of ourselves and doing something about the needs of the poor.

MAKE A DONATION IN MEMORY/HONOR OF SOMEONE

Would you like to remember or honor someone special this year? Instead of a gift that will just collect dust why not make a donation in their name to the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger. Let your gift go much further in doing good work for those who are less fortunate.

Donate now!

5th Sunday Hunger Offering Video | Feeding the Hungry in Del Rio

Next 5th Sunday Emphasis for World Hunger – March 27, 2011.  Prepare now. Download 5th Sunday video

We value your input and suggestions.
Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.

Public Policy Updates

This month, we want to share our public policy issue areas. You will find a synopsis of each of our issue-areas. At the end of each synopsis, you will find a link to the CLC’s website to read more about each area, including what bills have been filed this session.

PayDay Lending

Currently, almost all payday and auto title lenders operate in a loophole in state law that sets no limits on the rates and fees they can charge Texans on small dollar, short term loans. These high cost loans are hurting Texas families. They are immoral, unethical and in direct contradiction of the religious values that most Texans hold.

Read more about this issue and how we can close the loophole…(.pdf)

Gambling Expansion

Our state faces a daunting budget shortfall that has many Texans looking for new sources of revenue this session. In considering our options, policy makers should look for revenue that enhances our healthy business climate, supports families, prepares our state for the future, grows along with demand for services, and does not undermine citizen’s efforts to save for the future like gambling does.

Read more about why we oppose the expansion of gambling in the state of Texas…(.pdf)

Food Policy

Severe malnutrition rarely occurs in this state thanks to programs designed to prevent low-income families from going hungry. However, food insecurity, or the struggle to afford adequately nutritious food on a regular basis, plagues 17.4% of Texas households.

Read about how we can help make Texas food secure…(.pdf)

Environmental Stewardship

Scripture affirms the beauty of creation and God’s love for all creation—both human and non-human. Being stewards of God’s resources means careful consideration of how our actions impact the planet and all its inhabitants, including not only how much energy we consume but also how our energy in produced.

Read about ways Texas seeks to become energy efficient…(.pdf)

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world after drug dealing, and it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Between 14,500 and 17,500 individuals are trafficked into the U.S. every year, and nearly 20 percent of human trafficking victims in the U.S. have been identified in Texas.

Read about ways the Texas legislature is addressing human trafficking in our state…(.pdf)
Read about the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force…(.pdf)

Prison Chaplaincy

There are many essential services required by TDCJ in the protection of the public and security- secure buildings, guards and personnel, basic needs. In addition to these essential services, prison chaplaincy is also an essential service as it is the most judicious and proven application to guarantee the First Amendment exercise of religious liberty.

Read more details about the importance of retaining professional chaplaincy in our prison system…(.pdf)

Alcohol Excise Taxes

It has been 27 years since alcohol excise taxes were increased in the state of Texas. Bringing Texas beer and wine taxes in line with the current liquor or cigarette taxes could raise $768 million to $1.4 billion in revenue for our state during this budget crisis.

Read more details on the revenue impact of raising alcohol excise taxes…(.pdf)

Smoke-Free Texas

In Texas, 34 cities are currently covered by comprehensive smoke-free indoor workplace ordinances. As the nation’s second largest state, a statewide smoke-free workplace ban in Texas would provide clean indoor air to 5.6 percent of the U.S. population.

Read more about making Texas workplaces smoke-free on page 2 of this informational sheet…(.pdf)

New Texas Census and Re-Districting by Jason Embry, Austin American-Statesman

Congress
Texas will gain four additional seats — the most of any state — in the U.S. House, bringing its total to 36. It is not yet clear where those seats will be, but the suburbs around Dallas and Houston, the Interstate 35 corridor from Austin to San Antonio and some South Texas counties experienced the most population growth, so they could be in line for the new seats.

Texas House
The total number of House seats, 150, will remain the same. Census figures appear to indicate that there will continue to be six Travis County seats in the Texas House. Williamson County now has two House seats, but rapid growth in the county could push that number to three. Growth could also give Hays County its own state House seat. It now shares the District 45 seat with Caldwell and Blanco counties.

Texas Senate
Travis County is likely to continue to have two state senators because the county is too large to fit into one district. The number of Senate seats also remains the same at 31.

What if the Legislature can’t agree on new boundaries?
If lawmakers fail to agree on plans, the redrawing of state legislative districts will go to a the Legislative Redistricting Board, an all-Republican panel made up of four statewide elected officials and the state House speaker. The plans will inevitably face court challenges.

The drawing of new congressional districts would go straight to the courts if lawmakers don’t come up with a plan.

We value your input and suggestions.
Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.

Substance Abuse Updates

The DEA has contacted news outlets in the last few weeks to alert agencies and schools of a growing problem of bath salts that are emerging as a growing risk for adolescents and young adults. Some officials fear that their effects could be as powerful as methamphetamines. These chemicals can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rate and suicidal thoughts. A small packet of the chemicals typically costs as little as $20. The Poison Control Center has received 236 phone calls just in the month of January. The chemicals are in products sold legally in stores or the internet as bath salts and plant foods.

HB 1548 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) was filed on February 21, 2011. This bill will add certain synthetic substances to Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. If you haven’t seen the new video, Caught In Addiction, check out the Texas Baptist web site.  A special “thank you” to everyone who told their story in the video and shared their journey on the podcasts.

Upcoming Dates:

Substance Abuse Resources:

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Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.

Updates from In The News

ABORTION

ALCOHOL | ADDICTION

BUDGET

CHILDREN

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

EDUCATION

ENVIRONMENT

GAMBLING

HEALTH

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

HUNGER & POVERTY

IMMIGRATION

PAYDAY LENDING

VOTER ID

We value your input and suggestions.
Your comments and recommended resources are welcome in the comments box below.