June 2009 - A message from Carlos...
The 81st Legislative Session has completed its work, but that doesn’t mean it's time to sit down and rest. A number of important things were accomplished for Texas during the 140-day session, but when it comes to protecting children and providing greater financial and educational opportunities for our families, the work is never really done.
During the interim period, I will work to implement the measures that passed, look for new legislative opportunities and begin crafting an agenda for 2011.
But while we ponder the future, it is well worth looking back. The 2009 session was a resounding success for the people of San Antonio and District 19 — both for what passed and what didn't.
Signed By the Governor
Texas A&M University at San Antonio
A 10-year effort to get a Texas A&M campus in South San Antonio has finally paid off. I passed a bill that freed up the availability of $40 million in tuition revenue bonds, allowing construction on the new campus to get underway. A modern campus will soon replace the cramped, makeshift classrooms in an old elementary school. Texas A&M University-San Antonio will provide educational opportunities for young people on the South Side and be an economic generator for the entire region.
Veterans tax exemption
I am particularly proud of a new law that will make veterans who are 100 percent disabled from military-related injuries exempt from property taxes. A constitutional amendment allowing the tax break was adopted in 2007, but lawmakers had failed to pass the enabling legislation. We made sure it passed this time. I believe that veterans who became fully disabled in the line of duty should not have to pay property taxes. Another bill will allow college-bound veterans who are not Texas residents to pay in-state tuition rates without having to wait a year, as required by current law.
It won't take long after Greyson's Law is implemented to see the benefits. This new law requires the state to expand the state's genetic disease screening program for newborns, from 29 disorders to 49. It was named for Greyson Morris, who died just before his first birthday of Krabbe disease, a degenerative disorder of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Early detection could have delayed, and perhaps even prevented Greyson's death. The law will also create a Newborn Screening Advisory Committee to develop recommendations and research concerning mandatory expanded newborn screenings.
Mental patient transportation plans
Last December, San Antonio State Hospital workers dropped Raquel Padilla at a downtown bus station, gave her a ticket and sent her on her way. Three days later, the 54-year-old Padilla was found dead. That won't happen again under a new law that requires the discharging hospital to formulate a transportation plan. It must account for the patient's capacity, be in writing and specify who is responsible for transporting the patient, and when and where the patient will be transported. Hospital workers will no longer be allowed to just send vulnerable mental patients on their way in a potentially dangerous world.
Statewide Blue Ribbon Task Force
I like to think of this new law as an all-out attack on child abuse and neglect. My bill creates a nine-member task force that will develop a strategic plan to combat child abuse and improve child welfare. The plan could include specific statutory changes, new programs, and methods to foster cooperation among state agencies and the state and local governments. It will ensure that the agencies most responsible for children get a top-to-bottom review of their policies, procedures and resources.
|Senator Uresti hands out helpful information to attendees at Kids Day in the Park 2009.
The Health Care Access Fund
This program, funded by a tax on smokeless tobacco, will pay the tuition of health care workers who agree to practice in underserved areas for up to four years. It will provide a compelling financial incentive for doctors, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners and mental health professionals to serve rural Texans who don't have ready access to health care. I also co-sponsored a bill requiring the Texas Medical Board to issue provisional medical licenses in El Paso County, one of the most medically underserved areas of the state.
Court Appointed Special Advocates
Under this new law, state employees are granted up 60 hours per year of time off to be a CASA volunteer. The organization trains and organizes people who are appointed by judges to oversee and advocate for abused and neglected children as they move through the legal and social service systems.
Reporting of Child Deaths
The Department of Family and Protective Services will be required to be more forthcoming with information on children who died as a result of abuse or neglect. The goal of the new law is to promote public scrutiny of cases in order to improve child welfare policy and practices.
New Courts for Bexar County
In the first such expansion since 1999, this new law provides that Bexar County will have three new county courts at law. The new courts will help address a backlog of more than 4,000 cases.
Better Off Dead
Truly one of the "bad ol' bills" that pop up from time to time, Voter ID was always about politics, not policy. It was touted by proponents as a much-need ballot security measure, which really means ballot suppression. Voter ID would not solve any problem that actually exists. It was designed merely to make voting more difficult for traditionally Democratic constituencies, and will impose real hardships particularly on the vast rural areas of District 19. The measure passed the Senate only after an all-night debate and a change in long-standing procedure rule. Fortunately for democracy, it died in the House. Unfortunately, we probably haven't heard the last of it. Voter ID may come up again in a special session or in the 2011 regular session.
Water supply district the focus of West Texas trip
I fought for many things in the last session — more money for Child Protective Services, better access to health care in rural areas, tax breaks for disabled veterans and other important programs — but there was also something I fought against. The West Texas Water Supply District presented an imminent threat to Pecos County water supplies, and it's an issue that is not going to go away.
During the session, I had an opportunity to discuss the legislative effort on this bill with the people of Alpine, Marfa and Fort Stockton. West Texans cannot take water supplies for granted. Every drop of water is precious in a part of the state that averages less than 14 inches of rain per year, yet the sources of water for the future are uncertain.
|Senator Uresti discusses the proposed West Texas Water Supply District and other water issues with constituents in Alpine.
The water supply district bill would have granted grant the district the power to impose a tax, issue bonds and acquire easements through eminent domain. It would then build a 54-inch pipeline that would carry some 41 million gallons of Pecos County water to the Midland-Odessa area every day.
While this late-filed bill did not get a committee hearing, it will be back before the Legislature in 2011, probably in a timelier manner and with more organized support. This means the fight is not over, and those of us who are committed to protecting the water must be vigilant during the interim, during the next session of the Legislature and the sessions after that.
Laughlin visit focused on base protection, relationship with the military
On April 25, it was my great pleasure to attend a formal dinner at Laughlin AFB in honor of Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, chief of staff for the United States Air Force. The 47th Flying Training Wing Dining-Out Saturday event gave me an opportunity to brief Gen. Schwartz and Del Rio city officials on the status of legislation to protect Laughlin from encroachment.
The new law will establish a five-mile buffer around the base and create a Regional Military Sustainability Commission that will review the compatibility of proposed development projects within that area. As the military considers future base closures and realignments, growth around the base must not be allowed to interfere with Laughlin's ability to maintain its current operations and expand its role.
The bill is critical not only to Laughlin's future but that of Del Rio as well. The measure takes great care to address private property rights, while maintaining the five-mile buffer zone to truly reflected the work of the local community and its joint land use study.
I greatly appreciated Gen. Schwartz's visit, and I know the people of Del Rio and their elected officials feel the same way. We all care deeply about the base, its personnel and its mission.
Del Rio has been a great friend to Laughlin and will continue to be. The general's historic visit was welcome evidence that the feeling is mutual. The base is a vital component of the region's economy and the nation's defense, and all of us must work together if its role is to be expanded.
Blue Ribbon Task Force knocks on doors in neighborhoods and the Capitol
April was Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the Blue Ribbon Task Force made the most of it. On April 4, more than 50 volunteers joined me in a neighborhood walk to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect. Three days later we took our case directly to lawmakers at the state Capitol.
The idea behind our neighborhood walks is simple — child abuse and neglect can be reduced by giving families more information about the range of community resources available to them, such as public assistance, employment services, low-cost children's health insurance, parenting classes, and how to report child abuse. But the exercise always turns out to be instructive for me as well.
On this day, I visited the home of a woman who has 29 grandchildren. One of them, a three-year-old girl, played barefoot in the front yard. The woman was concerned because some of her grandchildren were staying in a house without electricity, and she was having problems with an ex son-in-law. Her plight was all too typical for many South Side working families, and it made our purpose all the more clear. Door-to-door campaigns are the best way to reach people. Nothing can replace face-to-face contact.
On April 7, child protection advocates descended on the Capitol for Blue Ribbon Task Force Advocacy Day. Instead of neighborhood doors, advocates for children knocked on legislators' doors.
Their message was simple as well. In 2007, there were 240,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Texas, mostly involving infants and pre-school children, and 223 children died that year; the direct cost of child maltreatment to the judicial system, law enforcement and health system approaches $900 million a year. Those numbers are just not acceptable, and the Legislature must do all it can to reduce them.
Young children don't have a lot of high-paid lobbyists working for them at the Capitol, so we must be their champions.
The task force's awareness campaign also got George "Ice Man" Gervin involved. He appeared in a billboard campaign that urged families in need to call 2-1-1 to find out about programs and resources that can help.
Gervin's message: "Don't lose your cool with kids."
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Eagle Pass Back to School Fair
9 am to 3 pm
Eagle Pass International Center for Trade
3295 Bob Rogers Drive
Eagle Pass, Texas 78852
Del Rio Back to School Fair
10 am to 3 pm
Del Rio Civic Center
1915 Veterans Blvd
Del Rio, Texas 78852
Uvalde Back to School Fair
4 to 7 pm
Uvalde High School Cafeteria
1 Coyote Trail
Uvalde, Texas 78801
Senator Uresti's Back to School Event
10 am to 2 pm
Palo Alto College
1400 W. Villaret
San Antonio, Texas 78224
* Senator Uresti will be giving away backpacks to kids in need at these back to school events.
San Antonio District Office
Falcon International Bank
2530 SW Military Drive
San Antonio, Texas 78224
Toll Free 1.800.459.0119
Eagle Pass District Office
Maverick County Courthouse
501 Main Street
Eagle Pass, Texas 78852
Pecos District Office
Reeves County Courthouse
100 East 4th Street
Pecos, Texas 79772
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711