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June 8, 2011     Hays Free Press
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June 8, 2011
 

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'1~P=='~e" "r*~unml~ mmqJ JIn q JI ll~l~ ILIL AJ: [ L L I!~JN~NJH.~ I Hays Free Press June 8, 2011 OMNION Page 5A + State lawmakers did not go home on May 30, the last day of the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature. Their work was incomplete when time ran out. A Senate filibuster over cutbacks in education funding has been the main pointed-to reason for the holdover. But Gov. Rick Perry issued proclamations listing plenty of other problems he also wants lawmakers to solve in the 1st called session, which commenced May 31. They are: 1. An accounting clean-up bill for House Bill 1, the state budget passed in the regular session; 2. Health care cost containment (through an as-yet uncreated interstate health care compact instead of the federal government); 3. Access to services through, managed care; 4. Economic and structural incentives to improve the quality of Medicaid services; 5. Congressional redistricting; and 6. Reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. House and Senate committees moved quickly. The powerful House Appropriations Committee, under Chairman lim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, considered the state fiscal matters bill on June 2 and passed it on Saturday, lune 4. The bill employs accounting strategies such as payment delays and deferrals and tax collection speed-ups to balance the budget. And, to smooth the way toward agreement with the upper chamber, Pitts said, the House will take up and consider the Senate's version of the bill passed June 3 by the Senate Finance Committee under the leadership of Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. SB 8 by Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plane, was approved at committee level. It would allow school districts, instead of firing or laying off teachers, to furlough them and grant unpaid leave, as long as funding remains less than 2010-2011 levels. SB 7 by Senate Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, also was approved by the committee. It identifies $3 billion in efficiency savings that could be accomplished through agency nile changes, such as moving Medicaid prescription benefits under managed care programs and implementing an electronic visit verification system, to ensure that reimbursements to providers are paid for actual services. Supposing the momentum continues with Republican majorities in the full House and full Senate, school districts and the taxpayers responsible for most of their funding, will face a 2012-2013 biennium with $4 billion less to work with than they had in the 2010-2011 state budget. House and Senate members are expected to try to attach amendments to school funding and other legislation in floor debates to come. PANEL OKS SMOKING BAN BILL Public places where food and alcohol are consumed would go smokeless under legislation by Pep. Myra Crownover, R-Lake Dallas. Crownover's HB 46 aligns with "economic and structural incentives to improve the quality of Medicaid services" in the governor's special session goals and also aligns with general cost-cutting measures. In June 4 testimony, Crownover said that banning smoking in public places could save the state $31 million in 2012 and 2013 in smoking-related costs that would include hospitalization, doctor visits, medication and more. The House Appropriations Committee appro ed'Crownover's bill on a vote of 19-1, with freshman Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, an orthopedic surgeon, voting against. In closing, Crownvet said more than 20 states have passed similar legislation and she didn't want to see Texas, and especially rural Texas towns that may not pass anti- smoking ordinances, attract more smokers and become "ashtrays." SOCIAL MEDIA TO HELP TXDOT June 1 was the first day of hurricane season. The Texas Department of Transportation is planning to make greater use of Twitter feeds and Facebook postings to get helpful emergency information to Texans faster and more efficiently. TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said, "If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that social media is an effective way to reach thousands of Texas citizens." OFRCIALS LAUD PRAYER DECISION Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott in separate news releases praised a June 3 federal court decision to allow a prayer to be delivered in public during a Texas high school's graduation ceremonies. Under a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a district judge's injunction that would have censored prayer at Medina Valley High School's 2011 graduation has been dissolved. Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association. edsterlinoOtexaspress.com So, the space race took off, and the United States stayed be- hind. John Kennedy had great ambitions for it and for us, but as 50-year-old tapes now reveal, he was concerned that budget hard- liners would shoot it down. And so they did, and the Soviets draped the heavens in red. It was the same with Richard Nixon and the Environmental Protection Agency- opposed by spending hardliners and states- rights devotees. So, when time came to declare Lake Erie dead, they just mixed its ambient solids with asphalt and paved it. It's all as the anti-government crusaders of a future century would have it. The Centers for Disease Control? Never happened. The Public Health Service, the umbrella organization under which the CDC was estab- lished, didn't happen, beCause anti- spending forces said that disease control was best left up to Doc Jones down the road. So, when diphtheria and malaria swept the country, Americans at- tributed it to God's vengeance for the outbreak of rock 'n roll. The interstate highway system didn't happen, either. Too costly and federal. Roads would be left up to each state and burg. If they con- nected, they connected. And they didn't. States like Texas that didn't want to be a part of the whole, weren't, literally. Dwight Eisenhower called the interstates essential not just for commerce but for military readi- ness. But of course, they weren't. They were just more big govern- ment from Washington. Airports? No need for federal involvement. Local governments could take care of that- if they wanted to face the wrath of taxpay- ers. And most city council mem- bers and county commissioners didn't run to do that. All of these things the federal government didn't have to do, according to the Constitution: fly to the moon; build highways and airports; protect the air, water and soil; guard against epidemics. In a tea party fantasy world, it wouldn't have happened. This musing surged the other day when reading that House Re- publicans seek to zero out two key programs that affect many lives: the Transportation Enhancement component of the Surface Trans- portation Act, and the Safe Routes to Schools program. Both assist communities in meeting pedestri- an needs and building pedestrian- bicycle infrastructure. Transportation for America, an advocacy group that promotes such needs, points out that 47,700 Americans died from 2000 to 2009 when struck and killed walking. Too often those deaths are due to the lack of safe places for their feet to be. The Safe Routes to Schools pro- gram targets blighted inner-city ar- eas where children walk to school. I walked one such area in Texas - before and after. Before: Children walked in the streets or in fields demarcated by broken bottles. After: Well, let's just say most U.S. taxpayers would be proud of what they did there with a very modest investment. Those who would shut these functions down would saywe don't have the roughly $1 billion annual outlay the two programs repre- sent. Sure we don't. Not when we'll spend $708 billion on the military this fiscal year alone, maybe build- ing walkways in Kabul. The tea partiers will say side- walks and bike lanes are a local matter, and federal aid to cities should cease, anyway. Then again, when many of them- they who have fled the multicolored nature of the city- take their wealth to their suburban neverlands, it's hard for cities to meet many needs at all. Oh, and these people still come back to dine, and work or sell their wares to those people they flee. What a dream: to just run from it all, the whole American experience, the shared communal responsi- bility that has defined this land. Welcome to the fantasy. 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