Friday, May 3, 2013

House Bill 3241

Today, I passed House Bill 3241,which provides the state with additional tools to address the crime of human trafficking.

According to a report published by the Human Trafficking Prevention Task force just a few years ago, 1 out of every 5 victims of trafficking are trafficked on Interstate 10.

Criminal enterprises are taking advantage of the large number of major national highways that run through our state. While Texas has been at the forefront of fighting trafficking by increasing penalties for traffickers and focusing on the resources for the victims of this heinous crime, this is not enough. We need the tools to go after the money these criminal enterprises are making from this crime.

House Bill 3241 would allow the attorney general to bring a civil suit in the name of the state against a person or enterprise for the offense of racketeering related to human trafficking. The attorney general is required to provide notice to the prosecutors with jurisdiction. The bill further requires coordination and cooperation with local prosecutors as to not interfere with any ongoing investigations or prosecutions.

House Bill 3241 allows for prosecutors to abate the suit if it is determined and provides an 80/20 split with 80% going to the state, with first $10 million going to Crime Victim Compensation Fund. The final 20% would be distributed on a pro rata basis to law enforcement and attorneys that help with the suit.

We must punish those that engage in human trafficking and exploit these men, woman, and children, by hitting them where it hurts most, their pocket books.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Equal Pay for Women!

I'm excited to announce the passage of House Bill 950. This legislation is a step in the right direction toward Equal Pay for Women. I am proud to have been a part of this important legislation and I look forward to future advances in this area. This is a great article about the Bill.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

House Bill 949

I coauthor House Bill 949 with Representative Smithee. This legislation eliminates inconsistencies among insurers by transferring insurance coverage from a previous vehicle to a newly acquired vehicle. Currently, when a consumer purchases a... new or used vehicle, auto insurance providers are not required to extend standard coverage for a new vehicle during the policy term, although such coverage may exist. Unfortunately, the consumer may be unaware and incorrectly assume that their newly acquired vehicle is covered by a transfer from their pre-existing policy.

Under House Bill 949, the consumer has 20 days from the purchase date to notify the insurance provider of the new vehicle in order to receive coverage. This bill protects consumers by eliminating inconsistences among insurance providers that may cause confusion for vehicle owners about the insurance coverage for their newly acquired personal vehicle. You can follow this legislation here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Texas Needs House Bill 2914

Here is an article that is a great example of situations that can be avoided through the passage of House Bill 2914, which reduces penalties for the possession of less than 0.02 grams of a controlled substance. The article discusses a recent decision of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse the convictions of several inmates, based on findings that the results of thousands of drug tests may have been fabricated. This legislation will reduce the amount of felony convictions resulting from the possession of small amounts of controlled substances, thereby reducing the negative effects which result from occurrences such as the one illustrated in this article.      

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Texas Public School Legislation

Yesterday the Texas House voted on House Bill 5, which is legislation concerning public school accountability. Some of the major topics that were covered include student assessments and high school graduation programs.  This legislation is very important to the future of the State of Texas and I enjoyed the spirited debate. A few issues that were brought up include questions regarding the efficiency of the current student assessment program. In large part, this debate was hinged on the question of whether the testing requirements should be increased, decreased, or remain the same. There were also questions as to how these assessments are to be administered. Another large part of this discussion concerned school curriculum, including what courses students should be required to take, and how the advanced placement curriculum is to be administered. These are critical questions that need to be addressed as we decide the future of the Texas public education system. House Bill 5 was voted out of the House and will now continue through the legislative process. Check here for more information on this legislation.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Human Trafficking Legislation!

Here is an article discussing House Bill 8 pertaining to human trafficking. House Bill 8 is in line with recommendations proposed in the 2012 Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report. The Bill resolves conflicting protective order statutes; adds trafficking of persons and compelling prostitution to the list of offenses ineligible for parole; adds sex trafficking of a minor and compelling prostitution to the list of offenses ineligible for community supervision; includes trafficking of persons in the list of crimes eligible to receive reimbursement for relocation expenses under the Crime Victims Compensation Act; and enhances certain penalties for trafficking related offenses.

In addition, I have filed House Bill 1272, which continues the Attorney General's Human Trafficking Task Force for another two years. The Task Force's main objectives will be to focus on awareness and education by creating initiatives to educate doctors, nurses, EMS professionals, teachers, school counselors and administrators. Making these professionals more knowledgeable about how to identify and deal with this issue is paramount to successfully combating this horrendous crime.

 More information on this legislation can be found here.    

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Texas State of the Judiciary 2013

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson addressed the Texas legislature yesterday in his state of the judiciary speech. Some topics covered include legal aide funding and indigent defense. Chief Justice Jefferson said "We must do more to keep the courthouse doors open for all our neighbors" as he urged the legislature to provide additional funding for legal aide. This session I have filed House Bill 1445  which addresses this issue by increasing the amount of money contributed to basic legal services to the indigent. I am glad that our Chief Justice referenced this bill in his state of the judiciary speech.   His concern about this important issue is shown by his willingness to work on improving the Texas Legal Aide system. I am proud to have Chief Justice Jefferson and countless others as partners as we work towards a Texas legal system that is accessible to all. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Congress Passes Renewal of the Violence Against Women Act!

The U.S. Congress finally passed the U.S. Senate's version of a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act. The Act provides support for organizations that serve domestic violence victims. The Act also strengthens sentences for stalking under Federal Law. This legislation and others like it are important in the ongoing fight against violence against women in America. More information about this legislation can be found here.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Congtrats to our Outstanding Texan Awardee!

Join me in congratulating Dr. Linda Bell Robinson for receiving the Outstanding Texan Award on Tuesday, February 26th at the African American Legislative Summit, Community Awards Breakfast. Every two years the Texas Legislative Black Caucus holds the African American Legislative Summit. At each summit, members of the Caucus select individuals from their prospective districts to receive the Outstanding Texan Award. This Year Dr. Robinson of Houston was selected for her many accomplishments and her contribution to her community and to the state of Texas. 

 Dr. Robinson worked as a police officer for over 35 years and retired as a Lieutenant Investigator with the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Throughout her professional career, Dr. Robinson has been appointed to several local and state commissions. In 2003, she was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to serve as a member of the council on Sex Offender Treatment. In December 2004, she was selected by the Governor to move to the Council on Health and Human Services, where she is an active member. In addition, Dr. Robinson is a member of various Law Enforcement and Civic Associations. She served on the 182nd District Court Grand Jury; the Governor of Texas Advisory Board on Drug Control, former Board Member of the Houston Area Women's Center, a Leadership Houston Graduate and was selected as a "Savvy Sister" by the Houston Woman Magazine in 2011.

 We thank Dr. Robinson for her many years of service and congratulate her on receiving the Outstanding Texan Award.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Article Concerning Ex-Offender Re-entry

Here is a very interesting article concerning the ability of ex-drug offenders to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This article relates to the important issue of ex-offender re-entry. An issue that desperately needs to be addressed in the state of Texas. This article calls for the elimination or modification of the ban on ex-drug offenders' access to SNAP in Texas. This change would help provide assistance to ex-offenders who are struggling to transition back into society. By gaining access to SNAP and other government assistance, many ex-drug offenders will be able to avoid homelessness and maintain a normal lifestyle as they gain training and employment. Also, re-entry ideas and proposals similar to what is suggested in this article will help reduce recidivism, because many ex-offenders will be able to escape poverty. I encourage you to review this article and others like it and join the conversation surrounding this very important issue.              

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Texas Access to Justice Foundation News Conference

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation hosted a press conference today to raise awareness about the funding shortfall in the Texas legal aid system. This shortfall is a significant problem for lower income families and individuals who are unable to pay for legal representation. As a result these people are faced with losing property, filing bankruptcy, and suffering significant credit impairment. In order to address this issue, I have proposed House Bill 1445. This legislation will allow other civil restitution recovered from an action by the Attorney General on a matter that violates a consumer protection, public health, or general welfare law to be credited to basic civil legal services to the indigent.  The bill will also increase the amount per biennium that may be transferred to the judicial fund from these actions to $50 million.

This legislation is urgently needed to assist lower income families and address the current funding shortfall. I am excited about the help that this legislation will provide and the prospect of "leveling the playing field" so that everyone in the Great State of Texas has the same access to legal representation. More information on this legislation can be found here.

Assistance for Former Inmates

There are many barriers facing former inmates when seeking vocational licenses, entrepreneurship, and employment upon re-entry into their communities. There are few programs available to assist these former inmates in returning to society after serving their sentence. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program is a prime example of how these programs can successfully train inmates on how to make the transition from an inmate to a valued member of the business community. To further this cause, I have introduced House Bills 799, 797 and 1188 which will work to better inform inmates of challenges they will face upon the completion of their sentence, and help to increase inmates' employment opportunities by reducing employers' liability for hiring former inmates. You can find more information on this issue and my proposed legislation here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Funding for Medicaid!

House Bill 10 was passed out of the house appropriations committee by a unanimous vote. The bill provides for the emergency supplemental appropriations to the Health and Human Services  Commission and the Department of Aging and Disability Services for providing acute and long-term services, respectively,  under Medicaid. It also provides for the emergency supplemental appropriation of funds to the Health and Human Services Commission for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The bill will utilize funds from the General Revenue Fund, the General Revenue account for Tobacco Settlement, and anticipated Federal Funds.

House Bill 10 restores funding that was reduced by the budget cuts that occurred during the 82nd legislative session. Those cuts left Medicaid underfunded and it is important that we pass legislation to fully fund this vital program. I encourage you to follow this bill as it progresses through the legislative process.     

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Black History Month!

In recognition of Black History Month I would like to acknowledge the great history of this celebration. Black History Month was originally celebrated as Negro History Week and recognized during the second week of February. This week was chosen because both the birthdays of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, two very important figures who helped shape the history of African-Americans, fall during that week. Dr. Carter G. Woodson is credited with initiating the celebration of Negro History Week in 1926.  It was celebrated until 1976 when it was expanded from a week to a month and became recognized as Black History Month.

Politically, Black History Month marks the month when the first black U.S. Senator, Hiram R. Revels, took his oath of office. Also, the 15th Amendment was passed on February 3, 1870 giving African-Americans the right to vote.

In 1973, I became a founding member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. The driving purpose of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus is to address the issues that African-Americans face throughout the State of Texas. Myself, along with the other 16 current members of the Caucus, are dedicated to this purpose and it is in this spirit that we collectively recognize and celebrate this month.   

African-Americans like Senator Revels, Dr. Woodson, Fredrick Douglas and many others struggled and fought against discrimination to make it possible for me to become an elected official and go on to become the longest serving African-American in the Texas Legislature. I am forever grateful for the sacrifice of those who came before me and I am proud to honor their legacy through the celebration of Black History Month.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Welcome to the 83rd Legislative Session!

I would like to welcome everyone to the 83rd Legislative session. I hope everyone had a memorable holiday season and a happy New Year. The session is well underway and I am looking forward to having meaningful dialogue over some very important issues that are currently affecting the State of Texas. Some notable issues this session include the state budget, education, school finance, Medicaid, and  water.  

The budget discussion will include the funding of programs that were defunded or underfunded in the last legislative session. For example, funding for Medicaid was reduced during the 82nd session and there will be a spirited debate this session as to if and when Medicaid will be fully funded. The same is true for school finance, which experienced a similar funding reduction in the 2011 session. There was a recent court finding that the Texas school finance plan is unconstitutional. The ruling can be found here. Also, there is growing debate over whether funds should be allocated from the general fund to build and improve water infrastructure. These and other issues will receive a great amount of attention during this legislative session and I invite you to become engaged in this process.          

Additionally, Speaker Joe Straus has announced committee assignments. More information on the house committee assignments can be found here.

I will once again be serving as Chair of the Local and Consent Calendars committee. I will also be serving as a member of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee, the Licensing and Administrative Procedures committee, and the Redistricting committee. I am excited about this legislative session and  I look forward to serving the people of the great State of Texas.