AUSTIN — Two of the Texas Legislature’s toughest jobs, the passing of a state budget and the redrawing of district boundaries, remain front and center in the House and Senate.
On April 1, the House passed HB 1, the state budget for fiscal years 2012-2013, and now the Senate is inching toward debate on SB 1, its own version of the budget. The Senate version, although not yet passed out of the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to be kinder and gentler than the House version which features unprecedented cutbacks in health, education and a long list of other programs. Both bodies must agree on a final, balanced budget.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he intended for his committee to take a vote on SB 1 before Easter weekend.
Redistricting tasks under way
On Friday, April 15, the House passed SB 600, the redistricting bill for the 15-seat State Board of Education, and on Sunday, April 17, the House Committee on Redistricting, under Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, accepted testimony on SB 150, redrawing House districts.
A number of House members, citizens and action groups spoke against the bill, raising issues over proposed new lines. HB 150 and other redistricting bills to be considered this session are subject to challenge under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and related court decisions that prescribe compact and contiguous districts that do not dilute minorities’ voting power.
Data exposure prompts action
The Office of the State Comptroller on April 11 announced Texans whose personal information was inadvertently disclosed on an agency Internet server that was accessible to the public will receive a letter about it in the mail, with instructions.
Records of about 3.5 million people were placed on the server with personally identifying information. Although there was no indication that any personal information had been misused after it was exposed, the Comptroller’s office on April 15 said the agency arranged for a 70 percent discount on one year of credit monitoring to notify affected individuals if their information is misused.
Comptroller Susan Combs directed affected persons to visit www.TXsafeguard.org to obtain a promotion code entitling them to the discount.
Another option, Combs said, is activation of a free 90-day fraud alert that lets potential creditors and others know that you may be a victim of identity theft. A fraud alert and can make it more difficult for an unauthorized person to obtain credit in an affected individual’s name. A fraud alert can be established by contacting one of three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax or TransUnion – which will then notify the other two.
On April 15, Combs said the heads of her agency’s Innovation and Technology and Information Security divisions were no longer employed by her office and two other employees were let go after the data exposure was discovered.
Bill seeks to combine agencies
The Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission would be combined into a new single agency called the Texas Juvenile Justice Department under sunset legislation approved by the Senate on April 13.
The new agency would focus on probation, treatment and counseling for offenders in their home community, rather than institutionalizing them at a remote facility.
If finally passed, officials said the legislation would result in a drop in population at current TYC facilities, so the bill also provides for small counties to obtain ownership of unused state facilities now under TYC control.
Senate passes ‘sexting’ bill
Prosecutors currently charge youths caught sending sexually explicit text messages under felony child pornography laws.
The Senate voted April 14 to change the law to a misdemeanor offense under a bill by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
Also under Watson’s bill, minors caught receiving such messages would not be subject to prosecution if they tell authorities or delete the images without transmitting them again within 48 hours.
Firefighting aid is requested
Gov. Rick Perry on April 16 wrote to President Obama seeking federal assistance in the form of a major disaster declaration for our drought-stricken state to step up efforts to control widespread wildfires.
Wind-whipped blazes recently have destroyed homes and businesses, killed or hurt livestock and damaged an estimated 1.5 million acres of rangeland and cropland.