AUSTIN - Is there anything that can be done before Texas gets hit with a market-driven wave of home foreclosures like Florida, California, Nevada and other states? Maybe so, if state lawmakers approve.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Oct. 23 proposed the Texas Foreclosure Deferment Act, legislation to help Texas homeowners stay in their homes.
Under Abbott’s proposed act, a mortgage loan servicer would be required to provide a homeowner with a certified letter stating that the debtor has 45 days to cure a loan default before a notice of sale.
Current state law only provides homeowners a 20-day window to cure a default, Abbott said.
“Today’s proposal ensures that struggling homeowners have more time to cure mortgage loan defaults and save their homes,” Abbott said.
The Texas Legislature will convene Jan. 13, 2009. Early filing of legislation will begin Nov. 13.
Abbott’s idea, expressed Oct. 23, fell between two messages from Gov. Rick Perry, one suggesting action to prepare for hard times and the other touting how well Texas is positioned, compared with other states.
At a function in Dallas Oct. 21, Perry said, “As Texans face the impact of Hurricane Ike and prepare for effects of the national financial downturn, Texas businesses and families are tightening their belts and exercising greater financial discipline.
“State government should act no different,” Perry said. “We have made tough choices over the years that have earned Texas the economic strength it enjoys today; and we must continue to follow these principles if we hope to weather these storms.”
Three days later, on Oct. 24, Perry sent out an “In Case You Missed It” new release, quoting an Oct. 9 survey published by the Financial Times of London, asserting that Texas is the best state to live and do business in with harder economic times on the way.
Phones seized in prison sweep
The problem of cell phones smuggled in to the Texas prison system was the subject of an Oct. 21 interim meeting of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.
State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the committee, said that during the preceding weeks he received many calls from death row inmate Richard Lee Tabler via an illegal cell phone.
Whitmire’s complaint about those calls led to a lockdown and contraband search throughout the 111-unit prison system. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice found and confiscated 22 cell phones in the possession of death row inmates alone. It was learned that at least nine other death row inmates had used Tabler’s cell phone to make more than 2,800 calls over the past month.
Whitmire spoke of his concern for the safety of judges, jurors, attorneys and witnesses involved in the trials of death row inmates and for public safety in general.
Among suggestions officials made at the meeting:
- Jam cell phone signals
- Use dogs trained to detect contraband
- Make pat-down searches mandatory
- Install metal detectors and surveillance cameras
- Increase pay for guards to make them less susceptible to bribery by inmates.
Austin joins ban-box movement
The criminal history box on city of Austin employment application forms is going to be a thing of the past.
Austin City Council voted to remove the box that asks applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
“Ban the Box” is a movement that began in California five years ago. The idea was to help make re-entry into society easier for former prison inmates.
Even without the box, officials said the city will continue conducting criminal background checks on applicants. Travis County passed a similar measure earlier this year.
Money to help in clean air effort
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has given the Texas Railroad Commission another $12 million in grant money to help fleet operators in 34 counties replace their old forklifts, school buses and medium-duty trucks with low emissions equipment fueled with propane gas. This is the second $12 million infusion for the purpose.
Early voting higher than in 2004
More than 1 million Texans had cast ballots halfway into the 10-day early voting period that began Oct. 20. In the 2004 general election, about 650,000 Texans voted early, over the whole 10-day period.