March 2, 2007
Texas 98, A&M 96, double over-time. Some will say that’s the big news of the week. Not bad.But in the Capitol, the big news happened earlier on that night, when the Senate unanimously demanded new management at the Texas Youth Commission – an agency we find so thoroughly mismanaged that there’s a need to take it down.Reports detail repeated allegations of child abuse and determined efforts to ignore them or even cover them up. These allegations involved children who entered the state’s criminal justice system and were entrusted to the Texas Youth Commission for rehabilitation. Instead, it appears, they suffered abuse that can only be described as evil.So, after having adjourned for the week, the Senate reconvened after many senators had expected to be heading back to their districts. We passed a resolution asking that the leadership appoint a conservator to take over the commission, dismantle its bureaucracy from top to bottom, and rebuild it.A number of people noted that the resolution, and the speed with which we approved it, is unusual. But none of that begins to compare to the enormity of the crisis facing the Texas Youth Commission and the children in its care. In a session that’s already seen remarkable debate about the true meaning of the word, “emergency,” this was an easy call.
That wasn’t the only news this week. On Thursday, Senator John Carona, Chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, called a public hearing with a rather significant agenda: the Trans-Texas Corridor, toll roads, and development agreements that let private companies build and operate our state’s road infrastructure.To make a fascinating meeting a little more interesting, Senator Steve Ogden, who chairs the Finance Committee, declared earlier in the week that the Texas Department of Transportation “is out of control.” That’s the Senate’s chief budget-writer, folks, talking about an agency that’s supposed to exist through the state’s budget.The meeting was well-attended and, I think, very productive. There is a great deal of frustration out there in the real world. It’s not a matter of tolls at this point. It’s a matter of trust. All of us simply want to know that we’re getting a good return on our money.You can read my transportation updates at www.kirkwatson.com. I’ve launched a new feature called Mile Markers, where I’m posting emails I send to constituents who’ve written to me on transportation issues. Being Vice-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, I thought it might be helpful to provide more frequent updates on state and regional transportation issues. I hope you’ll go to the link and use this resource.I posted recent updates on:
Finally, I want you all to know about SB 837, a bill I filed last week with Representative Mark Strama. We’re calling it the Prevention First bill.My hope is that it will take the battle over unintended pregnancies – an issue that defines bitter, all-or-nothing fights – and create consensus around things we can all agree on.I believe the surest way to prevent termination of a pregnancy is to prevent the pregnancy.Sadly, Texas leads the nation in teen birthrates. More than half of all births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid.The bill would focus on the women and families at the center of this debate, not the warriors on both sides. It would require the state to truly get behind a marketing campaign to reduce unintended pregnancies and transmissions of sexually transmitted diseases. It also would require more exact teaching about contraceptive use, while also mandating that parents know far more about what and when their kids are being taught about sex.The bill would help avoid wrenching debate and decisions before they happen by preventing unwanted pregnancies, and it would save the state millions. It costs Texas only about $170 to provide a year of contraception (including a pap smear). But it costs about $8,500 for the first year of a Medicaid-funded pregnancy.Texans hunger for something to rally around, an initiative that effectively addresses a challenge that we all share and saves Texas money. That initiative is SB 837, and I’m glad to be its author.