The Sandra Bland Act Press Conference, UT Cancels Houston plans, and more

The Sandra Bland Act Press Conference

Yesterday I filed House Bill 2702, otherwise known as the Sandra Bland Act, which aims to improve and correct Texas’ criminal justice system to make it better for all and prevent future tragedies like the unnecessary death of Sandra Bland.

Thank you to all my colleagues for participating in the filing of the Sandra Bland Act yesterday. All of these members have experienced an exchange with law enforcement that shouldn’t have been unpleasant, but was.

Representative Rafael Alonzo
Representative Yvonne Davis
Representative Dawnna Dukes

Representative Helen Giddings 
Representative Victoria Neave
Representative Ron Reynolds
Representative Toni Rose
Representative Shawn Thierry
Representative Tomas Uresti

Thank you to all the speakers for coming out in support of the Sandra Bland Act yesterday:

Michelle Dietch, Professor at UT LBJ School of Public Affairs
Greg Hansch, Public Policy Director for NAMI Texas
Chas Moore, Founder and President  of Austin Justice Coalition
Ashton Woods, Founder of Black Lives Matter Houston
Dominique Alexander, President and Founder of Next Generation Action Network
Kathy Mitchell, Campaign Coordinator for Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
Robert Williams, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats

Click here to view the whole press conference.

Click here to view the press statement regarding the Sandra Bland Act.

Click here to view the full text of House Bill 2702, otherwise known as the Sandra Bland Act.


University of Texas Cancels Plans to Expand 

This past week, the University of Texas System canceled its controversial development of a new 300-acre campus in the Houston area. I am pleased that Chancellor Bill McRaven took the views of  Houston lawmakers and their constituents into consideration. The City of Houston welcomes all institutions of higher education, but it is important that local and legislative support are garnered before projects are planned. You can read my response to the initial announcement from November 2015 here. I have been working to elevate the University of Houston to Tier 1 status, secure more funding and capital projects for Texas Southern University, and get equalization grants for St. Thomas University for 25 years. I will continue to work to further the successes of the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and St. Thomas University.


Overhauling Texas’ CPS System to Keep Children Safe

This week, House members passed House Bill 4, authored by Representative Cindy Burkett, which allows monthly payments for relatives caring for children in their families who have been abused. Millions of children are removed from their homes and placed with their grandparents or other relatives because their parents cannot care for them. The majority of Texas children removed from unsafe homes are placed with relative caregivers, who are expected to take custody of children with little to no financial support. This type of relative care, known as kinship care, improves the stability of displaced children by keeping them closer to their extended families, neighborhoods, and their schools. Providing financial assistance to kinship caregivers has been shown to increase permanent placements for children, particularly older children, who often age out of the foster care system.

I am pleased to see that the Legislature is making strides in an area of family care that I have been working on since I came to the Capitol in 1991. In 2007, I passed Rider 31 to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) portion of the Appropriations bill, which directed the department to maximize federal funding for kinship guardianship programs. In 2009, I attached Rider 32 to the DFPS portion of the Appropriations to do the same and laid out a resolution – HCR 160 – that directed the Health and Human Services Commission to seek all federal funds available to provide support to these kinship caregivers, whose biggest barriers are financial ones. Kinship caregivers who are willing to take permanent custody of children who would otherwise be in the foster system deserve the same level of financial supportive service available to non-kin who adopt from foster care.

This week, House members also passed House Bill 5, authored by Representative James Frank, which makes CPS a standalone agency that reports directly to the governor to more reliably track children in the system. Speaker Straus made the overhaul of CPS a priority, and these two bills are the first of many that will keep vulnerable Texas children safe and in loving homes. I will continue to keep you updated on this important issues as session progresses.


Leveling the Playing Field: Education is the Great Equalizer 

Last week the House Committee on County Affairs, that I chair, hosted a briefing on the rapidly changing demographics in Texas given by Texas’ first State Demographer, Dr. Steve Murdock.Dr. Murdock’s data shows education is the single best predictor of socio-economic progress and has been for decades. Education is the great equalizer, and it is up to the Texas Legislature to ensure that all our children have an opportunity to succeed. Public education begins with prekindergarten, which is why I have filed House Bill 1845 to expand access to free prekindergarten programs in public schools. Click here to view House Bill 1845.

The goal of our public education system is to provide every Texas child with a quality education. But, that is not happening because we are not adequately funding our public school system. Adequately funding our schools is key to a better education for our children.

Public schools also need to be able to give students the right tools and facilities to help them succeed. Texas is the second fastest growing state, but our schools are unable to keep up. Additional funding is needed to provide our students with the classrooms and technology to prepare them to compete.

Texas should focus on improving our public education system ─ not draining its funding into private schools. Vouchers and ESAs would only cover a fraction of the cost at our best private schools. Meaning, such a program in practice only subsidies the costs of private schools for those who can already afford it. Additionally, private school would not be an option for many Texas children including those in rural areas, underserved communities, or with special needs. Texas deserves an education system that provides all of its children with a high-quality education ─ not just a lucky few.

Access to a quality public education begins with prekindergarten and extends to institutions of higher learning. College graduates are more likely to have jobs and earn higher wages than those who do not attend college. It is time that elected officials take back the responsibility for controlling college tuition and expand educational opportunities for Texas students, instead of pricing them out. The Legislature must also ensure there is a clear path from community colleges to four year universities. The Legislature also needs to properly fund these institutions to provide them with the resources they need to ensure student success.

I am committed to improving the quality and affordability of education for the people of Texas. I will continue to keep you updated on this important issue as session progresses.


The song of the week is “Freedom” by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.


 

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