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January 27th, 2011:

If you thought voter ID was bad…

Wait till you see what comes next.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has made national headlines for his “birther” bill that would require a candidate for president or vice president of the U.S. to show proof of natural-born citizenship to be placed on the ballot in Texas. He has also filed proposed legislation designed to provoke a legal challenge to the 14th Amendment, which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the U.S., regardless of the status of the child’s parents. House Bill 292, if passed, would prevent a county’s local registrar from issuing a birth certificate to a child born to undocumented immigrants in Texas.

“Instead, they will be given a notice of birth, with instructions to take it to their own consulate or embassy to get citizenship papers or a birth certificate from the country of their parents,” Berman said, explaining his bill. “If it passes, we expect to be sued immediately, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for — we want to be sued in federal court so that federal judges will finally read the 14th Amendment.” After that, he said, it’ll only be a matter of time before the federal government realizes the amendment was ratified in 1868 only for those children born in the U.S. to black slaves.

Berman has also authored a bill — HB 294 — that would ban undocumented immigrants from suing legal Texans. They could not seek “equitable relief as a counter claimant or a cross claimant,” according to the legislation.

“If you have an accident with a car driven by an illegal alien, you are going to pay for your own car. But if you hit them, they are going to get an attorney, an abogado, and they are going to try and sue you for everything you’re worth,” he said. “I have asked several lawyers, and they said it is constitutional.”

[…]

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has drawn the ire of Hispanic Democrats, educators and others for her proposed legislation — HB 22 — that would mandate that public schools keep track of the immigration status of students by requiring that they submit a copy of their birth certificates or other documents indicating their residency status “for inspection” by school officials at the time of enrollment. The bill also requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to submit information on the number of students enrolled in bilingual education or special language programs, and to “identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education provided to students who are citizens that may occur as a result.”

Critics have argued the requirement would be an unfunded mandate — the bête noire of conservative lawmakers opposed to many federal mandates — and that preventing the education of any child in Texas is inherently unconstitutional.

[…]

HB 21, also filed by Riddle, would require that state agencies report the costs of providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. Local governmental entities that receive state grants would also be required to submit that information to the grant provider.

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation that targets legal aliens who are requesting indigent care. HB 655, if passed, would offer counties the option of adopting a policy that would consider the income of a legal alien’s sponsor if that alien applied for indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support. The sponsor’s spouse’s income could also be included in the determination of an alien’s eligibility for indigent care.

Boy, sure is a good thing Aaron Pena became a Republican so he could be a “moderating influence” on these guys. I just know they can’t wait to be persuaded by his unassailable logic.

Still more on magnet schools

So what do we know about HISD’s magnet schools and that consultant’s report that recommended some hefty changes to them? Well, other than the consultants themselves, no one likes the report very much.

The message was clear at Lamar High School [Tuesday] night: remove the magnet designation from high performing schools in the district and Houston ISD will not only be destroying dreams and futures, but it will lose a lot of money as its best and brightest go elsewhere.

Trustee Harvin Moore, whose district includes Lamar and who has a child in a magnet school program, didn’t seem inclined to disagree.

“The board of education seemed rather frustrated by the contents of the report. I think it didn’t stand up that well, frankly,” he told the crowd that filled the auditorium. “Many of my colleagues are inclined to think there is very little in that report that we will support.”

Similar meetings were held in each of HISD’s trustee districts last night. At Lee, HISD Human Resources Director Ann Best made a brief presentation of the Magnet Schools of America recommendations — which call for removing the magnet designation from 53 of the district’s 133 magnet schools and the millions of dollars in funding along with it — stressing that in no way were the proposals board policy.

In fact, the evening seemed to be one of stepping away from the report, which cost the district $260,000. If so, that would make those in attendance very happy.

But HISD still believes that something must be done about the existing program.

[HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier and board members have said repeatedly they don’t want to dismantle the magnet program and have distanced themselves from some recommendations in the report.

But these officials also have noted discrepancies in the funding and academic performance among magnet campuses.

“It’s not going to be, ‘We get to keep ours because it’s excellent,’ ‘We get to keep ours because we have poor kids,’ ‘We get to keep ours because it’s the only one that does this or does that,’” said HISD board president Paula Harris, speaking to about 400 people at Sterling High School. “There actually have to be some parameters around it.”

Brainstorming aloud, Harris suggested such parameters could include preserving only those magnets with exceptional academics and a fifth or more of their students enrolled in the school’s magnet program, among other criteria.

May I suggest creating a task force with parents, teachers, principals, a couple of school board members, and an outside expert or two to come up with the next round of recommendations, instead of hiring more consultants to produce a report that wasn’t worth the time to read? I agree that there needs to be some criteria or benchmarks that magnets need to meet, and that we should strive to protect and hopefully try to replicate the successful ones. I still think there’s some merit to the idea of creating more magnet schools, perhaps by combining a few programs from various schools, but I have no empirical evidence for this, just my own opinion. It’s clear that everyone believes that the magnet programs are beneficial to HISD in many ways and should be supported, and I certainly agree with that. From reading these stories, though, it seems to me we also need to ensure that neighborhood schools are as good as they can be as well. Not everyone wants to specialize, and it’s probably better if fewer students are traveling across town to go to school. Having magnet programs that will attract students is great, but having schools that will attract them is better. See this op-ed by the HISD Parent Visionaries group for more.

Ames Jones jumps in, Williams to follow

I don’t really think Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones has much of a chance in the race to replace KBH in the Senate. She was a fairly nondescript State Rep who got appointed to the RRC by Rick Perry then won a full term in the low-turnout 2006 election, and off the top of my head I have no idea what besides that she can claim as accomplishments. But I will give her props for this.

She said she would not resign her seat on the Railroad Commission to pursue the Senate seat, although she does not plan to seek re-election. Her term is up in 2012. Michael Williams, her fellow commissioner and a likely candidate for the Senate himself, has said he will resign from the commission April 2.

“I would never leave my post,” Jones said.

At least it’s a way to differentiate herself from the other Railroad Commish that’s seeking a promotion. And it’s one less appointment Perry gets to make, assuming the RRC doesn’t get reconstituted between now and then. There’s also the fact that she’s campaigning on a promise to do absolutely nothing constructive if elected, which is almost refreshing in a nihilistic sort of way. It might help explain why I can’t think of anything she’s done while in office, anyway. Big Jolly has more.

As for Williams, now that he’s fixing to have a lot of free time on his hands, he’s ready to jump in as well. Boy, two Railroad Commissioners in the same race – can you feel the excitement?

More on mental health

Stephen Schnee, the executive director of MHMRA of Harris County, and Octavio N. Martinez, Jr, the executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and a clinical professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, make the case again for not cutting mental health services in the state budget.

The Houston-based nonprofit organization Children At Risk found that in 2009, an estimated 229,055 kids in Harris County had a diagnosable mental illness. MHMRA of Harris County serves an average of 2,490 kids per month, just a small fraction of those who desperately need treatment. Houston’s mental health system is already stretched to its limits – it can take weeks for kids to receive noncrisis services, exacerbating their symptoms and creating a need for even more intense treatment and services. If devastating budget cuts come to fruition, this will further restrict access to care. See this KTRK story for more.

Texas ranks 49th in mental health expenditures per capita – how much worse can it get? We are already almost at rock bottom. If lawmakers cut funding for public mental health services, some children and families will have no place to go for care that shouldn’t be considered optional. Is this really the best we have to offer our kids? And if it is, what message are we sending to the future leaders of Texas?

That message would be “Dan Patrick’s property taxes are more important than you”. Any questions?

If we deny children appropriate mental health care now, we’ll just pay a higher cost in the future. Left untreated, kids with emotional disturbances are more likely to drop out of school – a 2008 national study found that in 2005-06, only 43 percent of kids with a mental illness graduated from high school. Children At Risk reports that high school dropouts cost Texans a huge amount in the long run – an estimated loss of up to $9.6 billion per cohort. Additionally, high school dropouts contribute to higher rates of crime, incarceration and use of welfare and social services. Given these statistics, it makes sound fiscal sense to provide adequate mental health care for youth at an early age, or else taxpayers will just pick up a much bigger tab in the future.

[…]

This is an issue where everyone can agree. Hospital districts, community leaders, advocates, sheriffs and police chiefs across Texas believe that any cutback in funding for mental health will likely result in increased traffic to hospital emergency rooms, juvenile justice facilities and jails, and that equals increased costs for government and taxpayers. Underfunding mental health services simply shifts the cost to other agencies and to local government authorities, whose budgets are already inadequate.

It’s estimated that 52 percent of youth in the Harris County juvenile justice system have at least one mental health condition. The Texas Public Policy Foundation found that youth who become career criminals cost taxpayers and victims an estimated $2 million during their lifetimes. Community-based services for youth with mental illness like those provided by MHMRA are far less expensive, and in most cases, far more effective.

Sure, this is an issue on which everyone should agree, but let’s be real. The same TPPF that recognizes the cost of skimping on early intervention is one of the leading voices right now arguing that we don’t have a budget shortfall, we just need to adjust the level of services we’re providing to the amount of revenue we have and ignore all that wailing and gnashing of teeth about the effect that would have. They don’t even agree with themselves. Good luck getting anyone in their thrall to agree with you.

Dynamo Stadium groundbreaking delayed

Groundbreaking for Dynamo Stadium was originally scheduled for this Saturday the 29th, but due to a delay with City Council it has been put off till next week.

Because the city council has not yet voted on the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) that is part of the inter-local agreement between the county and city, the Dynamo’s owners weren’t comfortable proceeding with the ceremony even though councilman Mike Sullivan and other city officials were confident that everything will be approved.

“This date was a moving target from the day we penciled it into the calendar,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “We anticipated the possibility that it would change. We were pushing the envelope a little bit with this timeline, but we are not far off.

“We’ll set another date in the next few days. This does not have any impact on our construction timeline and planned opening of April 2012.”

Commissioner’s Court unanimously approved the TIRZ during Tuesday’s meeting, but the Dynamo were hesitant to proceed because the TIRZ issue wasn’t added to the City Council’s agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. The issue had to be placed on the agenda by last Saturday for this week’s meeting, but it will be placed on next week’s agenda.

Look for it to happen next Saturday, the 5th. Assuming the item makes it onto Council’s agenda and doesn’t get tagged, of course.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates the Packers and the Steelers as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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