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College Interns at State Capitol

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

When he was still starring in movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger said that when he felt the time was right, he would leave his film career behind and consider public service.

“I feel that the highest honor comes from serving people and your country,” Schwarzenegger said.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s words resonate with me.  On November 20, 2004, when I was sworn in as Governor of Texas for a Day, I said in my inaugural address that next to the healing arts and the ministry, I believe that there is no higher calling in our country than public service.  I hope that a host of young Texans agree with me, because the future of our great state rests in their hands.

Texas college students as well as recent college graduates who are interested in holding public office may want to consider applying for one of the programs that places students in Texas state senators’ and representatives’ offices.

The Senator Gregory Luna Legislative Scholars and Fellows Program, for example, offers participants the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and exposure to state government as full-time legislative aides in the Texas State Capitol.

Each participant is assigned to a state senator’s office or to the lieutenant governor’s office where they perform a variety of legislative tasks, such as tracking bills, policy research, monitoring committee hearings, preparing floor packets and attending legislative meetings.

In addition to the work experience, participants will meet with local and state leaders for weekly sessions about leadership and policies that shape communities.  Fellows and scholars receive monthly stipends to assist with living expenses.

Applicants must be at least 21 years of age by January 5, 2011.  Scholars applicants must be enrolled in an accredited educational institution with at least 60 semester hours completed.  Fellows must be graduate students enrolled in an accredited educational institution.  Recent graduates, May 2010 or later, also may apply.

Program participants are considered full-time staff within their assigned offices.  Responsibilities may vary from office to office, but students should expect to work more than a 40-hour week during the legislative session.

The application deadline is October 29, 2010.  Application information may be found on the Senate Hispanic Research Council Web site: www.tshrc.org.  The program is named for the late Senator Gregory Luna, who served in the Texas Legislature from 1985 to 1998 and was a strong advocate for education.

Another opportunity for students is the Texas Legislative Intern Program (TLIP) which places students in both senators’ and representatives’ offices as interns.  TLIP provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students attending Texas colleges and universities to serve as interns in the Texas Legislature.  More information about this program may be found on TLIP sponsor Senator Rodney Ellis’ Web site: www.rodneyellis.com.  Click on “Apply to Texas Legislative Intern Program.”

Programs such as TLIP and Luna Scholars and Fellows afford students the opportunity to experience public service firsthand.  Once they do, I hope they will agree with me and the California governor that public service is a high honor.

High School Juniors: Wanna Be An Astronaut?

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

It is again time to invite Texas high school juniors to apply for the High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program.

HAS is one part of Texas Aerospace Scholars (TAS), which consists of programs developed for middle school teachers, high school juniors and community college students.

Texas state legislators nominate high school juniors to participate in the program.  Students who are selected spend time stargazing, chatting online with aeronautical engineers and being briefed by astronauts.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched this year’s HAS program, which offers high school juniors the opportunity to utilize their math and science skills while completing Web-based assignments during the school year.  During the summer, the selected students will travel to Houston where they will work with space center engineers and scientists.

This is the program’s 12th year, and I am pleased that each year students from high schools in Senate District 25 have participated in the Web-based program and traveled to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston for the six-day residential experience.  There, they work with engineers and scientists, tour the facilities and participate in hands-on engineering projects and activities.

High schools, both public and private, have been notified about the

program.  Home-schooled students also are eligible to participate.

This year, the deadline for applying is November 15.  I encourage high school juniors who are interested in participating in the 2010-2011 program to learn more about it at http://aerospacescholars.jsc.nasa.gov/.  Students may also learn more by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (281) 483-4112.  Applications may be completed online and submitted directly to JSC.

Students must be United States citizens, Texas residents and currently juniors in high school.  They should have an interest in science, math or engineering and be able to commit to a relationship with the Johnson Space Center, including a one-week residential experience in the summer.  To qualify, students must have access to the Internet and to email either at home, school or in a public library.

HAS is available to students at no cost.  The six-day residential summer experience at JSC, lodging, meals and transportation to and from JSC are all free to students.  The program is funded through a combination of federal, state and private-sector funding.

Since its inception in 1999, more than 9,100 Texas residents, including community college students and public school teachers, have participated in TAS.  Legislators have nominated more than 6,000 students for HAS.  Although students are nominated by their state legislators, their applications are sent directly to JSC.

State legislators have the option either to rank the nominees or return them to NASA unranked.  Students who successfully complete the program may receive a science elective toward graduation as approved by the Texas Education Agency.

The HAS program is a great opportunity for students who are considering careers in science, technology, engineering, math and space exploration to work with men and women who are planning a human mission to Mars.

Fallout from National Economic Downturn Reaching into Texas

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

Texas has fared better than most states during the national economic downturn; however, Texas has not gone unscathed as those who have lost their jobs will tell you.

The national economy’s continued stay in the doldrums has impacted Texas’ revenue sources.  As a result, the Texas Legislature will face some tough budget choices when it convenes in January 2011.

In Fiscal Year 2009, tax collections, including franchise, sales, tobacco, alcohol, motor fuels, oil and gas production, hotel and others, accounted for 45 percent of the state’s total revenue or almost $38 billion.

With the exceptions of tobacco, alcohol and utility taxes, the percentage of revenue from all other taxes was down more than eight percent when compared to Fiscal Year 2008.

Sales tax revenue, for example, was down almost three percent, while motor vehicle sales and rental taxes were off 22 percent.  Oil production taxes were 38 percent lower in 2009 than they were in 2008.  Natural gas production taxes were down 47 percent for the same period.

Other revenue sources, such as licenses, lottery, fees, permits, fines, interest, investments, contributions to employee benefits and land income, were down.  Interest income, for example, was off 41 percent.

The lottery generated $1.5 billion in total income, slightly less than in 2008.  Many of you have contacted me and asked, “If the lottery was supposed to be for public education, where is that money going?”

Texas Lottery profits have been dedicated to public education since 1997, as the result of a bill I co-authored with Senator Jane Nelson.  Prior to 1997, the profits were placed in the General Revenue Fund.  The bill I co-authored required 100 percent of the lottery’s net profits to be placed exclusively in the Foundation School Fund, which is used for school districts’ public education services at the local level.

Devoting lottery profits to public education is what I believe Texans wanted when they approved the lottery; however, the profits fund only about one percent of the amount budgeted each biennium for public education.

Federal money is the second largest source of income for the state.  Texas received $14 billion in federal stimulus money for budget year 2009-2010.  As a result, revenue from the federal government was up 17 percent in 2009, compared to 2008, accounting for 36 percent or almost $31 billion for Fiscal Year 2009.   Even with the increase in federal money, the revenue from licenses and fees, lottery, interest and investment income and a few other sources totaled $46 billion in Fiscal Year 2009, which is almost two percent less than in 2008.

All sources of revenue for Fiscal Year 2009 totaled $84 billion, which was three percent less than in 2008.  To ensure that Texas is debt free, as required by the Texas Constitution, state agencies cut their budgets five percent and agencies’ administrators have been told to make even deeper budget cuts when calculating their 2011-2012 budgets.

Make no mistake.  Unless the national economy starts recovering pretty quickly, balancing Texas’ 2011-2012 budget will require the skill of a tightrope walker.

Looking For A Good Day Care Center?

Written by Jeff Wentworth - State Senator, District 25 on .

“Don’t be in the Dark” about child care is both good advice to parents and the name of a television and radio campaign to enlighten parents about regulated day care.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) teamed up with the Texas Association of Broadcasters in this year-long campaign both to urge parents to choose regulated day care and to help them in their search for licensed and regulated child care facilities.

Unregulated child care may be less expensive and more convenient, but it is not worth the risk.  According to the Committee on Licensing Standards’ report to the Texas Legislature last year, 58 children died in illegal home-based day care settings from 2004-2008.

Before choosing a day care facility, parents should do their homework.  Information about state licensed and regulated day care facilities is available on the Internet at: http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Care/.  Scroll down to the “Search Child Care” link.

The Web site with its multiple links to child care information and services will help parents in their search for state-licensed centers that are inspected regularly for such things as fire safety compliance and sanitation.  A state license also means that the facility has the required number of child care staff and prohibits anyone who has been convicted of certain crimes from coming into contact with children.

Parents may use the Web site to locate nearby day care facilities without spending time looking through phone books or driving around neighborhoods.  They also may limit their search by typing in the type of care, center-based or home-based, and entering the age of the child and the programs they need.  The Web site will help parents eliminate day care facilities that do not meet their needs or those of their child.

By typing in the name of a day care facility, parents may read the results of a center’s inspection and learn whether there were any violations and if they have been corrected.  There also is a list of day care facilities with licenses that have been suspended or revoked within the last two years.

A copy of the state’s minimum standards should be available at any licensed day care center.  You may check the DFPS Web site for this information or call the Child Care Information Hot Line toll-free at (800) 862-5252.

Compliance with minimum standards does not, however, guarantee high quality care for your child.  While the DFPS Web site is extremely useful for locating state licensed and regulated day care facilities, a Web site cannot take the place of firsthand knowledge.  Parents should make more than one personal visit to a day care center, giving themselves enough time to meet the director and the staff, watch the staff interact with the children and inspect the facilities.

Personal visits throughout the year will help ensure that the center is providing care second only to that given by loving parents.

Help for Texans Seeking Employment - Wentworth

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

Although a good number of Texans are unemployed as Labor Day approaches, Texas still remains in a better position for employment than most other states.

Texas’ unemployment rate of 8.2 percent is lower than the United States’ rate of 9.5 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).  While the state has added a total of 168,000 jobs since January, that represents a net gain of right at 4,600 new jobs, as various public entities, such as school districts and community colleges, have cut payroll when confronted with shrinking budgets.

To help put Texans back to work, during last year’s legislative session the Legislature appropriated $15 million for the Texas Back to Work program, which provides financial incentives to help employers hire unemployed Texans.  Texas Back to Work offers employers a wage subsidy of up to $2,000 for hiring qualified, out-of-work Texans.

Some employers may receive a portion of the employee’s wages for a set period of time.  Helping employers with on-the-job training, retention bonuses and wage reimbursement will result in more opportunities for unemployed Texans.

Employers who are interested in the Texas Back to Work program should contact the local workforce development board in their area.  These numbers may be found on the TWC Web site at http://www.twc.state.tx.us.  Click on “Texas Back to Work” and then on “Local Contact Information.”

An older, and still much used, Web site of interest to employers and those seeking jobs is www.workintexas.com.  This Web site, which is hosted by TWC, matches employers with job seekers.

Employers using the site may enter the specific skills they need to fill jobs.

A click of the mouse nets them names of the most promising candidates and their contact information.  If a job applicant includes an email address, an employer may set up an immediate interview.

Job seekers may enter their skills and then run a custom job search.  They also may select any job category and search through available jobs without submitting an online application.

The free job matching service is open to everyone -- from professionals desiring to advance their careers to the currently unemployed.

Job categories include scientific, technical, computer, professional, managerial, sales, clerical, service, agriculture, construction, transportation and others.

The Work in Texas Web site also includes links to other job search options and to support services, such as child care providers.

Texas employers and job seekers can cut the time they spend looking for each other by using Web sites created by TWC to help put Texans to work.

School Safety of Texas Students

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

There are 9,000 public schools in Texas filled with almost five million students of whom one million ride school buses.

Protecting the lives of Texas students on their way to and from school means obeying traffic laws.  Motorists know they must stop when a school bus’ red lights are flashing and the stop sign is displayed; however, they may not be aware that they must stop whether they are behind the bus or approaching it from the opposite direction.

Failure to stop could result in a fine of up to $1,000.  If a driver is convicted of this offense more than one time, the Texas Department of Public Safety may suspend the driver’s license for six months.

A driver does not have to stop for a school bus if it is on a highway with lanes separated by a median or some other physical barrier between lanes. Drivers may continue their trip once the bus has moved, the lights have stopped flashing or the driver signals it is all right to pass.

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, one-third of pedestrians killed in school bus related accidents occur within a 10-foot area surrounding the school bus.

In addition to traffic laws regarding school buses, other laws protect pedestrians.  All pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks, and a driver is held liable if he or she injures a pedestrian who is crossing the street legally.

Motorists should remember that fines double in school zones and may vary from city to city, depending on the driver’s speed.  In Austin, for example, the standard fine starts at $204 for five miles over the speed limit.

In 2009, the 81st Legislature took yet another step to protect Texas students by passing House Bill 55, making it a criminal offense to use a handheld wireless communication device within an active school zone.  This includes, but is not limited to, talking on a handheld cell phone or texting.

Currently, for this law to apply, a sign prohibiting the use of a cell phone must be posted at the start of the school zone, if a city chooses to enforce the law, which most cities do.

In previous legislative sessions, I have filed bills limiting the use of cell phones while driving to those with a handheld device.  I plan to refile the bill when the Texas Legislature convenes next year.

While traffic laws help protect Texas school children, parents should also educate their children about  how to walk to school safely and how to behave on a school bus.  For example, children should always walk on a sidewalk, obey crossing guards, and if there is no sidewalk, children should walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.  They also should be aware of traffic when exiting a school bus, and younger children should not be left alone while waiting for the school bus.

Guarding the safety of children has always been, and will continue to be, a legislative priority in Texas.

Reporting Fraud, Waste and Abuse

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

When a story breaks about fraud, waste or abuse within a Texas state agency, college or university, chances are one of the state’s investigative units has successfully done its job.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Texas State Auditor’s Office (SAO) investigates specific acts or allegations of impropriety, malfeasance or nonfeasance in the obligation, expenditure, receipt, or use of state funds associated with state agencies, colleges or universities.

Through the years, the SIU has obtained indictments against a school superintendent, an administrative assistant to a college dean, and employees in various state agencies for misuse of property or falsifying information.

SAO investigates criminal offenses, which include theft, forgery, tampering with governmental records, securing execution of document by deception, misapplication of fiduciary property, conversion of funds, abuse of official capacity, gifts to a public servant by a person who is subject to the official’s jurisdiction, breach of computer security, organized crime, money laundering and bribery.

As you might imagine, in a state the size of Texas, monitoring state agencies, universities and colleges is a monumental task.  SIU needs Texans’ help in its role as guardian of your tax dollars.  To report fraud, waste or abuse occurring within a Texas state agency, college or university, call the SAO Hotline at (800) 892-8384.  You also may report fraud by filling out a form that is available on the Internet at http://sao.fraud.state.tx.us.

Reports of fraud also may be mailed.  Address your report to the State Auditor’s Office, Attention: SIU, Post Office Box 12067, Austin, Texas 78711.

All reports are held in confidence, and individuals may choose to remain anonymous.  When reporting an incident of fraud or abuse, SAO officials ask that you please provide as much detail as possible.

Public employees who, in good faith, report official wrongdoing are protected by the Whistleblower Act.  This law prohibits retaliation against public employees.  If the employee is the victim of retaliation, he or she may file suit against a state or local government for damages, reinstatement, lost wages, court costs and legal fees.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has its own Internal Audit Division (IAD) that works to prevent fraud and waste within TDHCA and its auxiliaries.

IAD’s hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; calls are answered, and information is converted into an incident report.  Individuals who call may remain anonymous.

You may report an incident concerning fraud, waste or abuse at the TDHCA by calling (877) 749-3316; by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or by faxing (770) 409-5008.

In an ideal world, SIU and IAD employees would have little or no work, but until that ideal world becomes a reality, these two agencies within agencies will continue to work to ensure that your tax dollars are being spent wisely, efficiently and legally.

Legislators facing battle over immigration

Written by Gary Scharrer and Peggy Fikac - Express-News on .

AUSTIN — When Texas House Speaker Joe Straus recently invited a group of Gillespie County Republicans to ask him anything they'd like, the most passionate questions didn't focus on a huge, looming budget shortfall, worries over education or high insurance rates.

Instead, fired-up “patriots” wanted action on an Arizona-style, get-tough immigration law in Texas.

The Alamo Heights Republican's answer was less than satisfying for the conservatives. (read more).

Texas Drivers: Clip and Save This Column - Wentworth

Written by Jeff Wentworth State Senator, District 25 on .

Texans planning a summer vacation that includes instate driving may want to make a note of a couple of toll-free numbers.

The first, (800) 525-5555, is printed on the back of all Texas driver licenses and ID cards, and is for motorists to use when reporting a need for non-emergency service. This toll-free number is not a substitute for 9-1-1, nor is it a customer service line to answer questions pertaining to drivers’ licenses or other Department of Public Service (DPS)  matters.

Some examples when a motorist may call the number include being stranded with car problems, reporting hazardous road conditions or debris on the road. A motorist may also report obviously drunk or dangerous drivers or suspicious activity at a rest area.

To assist staff members who answer the call, please be prepared to provide DPS with your name, cell phone number, vehicle description when applicable, and location. Wireless customers who use ALLTEL, AT&T/Cingular, Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular and T-Mobile, may all dial *DPS (*377) anywhere in Texas to report non-emergency situations.

Stranded motorists should be aware that DPS does not provide free towing service, nor does it dispatch tow trucks. DPS operators will refer callers to a local law enforcement agency. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and some cities have courtesy patrols that may be able to assist if a motorist has a flat tire or has run out of gas. If a private tow truck or other non-towing service, such as a locksmith, is needed, the motorist is responsible for all costs.

In addition to DPS’ toll-free number to report non-emergency situations, TxDOT’s toll-free number, (800) 452-9292, is the number to call for daily travel information, trip planning assistance and emergency road condition information.

TxDOT’s Web site: www.txdot.state.tx.us is filled with useful information, including road conditions, such as construction delays, for all Texas counties. This site is updated regularly, so it can help you avoid long delays or hazardous weather conditions, even when you are traveling.

Texas has 80 Safety Rest Areas, many of which have been renovated and reconstructed. These new areas, whose locations may be found on the TxDOT Web site, are equipped with wireless Internet. Stopping to rest may be doubly beneficial at one of the new rest stops. Drivers can stop and rest both to fight fatigue and get information about roads ahead, even if they are in another state.

A quick check of surrounding states’ department of transportation Web sites revealed that those states, like Texas, have travel information that is updated daily. In addition to the individual state’s information, Oklahoma’s site, for example, includes information about surrounding states’ highway conditions.

To avoid inclement weather, many state’s schedule their highway construction for the summer months, so checking various states’ Web sites for possible construction delays can make your trip faster, safer and more pleasurable.

Guardianship of Elderly Texans Examined - Wentworth

Written by Jeff Wentworth, State Senator, District 25 on .

Between the years 2000 and 2040, the number of Texans aged 65 and over is expected to increase from two million to seven million, representing 16 percent of the total Texas population.

In addition to Texas’ aging population, the 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census found that approximately 15 percent of Texans had one or more disabilities. That number will increase as the population ages, placing even more demands on the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) and Adult Protective Services (APS).

DADS is responsible for providing access to long-term services and support to Texans who are aging or disabled, while APS’s mission is to protect elderly and disabled adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, which I chair, recently heard testimony concerning the state’s guardianship program implemented by DADS and APS. The hearing was in response to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst’s interim charge, which asked the committee to study the efficiency and effectiveness of the guardianship program.

The program has been in the headlines lately as the result of various allegations by Texans, including claims of abuse or neglect within state-run facilities; improper revocation of guardianship status; mistaken determination of incapacity; abuse within the court system; and the mishandling of a ward’s estate.

One widely publicized case documented an elderly couple allegedly forced into state custody after an APS investigation led to a judge’s determination that they were incapacitated. As a result, the couple lost control of their home, their finances and, ultimately, their lives. This particular case illustrated an increasingly common claim made against the state guardianship program, that it lacks protection for the ward and the ward’s estate.

Under the current state guardianship program, APS is charged with investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation to determine if a public guardian is necessary. Should APS determine that a guardian is appropriate for the situation, APS may refer the case to the DADS guardianship program.

After the referral, APS assists DADS with the process by providing details of the ward’s assessment and serving as a resource during probate proceedings.

In the course of providing protective services to elderly and/or disabled Texans, APS may file emergency orders for protective services. These legal actions are presented to statutory probate courts or other courts with probate jurisdiction.

In Texas, guardians may be family members and friends, private professional guardians, private guardianship programs, county-operated guardianship programs and DADS guardianship program.

Guardianship responsibilities may include managing finances, making medical decisions and arranging for ward placement and personal care. In 2009, APS filed 453 referrals to DADS for guardianship. Currently, the DADS guardianship program is serving 1,213 Texans.

Since any abuse or injustice within the state guardianship program is unacceptable, this issue requires further examination by the Texas Legislature to ensure that elderly and disabled Texans are adequately protected.

Transparency in State Government - Wentworth

Written by Jeff Wentworth - State Senator, District 25 on .

Open government is accountable government, and Texans who are interested in the state’s financial accountability may want to access a relatively new Web site that tracks both where the state’s revenue comes from and how it is spent.

State Comptroller Susan Combs created the Web site: www.texastransparency.org to provide up-to-date information for taxpayers on how their money is being used.  The Web site allows users to discover “Where the Money Comes From” and “Where the Money Goes,” and provides direct access to data through the “Open Data Center” portal.

Click on the icon for “Stimulus Reporting,” and you will be able to track Recovery Act activities county by county and activity by activity.

As a longtime and strong advocate for transparency in government, I commend Comptroller Combs for her determined and successful effort to keep taxpayers informed.  I believe that Texans have a right to information about government agencies that enact, enforce and implement laws.

I also believe that Texans have the right to know how their state senators vote on bills that impact their lives.  To that end, in the 2005 and 2007 Texas Legislative Sessions, I joined Senator John Carona as the co-author of legislation that would have amended the Texas Constitution to require that all non-ceremonial votes be recorded and made available on the Internet.  Both attempts to pass this measure failed primarily because some of my Senate colleagues believed recording votes on substantive legislation to be too time-consuming and too expensive.

Finally, at the beginning of the 2009 Regular Legislative Session, the Texas Senate amended its rules to require a record vote in certain circumstances, such as the final passage of a bill, a resolution proposing or ratifying a constitutional amendment and motions to suspend the rule that bills be considered for three consecutive days.  Resolutions that are of a purely ceremonial or honorary nature do not require a recorded vote.

While I would have preferred that every vote, including votes on the second reading of a bill prior to third and final reading, be recorded votes, changing the rule was at least a start.

In the Texas House of Representatives, members’ votes are automatically recorded on the final passage of any bill or joint resolution calling for a constitutional amendment.  Other votes may be recorded at the request of only one member.

Voting information recorded in the House Journal and Senate Journal is available on the Internet; however, looking it up requires both knowledge, such as the bill number, and effort.  Locating the final action is not always easy.  I believe that Senate votes should be both recorded and as easy to find on the Internet as it is to follow tax dollars.

Not only is it important for Texas taxpayers to know where their hard-earned money goes, it is also important for them to know how the men and women who represent them in the Legislature vote to spend it.

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