AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry this week issued an executive order establishing the Texas Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center (SAC) to provide objective analysis and assessment of state criminal justice programs and initiatives.

“By providing objective reports on statewide criminal justice trends, the Statistical Analysis Center will help policymakers develop effective and efficient criminal justice programs that will keep Texans safe,” Perry said. “This center will help us manage our prison population better and attract more federal funds for crime prevention and criminal justice initiatives.”

Under the governor’s order, the SAC will collect, analyze and report statewide criminal justice statistics; evaluate the effectiveness of state-funded initiatives; and disseminate analysis results to practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and the public in order to enhance the quality of criminal justice and crime prevention at all levels of government.

Gov. Perry’s directive also designates the SAC as the state’s liaison to the U.S. Department of Justice on criminal justice data reporting and research. This designation will make Texas eligible for additional federal criminal justice funding.

The SAC will be housed within the Office of the Governor and will have access to data maintained by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and other relevant agencies as needed.

Gov. Perry designated Janna Burleson as director of the Center. Previously, Burleson served as the governor’s policy advisor for criminal justice issues. Prior to that she was a top policy advisor to Senator Royce West (D-Dallas).

Dewhurst welcomes activists to promote child safety initiative

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was joined by America’s Most Wanted host and child-safety advocate John Walsh at a press conference Monday to announce a donation of child-safety curriculum to school districts in Texas.

The donation is part of Dewhurst's Texas First! children’s safety and health initiative that would also stiffen penalties against sex offenses against children and seeks to require stronger sex offender data compliance and coverage.

“Well-educated, healthy, secure children learn and they make this state a better place to live, raise a family and grow a business” said Dewhurst. “The bottom line is that safe children will make our future stronger here in Texas.”

The safety program consists of a series of 20 minute DVD’s, lesson plans, and workbooks aimed at teaching children from kindergarten to second grade the dangers posed by strangers and acquaintances when it comes to kidnapping or other crimes against children. The program was developed in conjunction with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and today's announced donation will supply about 20 percent of Texas elementary schools with the safety materials.

John Walsh was recently in Washington D.C., for the signing of Adam’s Law, a federal sex offender registry bill named after Walsh’s own son, who was kidnapped and murdered 25 years ago. Adam’s Law requires all states to keep and maintain a sex offender registry, makes non-compliance with the registry a felony for sex offenders, and mandates DNA collection from all sex offenders. Walsh said that the federal law is a powerful tool in preventing crimes against children, but it is only effective when combined with strong state legislation.

“The Texas First! program is going to be, I think, the model in the nation. I think Americans realize that we need something proactive,” said Walsh. “We need something to talk about, as parents, with our children. Knowledge is power, and that our children need to know that there are things they can do to prevent these horrible crimes.”

Dewhurst said the sex offender monitoring system in the state is in need of strengthening. He said very few of the 700,000 employees at Texas public schools have had background checks, and that initial estimates say that 30 percent of the addresses submitted to the Texas sex offender registry are false.

Dewhurst added that he is committed to working with Walsh and other stakeholders in the child-safety arena to craft a strong, yet workable Jessica’s Law for Texas.

Also today, the Senate Finance Committee opened hearings on Senate Bill 1, the state base budget bill filed last week. Committee Chair Senator Steve Ogden said the base budget would appropriate $147.6 billion for state services and other government costs for the next biennium.

Clean air standards

Gov. Perry has announced that his proposed budget will contain an additional $183 million in dedicated general revenue to fund the Texas Emission Reduction Plan (TERP), one of the most innovative voluntary emission reduction programs in the country. TERP is a set of incentive programs that awards grants for projects aimed at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides in areas of the state designated as non-attainment or near non-attainment for federal ground level ozone standards.

Perry’s recommendation increases the current TERP appropriation by 71 percent from $257 million to $440 million next biennium.

Gov. Perry signed the original TERP bill into law in 2001 and has aggressively pursued adequate funding for the program to help reduce nitrogen oxide emissions across this state.

TERP revenue is generated primarily through vehicle title transfer fees and surcharges on the purchase, lease or rental of heavy-duty equipment. An additional $183 million in funding this biennium is projected to yield more than 36,000 tons of additional diesel emission reductions (at an average of $5,000 per ton) in non-attainment and near non-attainment areas of the state.

“We have made great progress in cleaning up Texas air,” Perry said. “As we continue our efforts to meet federal clean air standards, I am asking the Legislature to support an additional $183 million to reduce pollution from diesel engines and protect the public health.”

Texas is pursuing the federally mandated clean air standards for ozone in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Beaumont/Port Arthur (BPA) and Houston/Galveston/Brazoria (HGB) areas.

The BPA and DFW non-attainment areas are on schedule to meet the 8-hour ozone standard by or near the 2009 deadline, while the HGB non-attainment area presents a larger challenge. Mobile sources, such as automobiles, trains, marine vessels and airplanes, contribute the majority of the emissions in the non-attainment areas while states are preempted from setting emission standards from these sources.

“As mobile sources fall under federal control, the state must provide a mechanism for incentives to achieve reductions,” Perry said. “Dedication of additional TERP revenues will greatly assist the state in achieving federally mandated standards at the earliest possible time.”

Gov. Perry also supports allocating $20 million to fund clean coal technology in Texas. The U.S. Department of Energy is considering two Texas sites near Jewett in East Texas and Odessa in West Texas for the world’s first near-zero-emission coal power plant (FutureGen). These sites are under consideration along with two other locations in the nation.

To date, the state has dedicated more than $5 million to the FutureGen project. If either Texas site is selected for the $1 billion project in fall 2007, Perry has proposed a contingency rider to allocate $20 million to the State Energy Conservation Office to be distributed to the FutureGen Industrial Alliance. The majority of the funds will help with pipeline easement and CO2 transportation costs.

“Our state has the resources, geology and commitment necessary to support this project,” Perry said. “With the Legislature’s support, we will also have the additional funding to ensure FutureGen is a success.”

Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams, who chairs both the Governor’s Clean Coal Technology Council and the FutureGen Texas Advisory Board, issued the following statement in response to Gov. Perry’s announcement today on energy and environmental initiatives:

“Gov. Perry is quietly leading an energy revolution in Texas that promises future generations a reliable supply of electricity, lower air emissions and a cleaner environment.”

Nursing home legislation

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, filed legislation this week to ensure the quality of care for nursing homes in Texas. The plan would enhance the quality of care by using Medicaid funding to increase staffing levels at nursing facilities.

“We are committed to increasing the quality of care for nursing homes in Texas with this legislation,” Deuell said. “The nursing home staffing enhancement program has a proven record of providing outstanding care for the elderly and we must protect this program so it can continue to improve the quality of care for our seniors.”

“Senior Texans deserve the highest quality of care we can provide,” said George Linial, President of the Texas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

According to Linial, “S.B. 318 protects the funding directed towards the staff working with our seniors in nursing homes. In a time when the legislature continues to leave Texas at the bottom of funding care for our seniors,” said Linial, “this program remains the lifeblood of many top facilities in the state. Without the program, our state would jeopardize the care of our most vulnerable senior population.”

The program is invaluable because:

Staffing levels are directly linked to quality of care in long-term care. The program has successfully increased staffing levels in approximately 95 percent of facilities across the state. The program requires facilities to attach increased funding to staffing levels. A facility that does not use the funding on staffing levels is required to return the additional funds to the state. Not funding the program could cause many of the state’s top performing nursing facilities to cut staffing levels and reduce charitable care provided for seniors in Texas.

Deuell has demonstrated his commitment to providing quality care for seniors through his support of increased Medicaid for nursing homes. During the interim, the Legislative Budget Board approved an 11.75 percent increase in Medicaid funding for long-term care.

“If we do not retain and increase Medicaid rates, we will hurt our ability to adequately staff our nursing homes in Texas,” Deuell said. “I hope each and every member of the legislature will join me in supporting Senate Bill 318.”