The State of Texas: March 30, 2015
For Texas newspapers, it was basically Oscar season over the weekend. The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors doled out plenty of awards including Newspaper of the Year for the big cities (Austin American-Statesman) and the same prize for the smaller circulation cities (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). Check out the complete list of winners.
Unprotected – The Department of Public Safety may have infused resources into its border “surge,” but that appears to have had a negative impact on patrol and arrests in the rest of the state. According to the Dallas Morning News, which crunched some crime statistics and data, the DPS’s criminal investigation department saw a 12 percent drop in arrests while the Texas Rangers saw a whopping 25 percent drop. Highway Patrol saw a 14 percent drop in citation issuances. The numbers also show fewer criminal investigations launched (13 percent fewer for the DPS). The Morning News notes, however, “It’s difficult to determine to what extent such declines have compromised safety.” As for the border results, “State leaders and DPS officials have touted the surge as a success. They’ve pointed to fewer illegal crossings, the seizure of tons of drugs and a plummet in the apprehensions of those trying to enter the U.S. illegally.” While that seems to be up for debate, the draining of resources is not. “The February DPS report noted that the department is ‘understaffed throughout the state, and a sustained deployment of personnel to the border region reduces the patrol and investigative capacity in other areas of the state.’”
Money for Nothin’ – Another day, another example of less-than-ideal oversight of significant financial packages. Instead of Medicaid, this time it’s continuing education. The Houston Chronicle did some digging and found that the state has spent about $30 million for public servants’ tuition costs. “Regulations governing tuition benefits include only three rules, and all may have been violated, according to a review of 40,000 payment records and policies at nearly two dozen state agencies.” The Chronicle offers enough examples to warrant some kind of review, including a health commission facilities manager who received $52,000 in four years and, two years after, retired. Then there’s the Texas Health and Human Services Commission deputy commissioner who, after being on the job for six months, received $37,000 in tuition benefits. Perhaps not that big of a deal until one considers that another woman, having worked with the commission for six years, paid for her own grad school. The difference? The first woman “was a friend and former political aide of the executive commissioner.” Some state agencies defended the tuition costs as important, but no one is really debating that. What seems to be needed is a class, maybe at the 101 level, in accountability.
Faulty Towers – Official state buildings need a facelift, and as with any cosmetic effort, it won’t be cheap. There are “more than 100 facilities in Texas that house state agencies [in need of] long-deferred repairs,” writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The cost? About $1 billion. To the nip/tuck rescue is Representative Chris Turner, who is proposing dipping into the state’s rainy day fund, “transferring $500 million to fix state agency buildings and another $500 million to repair public university buildings.” The Lege was made aware of the issue last year and problems and/or repairs range from the uneasy to the comical. The Texas School for the Deaf, for instance, is dealing with a rodent—flying or otherwise—problem. And “in the comptroller’s office in the Lyndon B. Johnson State Office Building, just blocks from the Texas Capitol, a hole in a restroom wall was ‘fixed’ when someone stuffed toilet tissue in it.”
Super Texas Bacteria – Go ahead and start panicking: “DNA in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in cattle feedlots is airborne.” That’s the news from two Texas Tech scientists, according to the Texas Tribune. Why is this such a big deal? “For years, scientists have known that humans can contract antibiotic-resistant bacteria by consuming contaminated meat or water. The findings by Smith and Mayer indicate that humans could also be exposed to ‘super bugs’ or ‘super bacteria’ traveling through the air.” The study was conducted on feedlots in the Panhandle and South Plains. As might be expected, the cattle industry—perhaps recalling the “mad cow” panic—is none too keen on the news. Representatives of the industry are “deeming [the findings] partial and inconclusive” and claiming that “the report misrepresents the risk of super bacteria to human health. Dr. Sam Ives, a veterinarian working with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, said antibiotic use in the industry is ‘judicious.’”