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OPINION: State Capital Highlights – DPS creates center to protect children

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Public Safety on March 18 announced the creation of the Texas Crimes Against Children Center within the agency’s Texas Rangers Division.

The stated goal is to protect children through the collection and dissemination of vital intelligence, investigative support and cooperation with victim-assistance counselors by “providing support to local, state and federal partners on investigations related to missing and exploited children, the trafficking of children, child abductions and other high-risk threats to children.”

“The exploitation and human trafficking of children is a deplorable crime and it is critical that we use all available resources to keep them safe,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw.

Flu season isn’t over

For the week ending March 8, the Department of State Health Services on March 14 reported the presence of “influenza-like illness or institutional outbreaks in at least two but less than half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in those regions.”

And although “influenza laboratory data and influenza-like illness indicators have demonstrated a consistent decrease for the last several weeks,” influenza-like illness intensity “is still elevated throughout Texas” and 14 pediatric flu deaths have been confirmed in Texas this season.

The state health department punctuated its report by encouraging “everyone six months old and older to get a dose of flu vaccine” for this season’s particular strains.

Drought declaration lives on

Gov. Rick Perry on March 14 renewed an Emergency Disaster Proclamation he originally issued on July 5, 2011, certifying that exceptional drought conditions posed a threat of imminent disaster in specified counties in Texas.

The 30-day renewal applies to 143 of Texas’ 254 counties, and suspends “all rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat.”

Actor speaks for vets program

Barry Corbin is front and center in a new 30-second Texas Veterans Land Board public service announcement that began airing March 17 in targeted broadcasts, announced Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who oversees the Veterans Land Board.

Corbin, a Lamesa native who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, played roles in such films as “War Games,” “Urban Cowboy” and “No Country for Old Men,” in television shows such as “Northern Exposure” and in the 1989 TV mini-series “Lonesome Dove.”

In the part of the announcement, Corbin says, “Right now, if you’re a Texas veteran or a member of the military, the VLB has low-interest loans up to $100,000 with only 5 percent down. This is a great deal, just for veterans.”

Interim charges are made

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, announced items for four standing committees to study and report on before the 2015 Legislature.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services is to: Evaluate prescription drug abuse and strategies for reducing it; monitor initiatives to improve the quality and efficiency of Medicaid; monitor fraud, waste and abuse in Medicaid and other health and human services programs; monitor the State Board of Dental Examiners’ ability to respond to complaints and reports of potential fraudulent activity; and monitor efforts to increase the transparency of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

For the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, charges include monitoring: (a) the implementation of laws passed in 2013 regarding criminal procedures related to children who commit certain Class C misdemeanors; (b) the prosecution of certain misdemeanor offenses committed by children and to school district law enforcement; and (c) the state’s new electronic, digitized court filing system.

The Senate Committee on Open Government is to “review the Texas Public Information Act to ensure that access to public records and information by the public remains fully transparent, but that governmental entities have the authority to protect the privacy interests of citizens, including primary and higher education students, from improper public disclosure.” The committee also will review and make recommendations on improving the transparency of information available on state websites regarding state expenditures, reports and contracts, including a comparison of how similar information is provided by other states.

The Senate Committee on Transportation is to evaluate comprehensive development agreements and design/build project delivery methods and make recommendations. The panel also is to examine the implementation of law passed in 2013 to provide “remedies for habitual violators of nonpayment of tolls” and “make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation.”

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