Off the Desk:
Give Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) credit. For the second consecutive session, he has introduced legislation at the lege aimed at putting a lock on the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby. But his peers in the House don't share his enthusiasm. Even though Krusee's bill exempted everyone who was elected to the Legislature before Sept 1, 1997, his bill died in the State Affairs Committee. Krusee's aide, Mark Borskey, said that despite the fact that the bill was watered down with exemptions, it was attacked in committee as being unfair to legislators. Borskey said his boss is undaunted. "We'll be back," he warned... -- R.B.
The University of Texas nearly flunked recycling this semester, mustering a grade of D-minus on a "Buy Recycled Report Card" released last week by the Recycling Coalition of a Texas. In its first annual report card, the coalition ranked 118 state agencies and universities based on their compliance with a Texas law requiring them to spend at least 8% of their procurement budget on recycled products. Those who failed altogether included F-meisters Southwest Texas State University, the state Savings & Loan Dept., the Youth Commission, and the Dept. of Insurance. The A-plus crowd included the General Land Office, Public Utility Commission, and the Texas Cancer Council... -- A.S.
Hispanics and Zuniga
Just to prove a point, about 30 Hispanic Eastside activists and business types filed onto the city council dais Tuesday evening to say that, contrary to popular belief, they are not "undecided" or "confused" about which candidate they're supporting in the Place 5 race. "We hereby endorse Manuel Zuniga," pronounced Mike Rivera, an engineer and city Planning Commission member. "There is not now, nor has there ever been, any measurable support for Bill Spelman in the Latino community."
With that, other speakers -- several of whom had supported either Bobbie Enriquez or Gus Peña the first time around -- had their say about why they're supporting Zuniga in the run-off against Spelman. For one, they said, the sheer number of Hispanic residents in Austin justifies having not just one but two Latino councilmembers.
"If we are 30% of the population now and are predicted to exceed that in the 21st century as the fastest-growing ethnic group in Texas, why are we limited to one seat?" asked Ray Ramirez, a Peña supporter who decided to join the Zuniga team.
Susana Almanza, a leader of People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER), said that after meeting personally with Zuniga she decided "that he has an understanding that the environment includes not only nature-kind, but humankind, and that the two cannot be separated." From the business end of things, Diana Valera, owner of Mexico Tipico, lamented the number of times she and other East Austin boosters have to organize against "inappropriate zoning and the location of more industrial facilities" in the neighborhood.
And so it went, with Zuniga sitting apart from the crowd, looking slightly humbled by this display of support from the group, many of whom he hadn't had much to do with until he solicited their vote. He rose from his seat and walked solemnly to the speakers' podium, the place reserved for citizens who speak at council meetings. Someone quipped that he had only three minutes to speak and everyone laughed.
He talked about how hard he's worked for the endorsement of the Hispanic community and how happy he was about the turn-out at Tuesday's event. "I feel great," he said, and then stopped, suddenly, because he was getting choked up. He paused for several seconds as he struggled to compose himself. He then thanked the group and said he hopes he can prove himself worthy of their support. With that, he turned and walked out of council chambers, on to his next engagement.
Spelman strategist Mark Yznaga, after being informed of comments made at the press conference, summed up things this way: "Bill has support from people all over Austin who are Hispanic. The Hispanic community is as diverse as any other community, and I don't think a small group of people speaks for the entire Hispanic population." -- A.S.
Stalking the Internet
Proposed legislation now in the Texas House that would bring the state into compliance with federal anti-stalking laws may have an effect on a new website that provides free access to information about the state's millions of
licensed drivers and car owners.
State Rep. Tom "D.H." Uher (D-Bay City) this week was considering tacking on a rider to Senate Bill 1069 that could tighten the reins on the Dallas-based Public Link Corp. website, according to a Uher staff member. SB 1069, authored by Sen. Mike Moncrief (D-Ft. Worth), relates to the release and use of certain personal information from motor vehicle records. The bill, designed to bring Texas in conformance with the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994, already passed in the Texas Senate.
Word first surfaced last week on Internet newsgroups about the Public Link website at http://www.publiclink.com. The site includes a free, searchable database of over 17 million Texas drivers and 16 million Texas license plates. In the case of drivers' licenses, people can conduct searches through the site's "TexasDriverLink" by last name, thus accessing any licensed driver's home address, license number, weight, birth date, racial ethnicity, sex, weight, hair color, and eye color. The site's "Texas TagLink" allows people to search another database by plate number and provides the owner's name and address.
Public Link and others are legally able to disseminate information obtained from the Texas Dept. of Public Safety (DPS), said Sherri Deatheridge Green, DPS spokesperson. The database of drivers license info costs $1,600 and weekly updates are available for $57 thereafter.
The Chronicle made several attempts to contact Public Link by e-mail and phone, but had not gotten a response by press time. The person listed as the site's technical, administrative, and billing contact is not included in Public Link's online database. -- R.U.S.
There are generally two types of kids who go to summer school -- those who bombed a class the first time out, and those trying to burn through some courses and gain enough credits to apply to a top-notch university. And it takes more to graduate from high school now -- 22 credits for a basic diploma, and 26 for advanced status. Formerly, summer school lasted six weeks, and only one semester's credit could be earned. Reportedly responding to parent and student demand to be able to earn more graduation credits, AISD summer school has been split into two, 17-day "semesters," allowing students to get credit for a full year in a course -- even honors credit. So, how does a teacher stuff 18 weeks of instruction in a subject into a mere 17 days? Um, very carefully.
It's cheerfully termed "curriculum compacting," and it means that teachers are going to have to breeze through only the very basics in a subject -- if they go even that far. This is much to the chagrin of some teachers, who resent having this new thing sprung on them, and feel it's a slap in their professional faces to ask them to amputate their lessons. What does the new summer school say about AISD's curriculum -- that it's so lame it can be boiled down into 17 days (14 or 15, actually, when you take exams into account)? "I think it's a valid concern," said AISD board president Kathy Rider, whose own child is, nonetheless, going to be a test subject in the new experiment.
But AISD seems to be trying to ensure that students aren't left out to dry. Mary Thomas, a district administrator overseeing the program, emphasizes that prospective summer school students must have parent approval and must have met with a counselor to discuss courses. In addition to the perennial government, economics, history, and mathematics offerings, fine arts courses and English as a second language will be available. Instruction will be offered at Crockett and Reagan High Schools, and Lamar Middle School. Summer school is not available in the Eanes, Hays, or Pflugerville school districts this year, so many of those students needing a summer class will seek out AISD. Thomas said AISD summer school enrollment could go as high as 2,000. -- R.A.
Bill Bombs in House
When the vote finally came, it was accompanied by the familiar sound of cascading whistles. Mimicking the sound of bombs falling, House members often let loose a whistle when they know a bill or an amendment is doomed to fail. And there were plenty of falling-bomb whistles in the House chamber when Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) asked for, and got, a special order vote that would have allowed her bill outlawing same-sex marriages to bypass committee and come directly to the House floor for a vote.
Wohlgemuth's bill was a litmus test for the social conservatives. But her chances of getting a vote on the bill were doomed from the outset, thanks in large part to Rep. Glen Maxey (D-Austin), who was prepared to attach several hundred amendments to the bill. Maxey's motive rang loud and clear; the threat of the amendment avalanche and a long floor debate over the same-sex marriage issue would doom dozens of other bills that were waiting for the House's attention.
Rep. Mark Stiles (D-Beaumont), the burly chairman of the powerful House Calendars Committee, gave an angry speech against Wohlgemuth's effort to bring the bill to the floor. "This is about the process," bellowed a red-faced Stiles. The House agreed, and the special order vote bombed, with 122 of 151 members voting against bringing the bill to the floor. It appears unlikely that the same-sex marriage bill will come up again this session, as Maxey is armed and ready with enough amendments to keep the House tied up for a day or more. -- R.B.