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Beyond City Limits

August 23, 2002, News

A new General Accounting Office report says Texas teachers might cost Social Security up to $450 million via a loophole in federal pension laws. Officially, teachers, as recipients of government pensions, can't get full spousal Social Security benefits. But if they work as little as one day in a non-teaching job, the restriction goes away. The GAO report reviewed nearly 4,800 Texas cases where teachers who worked one day, and paid as little as $3 in Social Security taxes, became eligible for up to $100,000 in lifetime benefits. The Texas Classroom Teachers Assoc. says it encourages members to use the loophole, and several Texas districts have developed "temporary employment services" that charge teachers up to $500 to hire them as janitors or cafeteria workers for one day. The TCTA and others feel the rule itself needs to be changed. -- M.C.M.

A report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates reducing legal immigration to the U.S., says that Texas has the third-largest Arab and Middle Eastern population in the U.S. We're behind New York and California but ahead of the Midwestern states -- Michigan, Ohio, Illinois -- that have traditionally been home to America's largest Arab communities. More than half of Texas' Middle Eastern immigrants live in Houston. -- M.C.M.

Angry that President Bush's rejection of a homeland security spending bill eliminates $340 million to fund terrorism response by fire departments, the Fire Fighters International Union will boycott a national tribute to firefighters who died on Sept. 11. "The president has merely been using firefighters and their families for one big photo opportunity," R. Michael Mohler of Virginia FF Local 774 told Reuters last week. "We will work actively to not grant him another photo op with us." -- L.A.

If you had wanted to apply for the vacant executive director position at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission -- the state version of the Environmental Protection Agency -- but were deterred by the requirement of a college degree, then you may have needlessly missed your chance. TNRCC spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the initial posting for the $132,000-a-year job was incorrect: No one needed a degree for the position, currently held by the outgoing Jeff Saitas, who resigned July 26, effective in October. Though the TNRCC later revised its posting, the matter is now moot: The application deadline passed last week. -- Lee Nichols

The new head of Florida's famously inept child welfare agency, Oklahoma's Jerry Regier -- the personal choice of Gov. Jeb Bush, and a former aide to Bush Sr. -- has taken the following public positions: "Biblical spanking" of kids, hard enough to leave bruises or welts, is not child abuse. Husbands should have final say in all domestic disputes. Christians should not marry non-Christians. Women working outside the home are trapped in "bondage." And it's the duty of all good Christians to "realign" the law to "conform to the Bible's view of family and morality." This guy is now in charge of 45,000 abused and neglected Florida kids. (He's also a founder of the Family Research Council, whose latest "citizen action team" alert warns against the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women -- a "dangerous treaty" that the U.S. has never signed, joining such distinguished human rights hotspots as Afghanistan and Qatar.) A Bush spokesperson says Jeb didn't know about these positions, but that Regier is a "dedicated public servant." -- M.C.M. and L.A.

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