Feb 27, 2007

Indian Gaming Passes Out Of Committee

Gaming on existing lands belonging to the recognized Indian tribes in Texas came a step closer to reality Tuesday afternoon as the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence voted 6 to 1 in favor of the proposal. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, would also contribute 5 percent of gaming revenue to a college grant program. More on the vote.

It has been a long day in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. We spent a total of eight hours hearing testimony on various bills ranging from gaming up to and including the rights of gun owners. The Castle Doctrine Bill by Rep. Driver was passed out today. Look for similar days to come as our committee continues to have one of the largest volume of bills of any committee at the capitol.

Feb 26, 2007

Jessica's Law To Reach House Floor Wednesday

The proposed "Jessica's Law" sponsored by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball was voted out of the Calendars Committee today. I am expecting it to hit the floor of the Texas House on Wednesday.

Feb 25, 2007

Report: Record Numbers are Plunged Into Poverty

The gulf between rich and poor in the United States is growing wider than ever, and the number of extremely impoverished is at a three-decade high, a report out Saturday found. The story.

Does Cave Contain Remains of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene?

James Cameron, the man who brought you 'The Titanic' is back with another blockbuster. In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.

Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archaeologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua.

Many Christians will see this story as blasphemous sensational trash but because of the respected reputation of James Cameron look for this Discovery Channel feature to get a lot of attention.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," will premiere on the Discovery Channel on March 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Click here for the story.

Another Sad Story About The TYC

The Dallas Morning News has more troubling news about the Texas Youth Commission. It seems that the same troubles complained about in our South Texas facility are evident in other areas of the agency. It is too bad that the complaints made in South Texas were not viewed by some to be systemic throughout the agency. If you remember the committee hearings I participated in when the Senate committee came to our region, I complained to the executive director that employees were being retaliated against for revealing problems in the agency. As reported in the San Antonio Express News:

"State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, lambasted the commission because, he said, guards were written up for visiting with him to share their concerns about Evins. He said their license plate numbers were written down.

"That was a mistake, that should have never happened," Harris said. But he disagreed that there is a widespread morale problem."

I am sorry to say that the absence of a "morale problem" as noted by the then executive director was probably an understatement at best.

We will have to correct this as rapidly as possible before someone else gets hurt.

Feb 24, 2007

Senator Dan Patrick Interviewed On Valley Newsline

Senator Dan Patrick is interviewed on Valley Newsline by host Ron Whitlock.

Student Leaders Visit Capitol Office

Student leaders from South Texas College in McAllen and Weslaco paid me a visit to discuss college affordability issues. From tuition costs, the cost of text books, all the way to uniform credit transferability - students are struggling with issues at their colleges and universities. I thank the students from STC and will do my part to advocate for your issues.

The Head of the Embattled TYC Resigns

The Associated Press reported that the head of the Texas Youth Commission, Dwight Harris, resigned Friday amid allegations that high-ranking officials at an isolated state juvenile prison molested young male inmates. An internal investigation found that many prison staffers in Pyote had complained about the abuse to their immediate bosses and to officials in Austin, but for more than a year, no one in charge did anything to stop it. The Texas Observor has the background.

The resignation of the executive director is the start of what should be a revamping of this troubled agency. Many of us in the criminal jurisprudence arena have been calling for reforms in the Texas Youth Commission. I join Chairman Madden and Senator Hinojosa in advocating reforms to the agency.

Feb 23, 2007

Obama Photos From Austin Rally

It was like an oratorical event from the 19th century. Somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand people showed up to hear a polished speech from presidential contender Barack Obama. The video of the speech can be found here. The Austin American Statesman was there and reports on the story. I took a few photos backstage that I can share with you.

More photos of a politician labeled as a pragmatist in a recent Wall Street Journal story.

More Obama Rally Photos

Texans For Obama

Sen. Barack Obama In Austin

I was asked by my good friend State Rep. Juan Garcia if I would attend an event in Austin with his former schoolmate - Senator Barack Obama. I have accepted his invitation and am looking forward to meeting the young U.S. Senator once again. I say young because he is a couple years behind me in the age department.

Rep. Garcia has arranged a meeting with the Senator and a group of state legislators. Thereafter a number of us will be attending a public rally at Auditorium Shores (Riverside and South 1st, on the south bank of Town Lake) in Austin, Texas. Gates open at 12:30 p.m. for the event at Auditorium Shores. If your in the capitol city it should be an interesting event as we build towards the February primary (Yes, I said February).

CLICK HERE for more information on the Friday event.

The New York Times has a story on today's events.

Feb 21, 2007

Passage Of Jessica's Law

The proposed "Jessica's Law" as submitted last night by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball to the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence passed out of committee today. The House bill does not include the Senate's minimum 25-year mandatory sentence for first-time offenders. Witnesses did have concerns that because the majority of child sex cases involve family members or close friends, that the prospect of such long prison sentences could lead to nonreporting of crimes. The "Jessica's Laws" bills are SB 5 and HB 8. Riddle's HB 8 was sent on to Calendars.

The San Antonio Express has more on last night's hearing.

The Dallas Morning News also covered the bill.

Television coverage of the committee hearing.

Feb 20, 2007

Waco Tribune: "Sources Need Protection"

Editorial: Sources need protection

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

There are good reasons why courts recognize that communications are protected between doctors and patients, lawyers and clients, clerics and penitents and among spouses.

No one is above the law, but nothing precludes the law from applying common-sense legal exceptions when they benefit society.

Such is the case of laws that provide qualified protection to journalists who have promised to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.

Texas needs a law to protect journalists when prosecutors and civil litigants attempt to force them to reveal their sources.

Already, 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed qualified privilege laws for journalists.

Texas lawmakers this session should pass the bipartisan Free Flow of Information Act that will be introduced in both the House and Senate.

This Texas legislation takes its name from similar bipartisan legislation carrying the same title now pending in Congress. That bill would offer the same qualified protection to journalists in federal matters.

It is the public that benefits from the free flow of information between journalists and their sources when news stories reveal fraud, corruption and abuses in the government or private sector. In many cases these stories could not be developed for the public without information provided by sources who would not talk to reporters without promises of confidentiality.

The proposed Texas law is similar to current Justice Department guidelines that do not provide absolute privilege to journalists protecting their confidential sources, but instead requires that the those who seek a journalist’s confidential sources demonstrate that the need for the information is real and not available from other sources.

Also, the proposed Texas law does not protect journalists who witness a crime. In those cases, reporters can be required to testify.

In a minority opinion in a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case, Branzburg v. Hayes, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the majority opinion “invites authorities to undermine the historic independence of the press by attempting to annex the journalistic profession as an investigative arm of government.”

In that case, a reporter had witnessed a drug crime. While the majority opinion ruled against the reporter’s absolute privilege, it did acknowledge that reporters have important First Amendment rights.

The Texas Free Flow of Information Act will be sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and in the House by Reps. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, and Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg.

In the interest of the free flow of information to the public, Texas lawmakers should pass this legislation.

As this editorial wisely notes there are now a number of us working on this legislation. On the House side, my good friend Corbin Van Arsdale is working with me on the legislation. On the Senate side, Sen. Duncun now joins Sen. Ellis in carrying the legislation. Look for a new draft to come out soon.

The Houston Chronicle has more.

Feb 18, 2007

Sex Abuse Reported At TYC

The Dallas Morning News carries a disturbing story of sex abuse at a Texas Youth Commission unit. It appears that high-ranking officials at an isolated state juvenile prison were molesting young male inmates. Many of us in the various criminal justice committees are well aware of the problems in the TYC. Sen. Hinojosa and others have proposed reforms that may begin to address the problems. On this end I will continue to closely monitor the TYC and advocate for changes to improve the system.

Feb 17, 2007

Keynoting For The Epilepsy Foundation

I returned to the district to give the keynote address this morning at a legislative training for the Epilepsy Foundation. The organization advocates of epilepsy awareness and on this day they where learning how to advocate to legislators on their issues.

The workshop provided a general overview on how the legislative process works. The attendees learned tips on how to communicate effectively with legislators and on how to testify before a legislative committee. Present were health care professionals, care givers and advocates of epilepsy awareness.

A key issue to people with epilepsy is the concerns raised in the use of generic drugs for epileptics. In Texas, Senator Kyle Janek is carrying SB 409 - "The Antiepileptic Interchange Bill." The bill requires notification and signed inform consent before any interchange will be allowed, whether from generic to brand name, brand to generic, or generic to generic, even brand name to brand name.

Many people with epilepsy report that they have experienced seizures, after long periods of seizure control, when a formulation of their customary medication was changed.

We had a good exchange in the question and answer period. I am glad to say I have a new perspective on this disease after my involvement with this important organization and it's members.

Feb 16, 2007

Rep. Mike O'Day Recovering

This photo was taken minutes after Rep. Mike O'Day (R-Pearland) was sworn in as a legislator. As many of you know Rep. O'Day suffered from chest pains days later and many feared he suffered a heart attack or stroke.

The Houston Chronicle blogsite is reporting that he is recovering quite well at home and will hopefully return to work soon. Doctors have said that there would be no work restrictions and that he could return to Austin after resting. Our thoughts are with the good representative and would hope to see him back in good form in coming days.

Three Amigos

Three of my good friends take a moment away from their duties for a photo.

Feb 15, 2007

Celebrating Hometowns

The diversity and beauty of our Texas cities and home counties are celebrated each day at the state capitol. From far and wide community leaders have each session made it a routine trek to the state capitol to present their agendas or needs to the legislature. Here are a number of photos of various South Texas delegations visiting the state capitol. The City of Mission on "Mission Day" even brought a sampling of their famous grapefruit pie.

Feb 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day To Our Senior And Disabled Citizens

Moments ago I and the membership of the House Ways and Means Committee led by Chairman Jim Keffer favorably voted out a little Valentine's Day present to this state's senior and disabled citizens. HJR 1 and and HB 5 by Leo Berman would give senior citizens and the disabled the same tax relief given to all other Texans last year. I am a proud co-author of the bill. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) testified as did other interested parties. The vote was unanimous.

The Senate did the same.

Jessica's Law

The Associated Press has a story on the proposed "Jessica's Law" now before the Texas Senate. Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, filed the bill. In the Texas House of Representatives the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today issued notice that a similar proposal in the house filed by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, will be heard on Tuesday.

Feb 13, 2007

The Texas Police Chiefs Association Visits The Memorial

The Texas Police Chiefs Association gathered at the state capitol in recognition of their upcoming 50th anniversary and other events. I attended a ceremony in the morning where the first lady of Texas presented a wreath at the Texas Peace Officers Memorial Monument on the capitol grounds. Chairman Joe Driver also presented a resolution to the Texas House recognizing the day. Our thanks to the men and women in blue who serve our communities.

Feb 11, 2007

Rep. Guillen Highlighted in Valley Paper

"Young LBJ" that's what I sometimes jokingly call Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) who at the age of 29 holds one of the highest positions in the Texas House of Representatives. Some people underestimate the political skills and drive of the young representative but if they do so they do so to their disadvantage. I snapped this photo one late night at the capitol on an unsuspecting Guillen in a hurry to someplace. I think it captures the young Aggie. The Brownsville Herald carries a feature of the representative.

Feb 10, 2007

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

The work of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee of the Texas House of Representatives is set to commence on Tuesday, February 13, 2007. The organizational meeting scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. or upon final adjourn./recess in E2.016 will allow various stakeholders to present themselves to the committee and further allow the committee members to introduce themselves to the interested public.

The first bills before the committee will be scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 20, 2007. Let me give advance notice to the readers of this journal that child sexual predator legislation will likely be the first issue addressed. I would encourage all interested individuals and parties to feel free to communicate with my staff if they have interest in this or any other issue. Because of the recent heightened attentions brought to this issue I am sure that the presentation from witnesses will be of great interest.

In the photo above from left to right is first, James Lampley the Chief of Staff for our capitol office. He is standing next to Shaine Mata a legislative assistant working in the capitol office. Anne Creixell, is the General Counsel to our committee. Standing to the right of me is Gina Chung who is the Clerk of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. She is followed by Alex Hernandez a legislative assistant in the capitol office.

Please feel free to contact our legislative office (512) 463-0426 or the committee clerk's office (512) 463-0768 if you need assistance in preparing for matters before the committee.

Obama Formally Launches Presidential Bid

The Washington Post has the story of Obama's announcement.

Feb 9, 2007

Edinburg Day At The State Capitol

I quickly snapped this photograph as Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa and Edinburg city council members, Noe Garza, Gus Garcia and Alma Garza, visited with Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick on Edinburg Day at the capitol. Representative Veronica Gonzales and myself joined in the conversation about a variety of issues affecting our community in Deep South Texas.

After visiting with the speaker both Rep. Gonzales and myself escorted a group of Edinburg leaders to the house floor where they were formally recognized after the passage of a resolution recognizing the city, it's history and it's leadership. We also noted the presence of a number of community leaders and students in the gallery. Everyone was welcomed with an applause from the members of the Texas House. We then moved on to the Senate where the larger group that traveled to Austin gathered to take photos with Senator Juan Hinojosa.

At noon a number of students from mariachi groups from the various high schools in Edinburg put on a performance in the rotunda of the capitol. As Elizabeth Pierson from the Freedom Papers noted, their presentation shook the capitol:

"But midway through the first song the performers were interrupted by DPS troopers and escorted to a smaller hallway near the Capitol’s south entrance. Glass had fallen and shattered in the rotunda, and they would have to move for safety reasons, they were told.

Around the time they had started playing, a three-inch piece of glass had popped out of a light bulb that lights the back of the star atop the dome. It fell 218 feet to the rotunda floor and broke to pieces.

“They think maybe it was the vibrations from the mariachis,” one DPS trooper said when directing traffic away from the center of the rotunda."

Afterwards we all enjoyed a meal at a location off the capitol grounds. Before doing so I spotted John De La Vina, an Edinburg resident working at the capitol and asked him to have his picture taken with the mayor and myself so that we could include him in this report.

It was all in all a very productive day. The Brownsville Herald carried Liz Pierson's full story of the day's events (The Monitor did not carry this version in their hard copy).

A Rememberance For Elias Longoria, Sr.

Before the Edinburg Day resolution was presented to the Texas House of Representatives I asked if the members would recognize the life and passing of Edinburg's Elias Longoria, Sr. I have pleasant memories of Mr. Longoria having been a personal friend to his children. He was a pillar to our small community having served on the Edinburg School Board from 1971 to 1980 and serving as it's president from 1976 to 1977. He was the first Hispanic in our city to serve in that position.

Pictured above is Mr. Longoria's wife, Maruca Longoria, his daughter Leticia Lankford and her husband who where present for the recognition.

The resolution.

Feb 7, 2007

HPV Vaccine: Who Chooses?

The Los Angeles Times has a good story on the HPV vaccine debate raging across the country. Things are getting hot and heavy on this issue in Texas as many in the legislature are moving to block Governor Perry's mandate. Perry did note today that it is the Texas Legislature that has the final say on this issue.

The Texas Medical Association did come out today in opposition to the plan.

"From, among others, the Texas Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, many doctors are saying it's too early to mandate the vaccine, which was approved for use last June."

"Other reasons cited by doctors in Texas and across the country include the vaccine's newness; supply and distribution considerations; the possibility opposition could snowball and lead to a reduction in other immunizations; the possibility it could lull women into not going for still-necessary cervical cancer screenings; gender-equity issues; and the tradition of vaccines starting as voluntary and becoming mandatory after a need is demonstrated."

The Valley legislators express their views on this subject in The Monitor.

Feb 6, 2007

Ain't Got Time To Post

I don't know if you have noticed but I "ain't got time to post." Oh, but for the luxuries of a freshman. As each session goes by it is getting harder and harder to find the time. Seniority brings more responsibilities and time becomes an extremely valuable commodity. This luxury of blogging has of late taken a back seat to my hiring committee staff and preparing for the committee work that is in front of us.

Scott at Grits for Breakfast notes that that committee work is about to begin. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will begin it's first committee meeting on the 13th of this month.

Today in addition to the governor's State of the State, I spent much of my day with the McAllen delegation as we celebrated McAllen Day at the state capitol. We had productive meetings with a number of important individuals connected to our government, including the speaker of the Texas House.

Tomorrow begins anew, as my hometown of Edinburg has a delegation coming to the capitol to discuss their issues of interest and to celebrate Edinburg Day.

My thanks and appreciation to the Catholic Charities organization and the Texas Probation Association for allowing me to work with their membership and to recognize (HR 208)(HR 237) their good work on the House floor today.

It is past midnight, gotta get some shuteye. Tomorrow is another day. I'll do my best to make it to a computer in the future.

A Stairway to Floor Credentials

My dear friend Karen "I'll Never be a Blogger" Brooks has a post about the growing number of bloggers in the Texas Legislature. Her post is a nice segue for me to add a section on the blogroll for blogging legislators.

I'll first start with my desk mate, Economic Development Chairman Joe Deshotel who maintains Capital Weekly and then add to the list Richard Raymond's newest entry. With time I'll add some of my legislator friends from around the country to the list. As we progress, I would hope that this novelty will be the norm in our Texas Capitol.

Now back to Karen Brooks from the Dallas Morning News, many of you may not know that she was the inspiration for me coming up with the name of this blog. You see, back in January of 2005, when I first started this blog it was called "Aaron's Blog." She gave me a good and well deserved kick in the ribs in her newspaper for coming up with a lame and not very creative name for the site. I quickly changed the name of the site to - "A Capitol Blog." Ever since, we have had a good natured give and take about each others posts. Hence the pet name of Aaron "Dear Diary" Pena.


Can anyone help me with a new moniker for Karen - "The Babe of Blogsville" Brooks? I think it's my turn.

Still joking Karen. Thanks for the plug!

Feb 3, 2007

UTPA Student Leadership Conference

This morning I accepted an invitation from student leaders at the University of Texas - Pan American to speak at their student leadership conference. After my presentation Mari De Leon, Brenda Enriquez, Ana Lisa Guerra and Erika Gonzalez invited me for a box lunch with the student attendees. I enjoyed the conference and was truly impressed with our next generation of leaders.

Feb 2, 2007

A Visit From Billy Clyde

Yesterday was a long and busy day - interviewing committee staff, receiving constituents, reviewing bills, meeting with stakeholders from the legal community. At the end of the day, a special visitor stopped by the capitol office. For those of you who read other blogs following the goings on at the state capitol, you may have paid a visit to Mr. Billy Clyde's blog.

Since Billy Clyde is a pseudonym I did not know my visitor was the illustrious observer of all things political at the capitol until he identified himself as the anonymous writer. We exchanged a few pleasantries and admirations but before you knew it the ever pressing demands of office abruptly ended our visit. My thanks to the political humorist and keen observer of our capitol for his visit to our humble office. I will continue to look forward to reading Mr. Hot Tub's observations as we plow through the rest of the session.