“Late” Lozano and “Just missed it” Johnson

Each year, Texas politicians, candidates, and state officials are required to file a Personal Financial Statement (PFS) disclosing their assets and liabilities, income, gifts received, etc. The purpose of these statements is to provide the public with politician transparency and to ensure officials are clear from possible conflicts of interest. 

The PFS filing deadline for the year of 2018 was April 30, 2019, and Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) and Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) still have not filed their disclosures. 

Rep. Lozano is no stranger to the $500 penalty for late filing. The Texas Tribune posted Lozano’s 2013 PFS, originally due April 30th, 2013. According to an email from the Texas Ethics Commission, Lozano was granted an extension of the deadline and was required to submit the form by July 1st, 2013. Even with the additional two months, Lozano was unable to provide his PFS by the extended deadline. In 2016, Lozano’s PFS statement was filed after the February 12 deadline. He missed the May 1st cutoff for submission again in 2017.

Here we are again in 2019, waiting on Rep. Lozano to produce the critical report that allows the public to hold politicians accountable. If Lozano insists on consistently submitting his PFS forms late, it raises the question – what is he trying to hide?

Crumbling Child Protective Services system continues to disappoint

In a long-standing legal battle with the state of Texas over the crumbling foster care system, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi hopes to see necessary improvements to prevent children from being caught in a cycle of trauma. Judge Jack contends that the Texas foster care system is “broken” and that children “uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.” 

Instead of looking for and implementing innovative fixes to Child Protective Services, the state of Texas has spent nearly $9.7 million fighting the class-action lawsuit over a period of eight years

The lawsuit focuses on the wellbeing of the 11,321 children in the Texas permanent managing conservatorship (PMC). One key component of the suit ruled that the state is required to submit plans for rectifying the “crushing” Child Protective Services (CPS) workers’ caseloads, which a federal court will supervise. 

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) will also submit studies to reduce workloads of residential child-care licensing personnel, which the federal court must review and approve. The panel of three Republican judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the number of children in foster group homes cannot be limited by Judge Jack, which could lead to overcrowding in these types of homes. 

Along the way, there have been measures to reduce Judge Jack’s proposed changes, and appeal after appeal leave child welfare experts wondering about the future of DFPS. GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to challenge Judge Jack’s orders, citing judicial overreach. Earlier this year, Paxton requested a hearing of the full appellate court, and the case could potentially reach the Supreme Court should he fail to see more cuts to Jack’s directives. 

Small victories, including $12,000 raises to front-line CPS workers and an allowance of hiring new employees, seem as though the state is simply throwing activists and experts a bone. However, large and fast improvements seem highly uncertain as lawmakers’ attempts to redesign the system through privatized “community-based care” has proven to be expensive. 

Though the three appellate judges in New Orleans made some concessions to Judge Jack’s orders, such as allowing Jack and monitors to review workload studies for CPS staff, in many ways Texas children and CPS workers continue to face challenges.

Judge Edith Brown Clement, one of the appellate judges, stated that DFPS should not be required to buy an updated computer system, which the department would use to keep childrens’ medical and educational records readily accessible to caseworkers and caregivers. Citing her opinion against the upgraded computer system, Clement wrote that Texas doesn’t have to achieve that “best practice” or any other best practices in child welfare; simply put, Texas just needs to meet a lower standard that assures children will no longer be subjected to harmful conditions. 

In this sense, some GOP officials maintain that the Texas CPS system should settle for just “okay” rather than implementing best practices suggested by professionals and advocacy groups. Social workers and other professionals want the state to make CPS a supportive and enriching work environment to reduce high turnover rates, yet often feel ignored and overlooked. 

Instead of shelling out necessary funding and updated equipment, incentives for overworked employees, and all-around better care for our most vulnerable children, the state of Texas would rather do the bare minimum and keep their pocketbooks full.

Texans Remain Unsafe on Roads After Legislature Fails to Address Traffic Safety

Texas leads the nation in traffic deaths, yet little was done by the Texas Legislature this year to address the issue.

In 2016, the Texas Traffic Safety Task Force released a report on potential solutions to reducing traffic deaths and injuries in Texas. This included investments in infrastructure such as rumble strips, improvements to traffic management systems, driver safety education campaigns, and laws to allow automated speed enforcement among others. In 2017, the Legislature did little to act on them. In 2019, not much has changed.

Bills to strengthen laws on distracted driving failed this year. In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed a texting while driving ban, a measure law enforcement has since cited as difficult to enforce. 

A bill to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety by defining a safe distance for passing between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian or a person on a bicycle failed this year. Another bill to update Texas transportation code to require vehicles to stop and then yield for pedestrians did not even receive a hearing. Current law only requires vehicles to yield.

One bill to update motorcycle safety law failed.

Several bills to lower the speed limits in residential neighborhoods from 30 mph to 25 mph failed. Nothing was done to reduce the number of high-speed corridors on Texas highways, which are some of the deadliest in the nation.

The few bills that did pass related to traffic safety were a ban on red light cameras, a form of automated enforcement intended to reduce deadly T-bone crashes, allowing charter schools to establish school zones to lower speed limits around them, and an unfunded mandate to local municipalities to put signage at the end of construction zones to show the upcoming increased speed limit.

After failing to get traction with the Legislature, advocates are now turning to the Texas Transportation Commission for policies to save the lives of Texans on our roads. 

In late May of this year, the five-member Commission mandated the Texas Department of Transportation to “work toward the goal” of halving traffic deaths by 2035 and eliminating them entirely 15 years later. Based on lackluster support among legislators, it’s unclear how a plan without implementation will do what’s necessary to curb the rising rates of death and injury on state roads.
Texas is notorious for its dangerous roads, especially in its large urban cities like Houston. Not only does the culture of high speed need to change in Texas, but policies and laws to support safe driving need to be implemented to save thousands of lives lost on Texas roads every year.

View The Map of Texas Fatal Crashes on HerrmanandHerrman.com