Monday, April 25, 2016


The most precious asset of the State is its children.  The primary responsibility of a state to its children is their safety, their health and their education.  Unfortunately, the State of Texas is and has been for many children woefully lacking in all three categories.

The latest public crisis has been the state’s treatment of neglected or abused children.  The primary problem in all three categories is the fact that our legislative leaders, governor and lieutenant governor continue to stubbornly believe there is some substitute for adequate funding.  Unfortunately, there is not. 

The most recent crisis in the public realm is the treatment of abused or neglected children by the agency charged with the responsibility of their care. A federal judge has found the foster children program in Texas an abomination and constitutionally lacking in addressing the needs of children.  A recent senatorial committee given the responsibility of examining the problem spent a couple of hours debating whether or not the problem was related to poor management or lack of money.  To me that almost seems to be a joke because a blind man could see that the children’s protective services in Texas has been overworked, underpaid and inadequately staffed for more than thirty years.

The recent revelation before the Senate committee was that there is a 57.7% turnover rate in the staff workers who investigate child abuse.  I assure you these staffers are not simply quitting their jobs to stay home.  They are leaving their state jobs because they are able to find better work elsewhere.  Inadequate funding and staffing of the children’s protective agency has been causing workers to have to house children on couches at their offices or at police stations for lack of adequate foster homes or other facilities to accommodate these neglected children.

Even worse, the response time because of caseloads that are too heavy for individual investigators, has caused serious injury or death to several children throughout the past few years.  This is because of lack of follow up where abuse has been indicated or suspected.  A recent example of the price we pay for not attending to needy children who are on the street or neglected was the case of the 17 year old at the University of Texas who recently murdered a co-ed.  This 17 year old fell through the cracks.  Instead of being counseled, placed in a shelter or given treatment, he was left on his own to wander the streets of Austin and find residence in an abandoned warehouse.  I doubt seriously if any amount of management changes in the agency would provide more foster homes or live-in residences for homeless children.  Not only has the State of Texas, our governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature abdicated their duty as to investigating abuse of children, they have been complicit themselves in not doing what’s right for young people of Texas.

There have been three or more cases in the past thirty years in which courts have ruled that our system of funding public education does not meet the standards set by our own Constitution.  One case came perilously near having our education system ruled unconstitutional under the federal Constitution.  Our system of passing out taxpayer dollars for public education is inadequate, unfair and inefficient.  Even after the courts have ruled repeatedly confirming this, the Legislature has sought ways to avoid the problem or claim its cure without adequately “ponying up” and adequately funding our public education system. 

The failure of the Legislature to do what is right has led to spectacular growth in property taxes on homeowners and small businesses in Texas.  There are some school districts in Texas that are wonderful.  There are others that are woefully inadequate and are cheating young people out of a decent education or high school diploma.  Only a brief look at our system tells you that some districts in Texas with a minimum effort at raising taxes are able to spend $11,000-$12,000 dollars a student on their young people while others struggle paying the maximum tax rate allowed by law and producing approximately $3,000 per student.  While this continues to allow politicians running for office to boast of not having increased taxes in Texas, it is a lie, and it is shortchanging and cheating the future of many of our children—they have just pushed the responsibility down to the local level.

Lastly, Texas’ children are being cheated out of the opportunity for decent health care.  Texas has more children who are uninsured and inadequately cared for than any state in the union.  We probably do less for our children in need of health care than countries like Cuba and several other third-world countries.  

Unfortunately for our children, the situation is not going to improve until those of us who care are able to persuade enough of our fellow citizens to demand better treatment of future generations of Texans. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Global warming

As an attorney, one phrase I hear a lot of from friends and acquaintances is “I’m not a lawyer, but...”  The friend usually goes on to give me some off-the-wall legal opinion which is usually incorrect.  Recently, I’ve noticed a similar phrase coming from mostly conservative politicians.  It goes, “I’m not a scientist, but...” and then they go on to explain why they either don’t believe there is global warming caused by human activity, or they give some inane reasoning which really doesn’t make sense. 

It’s my fervent belief the reason for the self-expressed doubts about global warming and human activities is that folks like the Koch brothers are fearful it might cost them a nickel. A recent interview of Senator Rubio of Florida is the perfect example of the convoluted reasoning attempting to dodge the issue of why Republican conservatives are so bound to do nothing about global warming. Senator Rubio started off with the same phrase stating he is not a scientist; but his reasoning went on to explain that no law that could be passed could help the environment.  The environment is worldwide and why should we punish investors and plant operators in the United States while India, China and others are pumping poison into the atmosphere on an hourly basis. 

First of all, if Senator Rubio is not a scientist and knows nothing of the facts about global warming, why shouldn’t he accept the word of the vast majority of scientists throughout the world who have expressed over and over again that we are gradually lending to the ultimate destruction of our planet?  Next, Senator Rubio and other Republicans’ reasoning is that since we can’t fix global warming with laws in the United States, we should simply do nothing.  That’s about as crazy as proposing that since we can’t stop crime with laws, why don’t we just dismantle police forces.

I have learned a lot by living so long and probably I have grown up in a real laboratory concerning laws and pollution.  Senator Rubio is dead wrong.  I know from experience that laws can help save the atmosphere, particularly here in my own neighborhood.

I recall as a child while growing up in the shadow of two major refineries there were days when the odor from the refinery was so bad it could almost make you sick.  In fact I knew of young kids who would have episodes with asthma brought about by the toxic air emitted from those refineries.  I’m pleased to say that as the years have gone by, and refineries have been forced by law to do something about emissions. The odors no longer exist around Port Arthur, and I know of very few young people who have asthma attacks brought about by refinery emissions.

Another prime example of how laws can improve things is something I learned while flying to and from Austin in my airplane. Time 'was when I would fly over Houston and the city was enveloped by an orange-yellow fog emitted from a Houston steel company.  On any windless day, you could almost count on flying over or through this yellowish fog.  The EPA took over, imposed serious rules and regulations on what could be emitted into the atmosphere, and the yellowish fog disappeared.

While I agree that laws passed by the United States government or the various states of the union cannot cure worldwide pollution brought about by uncaring smog producers, the old adage comes to mind that every journey begins with one step.  It seems to me that as stewards appointed by God to care for this planet, we should be willing to at least take the first step protecting it.  We owe it to future generations and to ourselves, if we are concerned about our health and that of our children and grandchildren.  It is time for us to face up to those who would make a few more dollars’ profit at the expense of rising seas, cancer, breathing problems and an unhealthy atmosphere in which we all must live.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Worker's Comp in Texas

Probably the bitterest pill I was required to suffer as a senator in the State of Texas was the dismantling of a decent worker's comp system.  Big business, with an army of lobbyists, ran over the workmen of Texas while alleging they were fighting greedy lawyers.  Lawyers have suffered little as a result of the so-called workers’ comp reform, but the same cannot be said for working Texans.  Even though Texas is a leader in the United States in injured and killed workers, Texas persists in refusing to address the problem of medical care and other benefits for working Texans.  Texas is one of the few states that does not require workers’ compensation insurance for the workers in this state.

This is one of the reasons I marvel at blue-collar workers who work with their hands and who, in great numbers, are voting Republican.  Republicans are the biggest advocates for and handmaidens of Big Business, which wants to save money at the expense of injured workers in our state.  Hardly a week goes by that I do not have a call at my law office where someone has been a victim of misconduct at the workplace.  Unfortunately, I have to tell them it is well nigh impossible to find a lawyer who will handle a worker’s on-the-job injury claim.  The Legislature, driven by the business lobby, has pretty successfully taken lawyers out of the equation.  The reason is that a lawyer finds it very difficult to earn a fee while representing an injured worker.  Only limited situations will allow a fee to be paid for a lawyer representing an injured worker.  In almost every instance, however, where there is a contested hearing, the employer/insurance company always has legal representation of a very able and skilled nature. 

While Texas does not require employers to furnish workers’ comp insurance, defenders of this situation quickly point out there are serious consequences and incentives for employers to provide workers’ compensation.  As an example, theoretically, when an employee is injured on the job where there is no worker compensation, the employer should not or may not use fellow servant negligence, assumption of risk or contributory negligence as a defense.  Unfortunately, too many Republican-appointed or elected judges are making a mockery out of these rules as, too often, they are allowing juries to be swayed by contributory negligence rules in the guise of other activities.

A recent article in one of our major newspapers in the business section pointed out that several large companies in Texas are boasting of saving millions of dollars by doing away with worker compensation insurance.  Unhappily, these plans seldom compensate injured or disabled workers to the full extent that the injured employee can maintain the necessities for his or her family.  Worse, there is no ground swell of working class Texans to demand addressing this serious problem for the Texas workforce because very few workers, particularly young healthy ones, ever believe they will be the victim of a disabling injury on their job.  It is only when tragedy strikes that the family raises a concern, but by then it is too late.  

I would hope that a simple sense of decency and fairness would cause a vast amount of Texas voters to demand better for people who work, earn a living and produce our goods and services that lead us to a better life in this state.