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Messages from Mike

  1. Posted on 10/19/2009 3:04 PM

    Your Chance to Vote on Fair Taxes and New Top Tier Universities

    As early voting for new state constitutional amendments starts this week, I'd like to tell you about three propositions that are particularly important to our community.

    Proposition 2 would allow the Legislature to pass a bill stopping appraisal districts from inflating certain property values. It would ensure that homes are simply valued as homes, rather than valued at the theoretical price the property might earn if the owner sold it for its "highest and best use," including commercial use.

    Proposition 3 would allow the state to audit our local property appraisal districts to ensure they are using the proper procedures and treating taxpayers fairly. I have filed bills to make this change during the last two legislative sessions, and I'm glad we are close to the finish line. I believe most Texans are willing to pay their fair share of taxes to fund public investments such as schools, roads and public safety, but we need to ensure we are all treated fairly in the process.

    Proposition 4 would establish a new fund to invest in research at state universities such as UTSA. We need more top tier universities for our growing number of top tier students. This is an historic opportunity to start doing just that, and to put Texas on a path to be a world leader in higher education.

    You can read all about the proposed amendments in this handy House Research Organization
    report, learn about early voting here, and look up Bexar County early voting locations and hours here.

    P.S. House Research Organization also has great
    reports on the major legislation passed this year, the Governor's vetoes, and the new state budget.

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  2. Posted on 9/21/2009 11:32 AM

    Join my team - Apply for an internship today

    Undergraduate and graduate students can play a key role on my team by serving as interns. It's a great way to serve your community and learn how a legislative office works.  We are hiring now for the fall semester, so if you or someone you know might be interested, here are the details.

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  3. Posted on 9/16/2009 6:37 PM

    New Top 10% College Admissions Policy

    Earlier this year, I helped craft compromise legislation to adjust the state's top 10% automatic admission policy.  Our middle ground solution continues to offer a path to state universities for top students of all backgrounds while also preserving a path to UT-Austin for highly qualified students that fall short of the top 10%. 

    The compromise limited automatic admissions to 75% of incoming freshmen at UT-Austin.  On September 14, UT-Austin sent me and TEA a letter explaining that current high school juniors in the top 8% of their classes will be automatically admitted to UT-Austin. Next year, UT-Austin will announce if that same percentage applies to current sophomores, or if the 75% cap translates into a different cut-off in class rank.
     
    The traditional top 10% policy remains in place for current seniors and all other state universities and will be reinstated for UT-Austin if the state makes no changes before 2015.
     
    It is important that we get these facts out to parents, students, counselors and others. It is also important that we build more top tier universities in Texas to handle the growing number of top tier students in our state.  
     
    Here's what the San Antonio Express-News and Austin American-Statesman had to say about the announcement, including my perspective.
     
    And if you want the details, here's the letter that UT-Austin sent TEA on September 14 about what exactly is happening.

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  4. Posted on 6/3/2009 5:40 PM

    Forging a Compromise on the Top Ten Percent Admissions Policy

    For 3 sessions, we've had contentious debates about reforming the policy that allows automatic admissions to our state universities for students in the top ten percent of their high school graduating class.  Proponents of the change argue that the policy has tied the hands of admissions officials at the University of Texas at Austin, while my colleagues and I have fought hard to maintain this policy in order to guarantee that underrepresented students have access to our state's best universities.  

    I'm proud to have been part of a small team who negotiated a compromise that the House adopted on this issue. Our solution will allow the UT Austin some discretion in their admissions process, while ensuring that our state's higher education institutions are serving all Texans.  The challenge ahead is to address the real underlying problem. We must create more flagship universities in Texas to provide excellent educational opportunities to all students who excel in their studies and dream of a better future.

    Click here to read Dallas Morning News coverage.

     

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  5. Posted on 5/4/2009 1:12 PM

    Flu update - local developments and resources to keep your family healthy

     

    The San Antonio Express-News reported yesterday that concerns about the H1N1 flu appear to be easing.  Here are a few resources that may be useful to you as you seek to keep your family safe and healthy.
     
     
    There is no vaccine available right now to protect against Influenza H1N1. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
    o        Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow or sleeve, not your hands.
    o        Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
    o        Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
    o        Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
    o        If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
     
    Questions about the flu:
     
    Local Metro Health Hotline: (210) 207-5779
    Texas Telephone Hotline for Information: (888) 777-5320
    Texas Healthcare Providers Only: (877) 623-6274
     
     
    School Closures:
     
    Local officials are currently NOT recommending school closures in Bexar County. As a result of recent H1N1 cases, over 28 school districts and 6 charter schools in Texas have been affected which has resulted in schools and districts closing their campuses as a precautionary measure. A complete listing of school closings can be found at www.tea.state.tx.us.
     
    More information on the state's response is available at http://www.governor.state.tx.us/. Additional information on developments in Bexar County is available at http://www.sanantonio.gov/HEALTH/SwineFlu.html.

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  6. Posted on 4/20/2009 9:48 PM

    Update on our local option transportation legislation

    The following is a summary of the current version of the H.B. 1674 that will be heard by the House Committee on Transportation on April 21, 2009.

    Keep your feedback coming!  Please also consider signing our petition to ensure that provisions that are important to San Antonio residents are included in the final version of the transportation package adopted by the Legislature.

    - Mike

    H.B. 1674
    Bexar County Transportation Local Option
    Bill Highlights
    April 16, 2009 Version
     
    Single Local Option
    • County motor gasoline and diesel fuel tax - not to exceed 10 cents per gallon
      • Collected by the Comptroller, similar to current practice for state and federal gasoline tax
      • Five-year gradual implementation process - 2 cents first year, followed by 2 additional cents each year until 10 cents is reached 
    Governance Structure
    • ATD must create an advisory committee who is responsible for making recommendations to the County Commissioners Court about transportation projects to pursue with revenue raised through this fund
      • committee members include representatives from San Antonio, Leon Valley, the County, and state legislators
    • Commissioners Court would hold public hearings, adopt a list of proposed projects and tax rate
    • Commissioners Court calls election on proposal
      • election can be held no sooner than November, 2012
      • election must be in November in an even numbered year
     
    Eligible Projects
    • No less than 80% of the revenue must be dedicated to mass transit
    • Revenue can not directly or indirectly go to supporting toll road projects
    • Projects must come from VIA's Comprehensive Multi-Modal Transportation Plan
    • First consideration must go to projects that connect major workforce and population hubs and that foster geographic equity
    • Funds may not supplant other transit revenue
     
    Other
    • Prohibits state from using local funds to supplant state transportation funding
    • Termination of tax once debt service defeased for both construction and operation and maintenance of transportation project
     
     
     

     

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  7. Posted on 3/12/2009 9:08 PM

    Legislature looks at reform of public school accountability system

    Parents and educators alike point to the negative consequences associated with our state's current emphasis on standardized testing in the classroom.

    Senator Florence Shapiro and State Representative Rob Eissler have authored legislation to reform the state's accountability system. The authors of the legislation state that they are attempting to shift the focus of the system from a single test to a student's overall post-secondary readiness. 

    The House Committee on Public Education will hold a hearing on HB 3, by Chairman Eissler next Tuesday, March 17th. Click here to find details on the hearing.

    Individuals may testify in person in Austin, or contact members of the committee to share your views on this important issue.

     

     

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  8. Posted on 3/12/2009 3:59 PM

    Find out if you qualify for federal funds to weatherize your home

    The Texas Department Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) is going to receive between $240-350 million for weatherization of homes in Texas as part of the recent federal stimulus package. This money will be distributed in San Antonio through the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG). Local contractors who are seeing a reduction in work and who are qualified to do weatherization will be able to apply for jobs through AACOG. In addition, homeowners making up to 200% of the poverty level will qualify for up to $6,500 to weatherize their home, and may apply through AACOG.

    Hopefully, these funds will serve an existing need, reduce energy consumption in the long run, and also assist in immediate job creation in our community.
     
    For more information contact the Alamo Area Council of Governments:
     
    Alamo Area Council of Governments
    8700 Tesoro Dr., Ste. 700
    San Antonio, Texas 78217
    Phone: (210) 362-5200 Fax: (210) 225-5937
     
    Contact Person:
    Rose Jackson
    (210)362-5211
     
     

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  9. Posted on 3/11/2009 11:49 PM

    Almost halfway there...and a lot of hard work ahead

    It's hard to believe that we’re already almost halfway through the 140-day legislative session. I have been busy in non-stop hearings with the appropriations subcommittee on education and finalizing my bills on higher education and other issues before the deadline this Friday to file bills. So far I've filed 72 bills, which you can find here on the Capitol's website. As you can see, I've focused on:

    The Legislature’s committees have also started to hold hearings on bills. So far I've presented two bills improving child support collection, one to help cities pay for fire stations for new developments, and another to give parents of newborns a child development guide with information on the importance of reading to kids, parenting tips, health and safety issues, and more. In the coming weeks there will be more hearings, and then bills will start to reach the full House of Representatives for a debate and vote. We are quickly approaching the end of the session on June 1, and we've got our work cut out for us between now and then.
     
    - Mike
     
    P.S. I’ve caught the “social networking” bug – it’s proven to be a great way for me to stay connected with constituents and friends while I’m in Austin. We’ve had some really interesting discussions on the issues. I’m able to tap into expertise from individuals around the state just by posting a question. Join me on Facebook: you can keep tabs on what I’m doing as I serve in your Texas Capitol and give me your feedback on the issues that matter to you. You can also write to me at mike@leaderslisten.org or call our office at (210) 734-8937.
     
     
     

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  10. Posted on 3/5/2009 1:30 AM

    The "Dream Team" - Move Over David Robinson and Michael Jordan

    by Peter Clark, Legislative Director / Sports Fan

    We knew that Rep. Villarreal and his four "teammates" on the House subcommittee for the state education budget have been hard at work in non-stop hearings, but could they be one of the best teams ever? 

    The Austin American-Statesman recently reported that the subcommittee chair - or, point guard - compared the talent assembled on the committee to the "Dream Team."  David Robinson, Michael Jordan and the rest of the original Dream Team may have been stars on the basketball court, but Rep. Villarreal and the rest of the subcommittee could show them a thing or two about expanding financial aid for college students and making smart state investments in education!

     

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  11. Posted on 3/4/2009 11:58 PM

    Join Our Campaign to End Workplace Discrimination

    Discrimination creates an atmosphere that drives well-educated, creative professionals away, harming the state and local economy. Our state does not currently prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. H.B. 538 by State Representative Mike Villarreal gives lawmakers the opportunity to ensure that individuals who work hard and play by the rules are not treated unfairly.

    Please join this important effort by signing our petition to Chairman Burt Solomons to urge his support for the legislation.

     

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  12. Posted on 3/2/2009 12:51 PM

    Your feedback on our transportation work

    Great to read the lively discussion on MySA.com and facebook about my transportation legislation.

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/transportation_bill_necessity_for_bexar_county.html

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/columnists/jaime_castillo/Whoevers_to_blame_local_lawmakers_must_back_transportation_bill.html?c=y&commentSubmitted=y#comments

    I'm attaching below a summary of the legislation as it currently stands. Bexar County legislators and local stakeholders have improved this legislation since first filing. Please give your feedback so that it can continue to get better.

    The purpose of this bill is to allow Bexar County voters to raise additional revenue to fund mass transit projects. The bill requires voter approval for all funding options and projects.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Villarreal
    State Representative

    *****

    H.B. 1674 by Representative Mike Villarreal
    San Antonio Transportation Local Option Bill Summary

    Menu Options to Fund Local Transportation Project
     

    • County motor vehicle registration fee
    • New resident vehicle registration fee
    • Drivers license fee
    • Vehicle mileage fee
    • Environmental mitigation fee (based on size of engine)

    * Mandates the creation of a fee reduction program for low income drivers & rebate program for those that document low miles driven in previous year

    Governance Structure
    • VIA to evaluate and recommend projects and funding mechanisms to Bexar County Commissioners Court
    • Commissioners Court would hold public hearing before ordering an election
    • Commissioners Court calls election
    • The election clearly states each revenue source, proposed rate, proposed project, estimated cost and completion date, and estimated annual expenses for project
    • VIA must consult with other local transportation entities
    Eligible Projects
    • No less than 80% of the revenue must be dedicated to mass transit
    • Revenue can not directly or indirectly go to supporting toll road projects
    • Projects must foster geographic equity
    • Projects must be built first in major workforce and population hubs
    • Funds may not supplant other transit revenue
    Other
    • Ensures no loss of federal or state formula funding
    • Ensures no loss of transit funding
    • Elections for approval of transportation projects and funding mechanisms must be held on regular November general election.

     

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  13. Posted on 2/6/2009 1:32 AM

    New Day in Government - Time to Go Green

    It is a new day in government. We have new leadership in the Texas House and in the White House. And, our new leaders are setting a new agenda that will help us be better stewards of the environment and your tax dollars.

    We have a lot of work to do in Texas. Our state produces more global warming greenhouse gases than any other state. Emissions from coal-fired power plants cause over 1,000 deaths and 34,000 asthma attacks per year.
     
    Through, greater regulation of industry, creative policies that help consumers conserve and leading by example in government, we can tackle these serious environmental challenges.
     
    Tomorrow, I will announce new legislation so that our government leads by example.
     
    I’ve authored new legislation to require state agencies to choose hybrid vehicles for no less than half of all new vehicle purchases.
     
    And, I am filing legislation to encourage Texas schools to build high performing, energy efficient school buildings. This measure will work in partnership with public schools by providing extra funding to meet higher energy efficiency criteria.
     
    Such investments, and they are investments, will ultimately yield cost savings to our taxpayers, while helping to improve our quality of life.
     
    I’m teaming up with the students of Harris Middle School’s “Green Patrol” to make this announcement. While I’m working to change policy in Austin, they are working hard every day in San Antonio to protect the air we breathe by encouraging parents to turn off their cars when they come to pick up their children from school.
     
     

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  14. Posted on 1/13/2009 9:59 AM

    New Speaker: New Era for San Antonio and Texas House

    Today, the Texas House made an historic decision in unanimously electing Joe Straus III (R- San Antonio) to serve as speaker. Joe Straus is an urban lawmaker.  This is only the second time in Texas history that the House speaker has been from an urban area.  Straus is also the first San Antonio member to serve as speaker since 1913.  This presents a unique opportunity for those of us working to improve our quality of life in San Antonio.  It is a chance to present real solutions to the challenges our city faces on improving public transportation, educating our children and advancing other key issues.

    But perhaps just as significant as where Straus is from, is who he is as a leader.  Straus is a true statesman and has demonstrated his willingness to put policy before partisanship.  He’s publicly committed to reducing the influence of special interests on the legislative process. In short, he offers what has been missing in recent years - an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and tackle the very real challenges that face our state. 

    We have many days of hard work ahead of us.  We need to navigate through our current economic recession, create a 21st Century energy policy for our state, and make college accessible and affordable to all students who choose to pursue it.  Click here to read more about my legislative priorities for this session.

    I will need your help in taking full advantage of this historic moment for San Antonio.  We will inform you about opportunities to sign petitions, testify at hearings, or make phone calls at key moments.  Please help us to grow the movement of folks working together on the issues that matter to San Antonio by telling your friends and neighbors about my website and weekly updates about the Texas Legislature.

    For more analysis of the Straus’s election or key issues facing the Legislature check out these links:

    News and commentary on the Legislature from the Express News team

    Insights on Texas politics from Texas Monthly’s bloggers

     

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  15. Posted on 1/13/2009 1:35 AM

    Great opportunity for students - Honorary Page Program

    During the legislative session, very few people have access to the House floor while members of the Legislature debate the issues; typically only reporters and select members of the House staff.  Lobbyists, advocates and members of the public must watch the action from the gallery or on television.

    But the Legislature provides a unique opportunity for students ages 8 -18 to serve as an "honorary page" and witness history in the making on the House floor for one day during the legislative session.  It is an amazing chance for young people to learn as they watch lawmakers debate the issues, and vote on legislation. During their half day of service, honorary pages are accompanied by college students who serve as House Seargants.  Parents are responsible for transportation to and from the capitol in Austin.

    Each member of the legislature is allowed to nominate a limited number of students for this opportunity, and reservations are made on a first come first serve basis.  Students who are interested to participate should send an email to mike@leaderslisten.org telling the Representative a little about yourself and why you are interested to be an "honorary page".

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  16. Posted on 10/31/2008 2:39 PM

    Priorities for the 2009 Legislative Session

    The Texas Legislature will convene January 13 for its next 140-day session.  We will have to respond to new information, challenges and opportunities in the coming months, but I would like to share with you the legislative priorities I'm working on:

     

    Invest in Education

     

    n        Ensure our public and high-performing charter schools have the funding to hire and retain effective teachers and cover rising transportation and building costs.

     

    n        Enroll more eligible children in pre-kindergarten instruction and expand state investment in quality pre-k programs.

     

    n        Evolve the TAKS testing system to measure student improvement and better diagnosis classroom weaknesses for targeted assistance.

     

    n        Make college affordable by increasing investment in the TEXAS Grants scholarship program and building on new initiatives to help parents save for college. 

     

    n        Ensure equal opportunity to access a quality college education by creating more quality higher education programs across the state, improving the bridge from community colleges to four-year institutions, and fighting for fair admissions policies for a broad range of students around the state.

     

    Protect Air and Water

     

    n        Give Bexar County residents sustainable transportation choices by allowing them to vote for new funding sources that would create options such as light rail, bus rapid transit, bike lanes, green belts and other alternatives to the automobile.

     

    n        Reduce air pollution and long-term consumer costs through new energy solutions, including solar energy, more efficient schools and homes, and fuel efficient vehicles.

     

    n        Authorize our local governments to effectively regulate development that impacts the Edwards Aquifer, Camp Bullis and other community resources.

     

    Value Work and Aspiration

     

    n        Ensure fair loans for working families in a pinch and small business owners.

     

    n        Authorize the Texas Department of Insurance to make sure employers and families have better access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance. 

     

    n        Expand access to women’s health care and programs to reduce unplanned pregnancies.

     

    n        Help more single parents collect the child support money they need to raise their children.

     

    Cultivate Smart Government

     

    n        Pass comprehensive appraisal reform that includes provisions for state oversight, better collection of market information on commercial property, and homeowner protections.

     

    n        Limit the total campaign contributions that any individual can make to state candidates.

     

     

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  17. Posted on 10/31/2008 2:30 PM

    Celebrating Our Recent Victories

     

    Although the Legislature has been out of session for the last year, we have worked together to advocate for loans to small businesses entrepreneurs, shine a light on the need for fair child support policies for working families, helped our constituents access the state services they need and much more. Here are a few examples of our major 2008 policy victories:

     

    New Renewable Energy Infrastructure

     

    This summer we launched an online petition drive and organized over 5,000 Texans to urge the state's Public Utility Commission (PUC) to commit to a bold investment in renewable energy.  Following our effort, the PUC announced an investment in building new transmission lines to bring wind - and eventually solar - energy from west Texas to our state's major cities.  The long-term benefits will include cleaner air to breathe, a better chance at reversing global warming, new green jobs, and lower energy bills.

     

    Upholding the State's Commitment to Care for the Elderly

     

    Many local adult foster care providers stopped receiving their payments on time when the state brought in HMOs to manage their reimbursement system.  We invited state officials down from Austin to meet with us and listen to the elder care providers.  We found solutions that addressed local and statewide problems. Due to our efforts providers were able to focus on caring for seniors instead of battling HMOs.

     

    Fair Funding for Women's Health Services

     

    Doctors at community health clinics that serve low-income women informed us of the state's failure for over 20 years to increase their reimbursement rates for providing birth control. We also learned that the state provided reimbursement rates 14 times higher to retail pharmacies for the same service. In response, we launched a media campaign and online petition drive to draw public attention to this inequity. After collecting thousands of signatures, the Health and Human Services Commission increased the reimbursement rates for these clinics. As a result, community clinics are continuing to provide birth control, reducing unplanned pregnancies and saving the state money.

     

    Enrolling More Children in Early Childhood Education

     

    We organized 15 fellow legislators to urge the Texas Education Agency to direct school districts to publicize their free pre-kindergarten classes and maximize enrollment. As a result, TEA is requiring each school district that receives state pre-k grants to adopt a pre-k public outreach plan. More children in our community will now start school prepared to succeed.

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  18. Posted on 10/20/2008 12:51 PM

    Resources for Families Facing Foreclosure

    Recent economic turmoil is putting a strain on families, small businesses and others in San Antonio.  Home foreclosures in particular pose one of the most significant threats to families and communities during these tough times.

     

    If you or someone you know is facing foreclosure, some of the resources you can call on for assistance are listed below. As always, you can also call my office at 210-734-8937 for assistance.

     

    - City of San Antonio Housing Counseling Program

             

    210-207-5910

     

    - NeighborWorks Hope Hotline

     

    1-888-995-HOPE (1-888-995-4673)

     

    http://www.foreclosurehelpandhope.org/


    - U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

     

    1-800-CALL-FHA (1-800-225-5342), 1-800-569-4287

     

    http://www.hud.gov/news/fhasecure.cfm         

     

    - Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Greater San Antonio

     

    210-979-4300

     

    http://www.cccssa.org/

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  19. Posted on 9/2/2008 5:19 PM

    What the Census Revealed About Health Care

    I recently met with local residents struggling to pay their health care bills and get medical attention for their families.
     
    The U.S. census results released this week help explain what's happening: Texas still "leads" the nation in the rate of uninsured residents. Nationwide, employers continue to drop their employees' insurance.
     
     
    As this Texas woman with cancer learned, even with insurance it can be tough to get the care you need and pay the bills.
     
    Clearly we need to redouble our efforts to expand access to affordable insurance in Texas, and make sure insurance companies are truly working for Texas families.

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  20. Posted on 7/29/2008 11:01 AM

    Victory for Renewable Energy and Clean Air

    Thank you to everyone who signed our successful petition calling for transmission lines to connect wind and solar power to our cities.

    The plan approved by the state PUC will provide affordable energy for Texas families, cleaner air, new "green jobs," and a stronger state economy.

    Read more here, check out this video, or listen to NPR's story.

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  21. Posted on 7/28/2008 5:04 PM

    Celebrating the ADA and Tracking New Legislation

    This week we celebrate the 18th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

     

    We celebrate how it has served the 43 million Americans with disabilities, and served every American by bringing the laws of our nation more in line with our principles.

     

    We also celebrate what happened prior to passage of the ADA, and the thousands of Americans with disabilities who organized, mobilized and insisted that they receive the same rights and opportunities as other Americans.

     

    In that same spirit, Texans must come together to continue working for affordable health care, job opportunities, fair housing and access to education.

     

    While we work for those changes here in Texas, there is also work to do at the federal level right now to ensure that the spirit of the ADA is upheld.  As the U.S. Congress debates amendments to the ADA, you can follow its progress and learn how to get involved here.

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  22. Posted on 6/13/2008 2:02 PM

    Making College Affordable Again

    If we want smart and hardworking Texans to be able to get ahead without busting the family budget - and we want our state's economy to thrive - then I believe college must be affordable and accessible.

    Last year I helped pass
    legislation to assist parents saving for college, but my bill to freeze skyrocketing tuition didn't make it. 
     
    Next session we will push harder to make college affordable, and this new report outlines some of the ways to do it. I'd love to hear what you think of it. 

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  23. Posted on 6/13/2008 2:00 PM

    Raise Your Voice for Fair Taxes this Summer

    Do you think our property tax system should be improved?
     
    Join us in supporting policy solutions that treat all homeowners fairly, provide transparency, and ensure a reliable way to fund education and other public investments.

    Help us deliver the message to the House Committee studying tax and appraisal reform when it hits the road this summer.
     
    Click here to find out when they're holding a hearing in your town and how you can help.

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  24. Posted on 5/29/2008 4:40 PM

    A Helping Hand for "Mom and Pop" Shops

    As I drive through my district, I pass family owned tacquerias, barber shops, printing businesses, and child care centers.  I'm reminded daily that "Mom and Pop shops" form the heart of our community.  In fact, in Texas nearly half of workers employed outside of the farming sector are employed by small businesses. I'm working to ensure that your state government does more to support entrepreneurs.  I also wanted to share some local nonprofit resources that may be of help to those of you who are starting or expanding a businesses.

     

    Technical Assistance:

     

    The City of San Antonio Small Business Program: www.sanantonio.gov/edd/small_business/sb_index.asp  

    This program assists entrepreneurs and existing businesses with a range of services including information on licensing, and regulations, advise on competing for government contracts, sources of capital, and development of business and marketing plans.  Follow this link to a calendar of upcoming events.

     

    Institute for Economic Development: www.iedtexas.org

    The Institute for Economic Development (IED) provides ongoing consulting, training, technical, research and information services, in tandem with University-based assets and resources, and other state, federal and local agencies, to facilitate economic, community, and business development throughout South Texas and the Border Region. Visit their website for a calendar of upcoming events.

     

    SCORE - San Antonio: www.sanantonioscore.org

    SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is a nonprofit organization providing free business counseling to individuals considering starting their own business and small business owners.  Known as "Counselors to America's Small Business", these volunteers provide face-to-face and online counseling as well as free and low-cost workshops.  Visit their website for a list of upcoming workshops.

     

    Sources of Capital:

     

    ACCION Texas:  www.acciontexas.org

    The mission of ACCION Texas is to provide credit to small businesses that do not have access to loans from commercial sources. Through loans and services, ACCION Texas helps micro-entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses, stabilize and increase their incomes, create additional employment and contribute to the economic revitalization of their communities.

     

    Community Development Loan Fund: www.cdlf.net

    The Community Development Loan Fund (CDLF) is an alternative funding source committed to promoting economic development for small business, non-profits and underserved areas.

     

    South Texas Business Fund: www.sotexbizfund.com

    The South Texas Business Fund is a self-sustaining resource of the city of San Antonio that provides loans to small businesses.

     

     

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  25. Posted on 5/8/2008 5:24 PM

    Mother's Day Pledge: Stronger Child Support Laws

    This weekend we recognize the countless things that our mother's have done to nurture and educate us.  I hope that other leaders in Texas will also take this time to join my pledge that our state will be a better partner in these efforts.

     

    One of the ways that Texas can be a better partner is by helping single mothers collect the child support they are due. The Federal Government reports there is a whopping $9.8 billion in unpaid child support in Texas.

     

    It is hard enough for a single mother to raise her children even if she is financially stable.  But it's just wrong if she also has to struggle paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet because the father isn't living up to his responsibility.

     

    It also leaves children behind. About half of children living in poverty in this country live with single mothers. Only about one-third of those children receive child support.

     

    We must work with parents who have trouble making their child support payments, but we can't let parents off the hook if they try to avoid their responsibilities.

     

    In the next legislative session we will work to give the Attorney General's office the tools to locate and collect money that a noncustodial parent is trying to hide. We will also give the Attorney General more time to collect unpaid child support so single mothers don't have to worry about the clock running out.

     

    This Mother's Day, I want moms who are struggling to get child support to know that they are not alone.  I invite them to share their personal stories below. I'll pass these stories on to my colleagues in the Texas Legislature as we continue our fight to ensure that Texas honors our mothers with stronger child support protections.  

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  26. Posted on 5/6/2008 4:56 PM

    Save Gas Money and the Planet

    Oil company profits may be going through the roof, but high gas prices are squeezing families on a limited budget. Something is wrong with this picture.

     

    I'm pleased the FTC is strengthening protections against gas price manipulation. Congress should also shift tax breaks from oil companies to consumers and renewable energy. But the real solution is transforming the economy so we are no longer hostage to global oil prices.

     

    I have researched ways the state can provide Texans some relief until we build new energy and transportation systems, such as light rail transit. But, frankly, so far I haven't found anything that will do the trick in the short-term.

     

    Fortunately, there are a few steps we can all take to immediately save money on gas and cut down on air pollution.

     

    In addition to driving less, did you know you can save the equivalent of 14 cents per gallon by keeping your engine properly tuned; 35 cents per gallon by replacing old air filters; or 11 cents per gallon by keeping your tires properly inflated?

     

    It can add up to a lot of savings for you and a lot less smog in the air we breathe.  Check out more suggestions and information online.

     

    - Mike

     

    P.S. In the spirit of saving money and doing your part to save the environment, don't forget about the sales tax holiday on energy efficient light bulbs, ACs, dishwashers and more, May 24-26.

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  27. Posted on 3/10/2008 12:22 PM

    District Office Move - April 1

    Our District office will be closed from March 24th - 31st as we prepare to move the office to a new location.

     

    During that time staff will be checking office voicemail regularly in order to minimize interruptions in service to our constituents and our capitol office will remain open.

     

    We will reopen on April 1 at our new location, 1114 S. St. Mary's St. Suite 110.

     

    We appreciate your patience and look forward to welcoming you to our new location.

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  28. Posted on 2/27/2008 12:52 AM

    Talk a Walk or Make a Call to Prevent Child Abuse

    On March 8th, community members will be block walking to support parents and spread information about resources to prevent child abuse.  You can help by volunteering to knock on doors and speak to parents that morning.

    Where: Meet at PCI/Headstart, 1227 Brady Blvd San Antonio, TX 78207 

    When: March 8th, 9.a.m. volunteer training, block walking begins at 10 a.m.

    Contact Rachel Johnston in Senator Uresti's office for more information rachel.johnston@senate.state.tx.us.

    Parents who are in crisis can call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.  Parents can also call 2-1-1 to find out about programs to address critical needs in their family that may be a source of stress. 
     

     

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  29. Posted on 2/25/2008 6:44 PM

    Clearing a Path for Hardworking Families To Succeed

    Are you or your neighbors unable to afford health insurance? Have you ever wondered what public programs might be available to you?  Even the most hardworking families need a helping hand now and then.

     

    You can find out what programs are available to assist you by calling 2-1-1 or visiting the state's Help In Texas website www.211texas.org.  The website and phone services can provide information on the Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Long Term Care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, as well as child care and public pre-kindergarten programs.

    If you have already applied for state services through the Health and Human Services Commission, and have been unsuccessful at resolving a problem through 2-1-1 or the local benefits office, you can contact the HHSC's Office of the Ombudsman toll-free at 1-877-787-8999.

    To inquire or file a complaint concerning Food Stamps, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF) call 1-800-252-9330

    Additional Health and Human Services Commission Contact Information:

    TDD Hotline:   1-888-425-6889   or   512-438-3087

    E-mail:             contact@hhsc.state.tx.us

    Internet:           www.hhs.state.tx.us/OMB/

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  30. Posted on 1/2/2008 12:56 PM

    New "One-Stop Shop" for Parents

    State officials recently joined me in launching a new service for parents seeking early childhood care and education options, such as public pre-K, Head Start, or child care.  This new program is the result of legislation that I authored. 
     
    Parents can now call 2-1-1 or go online to find public programs for their kids.
     
    Making sure there is "no wrong door" to these services is an example of smart government at work - by coordinating services we can enroll more children using our existing resources. Click here to read more about my ongoing effort to make sure parents know how to enroll their kids in the early childhood programs that can shape their lives forever. 

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  31. Posted on 12/18/2007 4:22 PM

    What am I supposed to do with this paint can?

    Earlier this month we had a fabulous workshop for community members with staff from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  They provided very practical tips for homeowners and community groups who are concerned about clean air and water. 

     

    I wanted to share these great resources with those of you who were unable to attend.  Please pass them on to your friends and neighbors.

     

    Click here for information on future workshops or sign up for our email updates to get notices about future events.

      

    Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

     

    24 hour complaint line (for environmental concerns with businesses or residential properties)

           Small Business and Local Government Assistance Program

        • 1-800-447-2827 or 490-3096
        • 3 members of staff available in San Antonio available to help
        • Industry Specific Webpages - www.sbgla.info

    Take Care of Texas

     

    Recycling and Waste Reduction

    • Wondering where to take items for recycling, such as paint cans or old computers? Describe the item and enter your zip code and this site will give you a list of locations.
    • http://www.earth911.org/

    Energy Conservation

    • State Energy Conservation Office (SECO)
    • (512) 463-1931

    Hazardous Waste Disposal

    • City of San Antonio
    • (210) 207-6400

    Xeriscaping

    • Landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment
    • Plants, soils, placement and watering practices
    • (210) 704-7297

    Resources for Schools and Teachers

    Texas Clean School Bus Program

     

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  32. Posted on 11/14/2007 11:58 PM

    Do You Want Cleaner Air and Lower Utility Bills?

     

    More people throughout Texas are becoming passionate about clean air, water and energy, and it's exciting that all of us can be part of the solution.  

     

    Jeanne and I are working to make our home more energy efficient.  By doing so, we can help to cut back on demand from power plants. That means there's a little less of the air pollution that makes us sick and produces a thickening blanket of carbon around the planet.

     

    Did I mention we're also saving money on our utility bills?

     

    Some of the steps were very simple. Others were more substantial choices that we made in the course of remodeling our home.

     

    Here are a few examples:

     

    -          When replacing major appliances, we've chosen Energy Star appliances.

    -          We joined the CPS Energy peak savers program so that our compressor cycles off at peak utilization times.

    -          We're switching all of our light bulbs to CFL bulbs, which use 75 percent less energy than regular bulbs.

    -          We added weather-stripping to all of our doors.

    -          When we replaced our roof, we chose a silver metal roof to reflect heat and reduce our cooling costs.

     

    If you're interested in learning more about what you can do to save energy and money visit the CPS Energy website: http://www.cpsenergy.com/content_listInternet.asp?elmt_id=13.

     

    Be sure to check out the deal they have for discount CFL bulbs at local stores until the end of November.

     

    If you want to learn more about saving water, take a look at the conservation tips and programs on the SAWS website:

    http://www.saws.org/conservation/

     

    The Metropolitan Partnership for Energy's Build San Antonio Green Program is another great resource: http://www.buildsagreen.org/.

     

    I'd love to hear how you're doing your part to protect our air, water and climate. Drop me an e-mail at mike@leaderslisten.org

     

     

    - Mike

     

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  33. Posted on 10/4/2007 11:52 AM

    What a Shame! President Bush's SCHIP Veto

    Dear friends,

     

    We knew it was coming, but it was still a major disappointment.

     

    Yesterday, President Bush vetoed a bipartisan plan to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) - a plan that has played a critical role in improving our children's health for the past decade.

     

    Fortunately, Congress can still override the veto. You can click here to find contact information for your U.S. Representative and ask him or her to stand up for the children of working parents. For more information about S-CHIP, how the Texas delegation voted, and the impact of the President's veto, you can also click here.

     

    If you missed my S-CHIP interview on Univision last night, you may be interested to read the press release I distributed minutes after the veto.

     

    Together we can ensure that our government makes smart, responsible investments to ensure that children can reach their full potential!

     

    - Mike 

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  34. Posted on 8/8/2007 12:38 AM

    What a Night! National Night Out

    Tonight, folks gathered for block parties and barbeques in San Antonio and around the country to meet their neighbors and prevent crime as part of National Night Out. 

    I made it to as many events as physically possible, and my staff and volunteers were present at 10 events in our district to listen to neighbors' concerns, share stories, listen to great music and, of course, eat hot dogs!

    Joan Carabin, President of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, perhaps said it best in her invitation to neighbors, "National Night Out only comes once a year...and it is our chance to show the children that there is more than one type of organized 'GANG' to join."  District 123 is fortunate to have some of the very best organizations of caring neighbors in our city.  I really believe that by continuing to build a movement of people who care about our urban neighborhoods, we will unleash the huge potential that these communities hold.

    A member of my staff (who apparently also had trouble sleeping after all of the activity) put together a scrapbook from the events.

    We hope that you'll enjoy seeing your neighbors and other associations in action.

    Thank you all for your hard work in organizing these events.  I enjoyed seeing many of you tonight!!  Now off to bed...

    - Mike

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  35. Posted on 6/6/2007 9:33 PM

    Dramatic End to 80th Legislature

    Last week the 80th Legislative session came to a dramatic close as a battle over the leadership of the House of Representatives erupted.   As many of you heard, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers attempted to make a motion to allow the House to vote on keeping or replacing the Speaker. I was shocked that the Speaker announced he had "absolute authority", refused to recognize members requesting a vote, and thwarted the House rules in an effort to cling to power. Although the power grab was so egregious that the Parliamentarian resigned and many of his allies denounced his actions, he managed to hold on to power.

     

    And though the headlines were dominated by the Speaker’s race, we did accomplish some important business in those last days. 

     

    The House passed legislation that restores some of the previous cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), enabling 125,000 children to join again.  We increased funding for our state parks. We revived the Texas Tomorrow Fund to help parents who want to save for their children's college education.  I scored a few victories in the homestretch as well, as the Governor signed my bill to regulate the Refund Anticipation Loans that perpetuate poverty in many of our neighborhoods, and the House and Senate sent the Governor my bills to promote recess in elementary schools, improve railroad safety near schools, and establish a safe, effective way for employers to set up child care centers for their employees' kids.

     

    I'm glad to be home in San Antonio with my family & am easing back into "normal life".  But I end this session knowing that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done.  I believe that we can and must do better for our teachers, who will receive a mere $425 per year pay raise.  We have to put stronger measures in place to protect our water and air quality.  And we must organize and educate homeowners if we are to overcome opposition by powerful interest groups and pass sales price disclosure legislation to level the playing field for property tax payers.  You can count on me to continue organizing on these issues in the coming months.

     

    -          Mike

     

    P.S. The Express News published a useful wrap up of the session, summarizing the status of major legislation. To read it click here.

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  36. Posted on 5/14/2007 9:19 PM

    What a Week!

    Dear friends,

    Last Thursday marked the deadline for the House of Representatives to vote on House Bills in time for them to become law this legislative session.  That meant a string of 16-hour days considering & debating hundreds of measures on the House Floor.

    But those long days and sleepless nights were worth it after we scored a few key victories on education, child care, and programs to give working families a leg up.  Here's a sample of our accomplishments last week:

    Expanding Educational Opportunities: I believe that we must do a better job of making sure all Texas children have the support and opportunities they need to succeed in school.  Early education, such as pre-kindergarten, has proven to be particularly critical for ensuring that all children start school ready to learn on the same level as their peers, but many children who need this support are not enrolled.  I'm pleased to report that I offered successful amendments to direct the Texas Education Agency to study ways to increase pre-kindergarten enrollment and to report on education disparities between economically disadvantaged students and their peers. I also helped to pass legislation to expand the Communities in Schools high school dropout prevention program.

    Supporting Tax Rebates for Working Families: The federal Earned Income and Child Tax Credits provide important economic boosts to hard-working families. These programs are often undermined when families don't know they qualify or pay high fees to private tax preparers.  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers provide a great way to overcome these challenges, support these families, and boost the local economy. This week I passed an amendment to add VITA centers to the list of community initiatives eligible for funding from the state's new Renewing our Communities Account.

    Taking a New Approach to Energy: In the midst of global warming, increasing air pollution, rising energy costs and harmful dependence on foreign oil, it has become clear that we must develop policies to promote energy conservation and the use of renewable energy.  I believe the Texas government should take the lead in this effort by ensuring that new buildings constructed with government funds meet advanced energy standards.  I was able to take an important step in this direction by passing an amendment requiring school districts to develop a plan for tracking and reducing energy consumption in schools.

    Telling the Truth about the Lottery: Without fail, every time I have a town hall meeting or go somewhere to talk about education, a constituent will ask me, "Where did the money from the Lottery go?" It's a great question, because the lotto continues to be touted as a source of revenue for education, while we struggle as a state to fund our schools.  The truth is that the revenue from the lottery has not provided new education funding. Instead it was used to supplant general revenue - money from other sources that the state would have devoted to education anyway.  This week, I passed a measure to prohibit the Lottery Commission from falsely advertising that the purchase of lottery tickets increase education funding.

    Affordable, Accessible Child Care: The House of Representatives also approved my legislation to make it easier for small businesses to offer on-site child care to their employees. Click here to read more.

    Thanks for all of your support and encouragement. These are small, but significant victories that give us the fuel to keep fighting for a better Texas.

    - Mike

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  37. Posted on 5/4/2007 12:59 PM

    Watch Mike's Speech on Global Warming at the Step It Up Rally

    Rep. Villarreal spoke to rally goers at the Alamo at the Step It Up Rally on April 14th.

    Click here to watch his speech on steps that our state needs to take to protect our air quality.

     

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  38. Posted on 4/2/2007 10:19 PM

    The Battle Over the State Budget

    After 18 grueling hours, the Texas House of Representatives concluded our consideration of the state's $150 billion budget at 3:00 a.m. last Thursday.  I was disappointed that the budget shortchanged children's health care, educational programs, and other critical priorities.  However, I  worked hard to improve the budget -- and scored a few victories.

     
    I helped lead the debate on a successful amendment by Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) to provide teachers an $800 across-the-board pay increase. Along with passage of a provision prohibiting the use of state funds on private school vouchers over the next two years, the pay raise was the most significant change that Democrats and Republican allies won during the budget debate.

    I was also very active in other efforts to improve the budget, and filed amendments to provide a cost-of-living adjustment for teacher retirement benefits, shift funding from large business incentives to small business loans, expand clean air programs, and restore full funding for family planning. Although none of these amendments were ultimately included in the bill, I did successfully attach amendments to encourage better enforcement of worker's compensation laws and fund a kindergarten expansion program for at-risk children.

    The next step is for the budget bill to be taken up by the Texas Senate, and then representatives of the House and Senate will meet to negotiate any differences between their versions of the legislation.

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  39. Posted on 3/15/2007 3:56 PM

    Abuse at the Texas Youth Commission: The Price of Neglecting Government's Responsibilities

    Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski recently testified to the State Legislature about his investigation into abuse at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), stating, "When I interviewed the victims in this case, I saw kids with fear in their eyes, kids who knew they were trapped in an institution within a system that would not respond to their cries for help."

    His testimony was part of the daily revelations about sexual abuse at TYC that have horrified me and my staff. We have learned that as far back as 2005, an investigation by the Texas Rangers found that TYC administrators had repeated sexual contact with incarcerated youth under their supervision. The press has reported 94 confirmed cases of sexual abuse but fewer than 15 cases in which charges have been filed. TYC officials reportedly tried to hide critical information about the investigations, and the Governor's office has failed to launch an independent investigation or go along with the Legislature's demands for new leadership at TYC.

    This crisis is a product of mismanagement, incompetence and a lack of accountability, but it is also the result of a governing philosophy that prioritizes lower taxes and smaller budgets above all else.

    Even before the sexual abuse stories hit the front pages, children's advocates and some legislators tried to warn that budget cuts had dangerously crippled TYC. TYC didn't have enough staff to keep themselves or the incarcerated children safe and the staff never received the training they needed. These challenges, along with low pay and benefits, led to sky-high rates of turnover, further compounding the problem. The end result is juvenile offenders that are not only the victims of reprehensible abuse, but are also less likely to turn their lives around and become rehabilitated, contributing members of society.

    Juvenile Corrections Officers (JCOs) from TYC recently visited my office and asked for the training and support that they need to keep themselves and the children safe. I believe we need to do a better job of making these smart investments, protecting the vulnerable, and listening to the people on the frontlines, whether it's the children that Brian Burzynski interviewed or the JCOs who visited the Capitol.

    My staff and I will be furthering our investigation into the TYC tragedy and identifying solutions. I will keep you updated on our progress.

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