Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lower Speed Limits are Better for the Environment

Lower speed limits mean cars release fewer of the carbon emissions that hurt Texans' health and alter landscapes, including those beautiful stretches along the lonely roads in West Texas. 
photo: Liz Farmer

In Thomas Brown’s Texas Government Blog, Brown tries to persuade readers that increasing highway speeds in Texas is an improvement for drivers. The title of his blog, ‘85 MPH is plenty safe,’ sets the tone for his argument that increasing speed limits would not be a safety problem in rural Texas. However, Brown’s piece does not confront the bigger issue that comes along with increased speed limits: carbon emissions. By increasing speeds, Texas would be signing off on increasing carbon emissions. Texas ranks the highest in carbon dioxide emissions of all the states, according to Texas on the Brink. About a third of the state’s carbon emissions come from transportation and “by some estimates more than half of all Texans live in areas where the air is unsafe to breathe, as defined by the EPA's Clean Air Act,” according to The Daily Beast. This issue far exceeds any annoyance people might have with the speed limits. It also is an issue that affects everyone in the state, not just those driving along rural roads. 

This problem should factor in on determining speed limits for future roads and for speed limits on existing roads. Brown suggests that increasing speed limits would decrease the amount of state money needed to enforce them. However, there will still be a need for cops to enforce the speed limit, even if the speed limit is faster. If we’re going to talk about saving money then it’s important to consider the financial benefits of lowering speed limits and therefore reducing the rate by which carbon emissions increase. Overall, it would save the state money in the long run to decrease the rate at which carbon emissions are increasing and to not have to try to fix as many environmental repercussions later on. Speed limits should not be increased just because people may “already speed on many rural roads,” as Brown suggests. Laws are in place to improve society in the present and prepare for the future, not just match the impulsive desires of some people. Therefore, it’s important that Texas begin to decrease the rate by which carbon emissions increase. One mechanism in accomplishing this is to decrease speed limits and enforce the limits. This is important for the health of the state’s environment and the health of Texans. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stop Executions of Innocent People

The Texas justice system must be overhauled. 
Texas legislators must pass a bill making executions illegal. It is shameful that this practice has continued this long. During Gov. Rick Perry’s 12 years, the state has executed a staggering 245 convicts, according to the Texas Tribune. Putting Texans to death allows no room for error in a system where humans call the shots. Throughout the years, a few of those wrongly convicted on death row have been cleared of the charges and left to figure out how to go on after these horrific events. They are the lucky ones. 

The not so lucky ones? They’re the ones whose names were cleared after a needle pumped their veins with a lethal injection they knew they never deserved. Others will never get their names cleared. 

Kerry Max Cook was one of the “lucky” ones. Cook was wrongly convicted for Linda Jo Edwards’ rape and murder in 1977. Finally, Cook was released in 1997. “In the years after, every piece of evidence used to convict Cook was revealed to be bogus,” according to the Texas Tribune. This man was almost murdered for a murder he never convicted. There’s your non-bogus evidence that the justice system is broken. Let’s fix it.

Texas has one of the highest rates of executions and recently, confronted troubles in buying lethal injections (the European factories where the injections would have been made insisted that they not be used for executions). The state has turned to using an injection generally used for animal euthanasia. These are unnecessary concerns for the state to focus on.

Unfortunately, human error, bribery, and tampering with evidence will always occur in the justice system. But there is a way to stop executions of innocent people: limit convictions for top offenders to life in prison and put down the injections for good.

Kerry Max Cook, who wrongly sat on death row, holds his book Chasing Justice. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Texas Should Support Low-Income Women

Low-income women in Texas can receive free services from Medicaid’s Women’s Health Program. These services include free birth control, pap smears, and screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, STDs and high blood pressure, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. However, the accessibility to these services is being threatened by Texas politicians. In the last legislative session, the state legislature passed a bill to ban clinics that were merely affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the state’s Women’s Health Program. Clinics affected by this change include Planned Parenthood. Many of the Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide abortions, but do provide other women’s health services. In response to the state’s political games, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided to terminate about $30 million of federal funding for the Women’s Health Program. 

State legislators unfairly targeted Planned Parenthood with this policy. They should stop putting poor women in the middle and fund Planned Parenthood because it provides healthcare to an underserved community. The state legislature has blocked women’s access to healthcare long enough and now it is letting the issue negatively influence the state economically. Instead of receiving the federal funds, which Texas deserves, Gov. Rick Perry has said that state funds will make up for the difference. However, the state faces a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. This is a sad case for Texas. Legislators are limiting low-income women’s access to healthcare. It is a sickening political ploy that will hurt the whole state if it continues. The state is greatly affected by the health of low-income women. These are the women stuck in the cycle of poverty. Planned Parenthood provides these women with a free way to plan their families and take tests to detect illnesses sooner. This relieves the state of bigger healthcare bills that fall on Texas taxpayers, like ER visits. But maybe Texas legislators are too busy making political statements to see these benefits.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Hurts All Texans

I agree with the the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial that if state officials decline federal Medicaid funding it will cause taxpayers greater burdens with less benefits for the poor. The audience for this newspaper tends to be Republican Texans who might agree with Gov. Rick Perry’s theatrical response to the impending expansions of Medicaid due to Obamacare. This editorial reasonably approaches the subject with an understanding that many of the paper’s readers might disagree with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The editorial explains that Texans’ tax money will go toward the Medicaid expansion to cover more uninsured people regardless of Texas officials opting in or out. It goes on to spell out the fact that if Texas opts out of the expansion then the state will lose out on a large chunk of federal funding and the opportunity to cut down on taxpayer expenses to cover uninsured people’s emergency room visits. I think this is a smart way to communicate the cons of Perry’s plan to readers without alienating them. 
The editorial argues that Perry is merely playing politics in order to appear staunchly conservative, which will ultimately hurt the state and the people who live here–insured or uninsured. The argument relies on the assumption that if state legislators side with Perry then they are more concerned about making a political statement than making the best economical and socially responsible decision. I think the editorial is right to imply this and to focus on the inevitable effects. The values reflected in this piece are that the state government should do what’s best for all Texans. The Telegram provides the funding amounts to support the argument, saying “the federal government would provide $76.3 billion in the first five years, compared with state-provided share of about $6 billion.” This shows that Texas could miss out on a comparatively huge chunk of federal funds, but Texans will still have to pay taxes that will help uninsured people outside of Texas. This editorial convinces me that Perry is more concerned with politics than with the wellbeing of Texans and that it would be foolish to opt out of expanded benefits from a program that state taxpayers are already invested in.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Statesman Energy Editorial Lacks Analysis

The state legislature should let local government deal with Austin energy rate increases, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s editorial board. Energy customers who live outside of the city’s jurisdiction do not have a voice in deciding how the revenue from energy rates is used. The intended audience of the editorial is Austinites and people in the surrounding areas who could relay their opinions to state politicians and city officials. The Statesman tends to give more leeway to Democrats so it’s no surprise that the ed board supports the views of Sen. Kirk Watson - D and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell - D. The argument boils down to state government leaving local issues alone. The ed board assumes that “the worst path utility customers outside Austin can take it to take their grievance to the Legislature.” However, they do not expand well upon why this would be a bad approach. 
Republican state Rep. Paul Workman’s said he plans to write legislation to transfer the revenue that Austin Energy gets from customers outside of the city. He also said he might write legislation that would let those customers sign up with a different electricity provider. I disagree with the editorial’s stance that increasing utility competition would be a bad approach. In its argument against Workman, the ed board points to the city of San Antonio, which also uses funds it receives from customers outside of the city. The editorial’s argument against state involvement is not thorough enough regarding Workman’s plan. It sounds like the ed board does not have the audiences best interests in mind and is instead preoccupied with holding off state influence no matter what that influence entails. The editorial suggests, but does not endorse, following Watson and Leffingwell’s recommendation to take Austin Energy’s power from the city council and give it to an independent board with representatives for customers outside Austin. I think this could be a good compromise for setting rates, but yet again, not enough information is given about how this approach would really affect those customers and the issue of their revenues being used for city purposes. 
I can understand the desire of working through this local issue on the local government level. However, the editorial did not even consider the implications of Rep. Workman’s legislation or how it could be implemented on the local level without the Legislature. It feels like the ed board wrote this piece from the perspective of Austin versus Texas–David versus Goliath. Energy customers end up being used as the rocks David throws to stave off the giant. But energy issues are more complex than a political power struggle. Or at least they should be. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Texas Education Lags Behind Nation

The State Board of Education does not plan to adopt recently drafted national science standards for public schools, according to The Texas Tribune. Gov. Rick Perry and board members said they are not interested in implementing science curriculum made outside of the state because they view it as federal intrusion. Science curriculum is a hot-button issue, especially when it comes to evolution. Perry and several members of the board said that they believe the theory of evolution contains significant holes and believe instead in creationism. The board criticized teaching evolution in schools when it last updated science curriculum in 2009. The board decided to emphasize that evolution is a scientific theory when presented to students. Education standards are highly important since the younger population of Texans is growing and they are are not receiving well-rounded educations that will be competitive on the national stage. The economic stability of many poor Texas families would improve if their children entered the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, adopting the national science standards, or improving the state’s standers, is an integral piece in providing children with a solid educational foundation that will set them up for such successes.