November 06, 2013

Dewhurst: Playing politics with juveniles

This op-ed from the Odessa American, pretty much sums it up.

Both Lite Guv David Dewhurst (and Speaker Joe Straus, for that matter), are all about claiming to be fiscal conservatives, etc.

But, almost as much as our state's money-waster in chief, Attorney General Greg Abbott, when fiscal conservativism hits the reality road of political priorities, in this case, paying off political buddies in the Lege, at the expense of not doing right for juveniles under the state's charge, it's a different story. (That said, I'm not sure any of the other blind mice who are challenging Dudley Dewless would be any less political on an issue like this, if it were THEIR political BFFs at stake, or at stakeholders.)

Here's the story, per an Austin American-Statesman piece referenced by the OA. I'm using a long block quote which I will trim as much as I can to fit fair use issues:
The Corsicana Residential Treatment Center is a rather benign name that belies a facility with a troubled history of problems. In 2010, a federal review discovered a high number of assaults in facilities run the Texas Youth Commission, including the Corsicana unit, which notched the dubious distinction of having the second-highest sexual assault rate in the country. ...

There were also reports of problems with staffing and structural problems. ...

To make the facility meet modern standards would cost Texas taxpayers $26 million. That number was for repairs — not for increased staff at a facility that has also encountered shortages of mental health professionals to care for the youth held there.

The Corsicana facility was an ideal candidate for closure, and in 2013 legislators voted to do just that, amid plenty of self-congratulation over a job well done.

There are some Capitol stories, however, that resist a happy ending, and the Corsicana facility is one of them. ...

The institution has powerful friends who include Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is campaigning for re-election on a record of government frugality, and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. 

Though Straus isn’t given to chest-thumping histrionics, he is loyal to his lieutenants. One of those is state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, in whose district the facility sits. Cook chairs the House State Affairs Committee.

Dewhurst is courting the support of state Sen. Bryan Birdwell, R-Granbury. The Corsicana facility is in Birdwell’s district. ...

The Corsicana facility, ... at one time housed 200 youth committed to its care; now it houses 60. ...

But those 60 detainees translate to 280 jobs that would leave Corsicana were the facility to be shuttered as the Legislature clearly intends.

So, Dewhurst and Straus sent letters to juvenile justice officials last month saying the closure decision warrants further review. As co-chairmen of the Legislative Budget Board, they can spend money when the Legislature is not in session

There's one other piece here, which both the OA and the AAS have neglected.

I've long been on record as saying Texas, even if it wants to keep a part-time Lege, at least needs to go to every year, rather than ever other year, legislative sessions. Yes, a lot of those in power want to run Texas like a banana republic, and a Lege that meets every two years makes that easier.

But, do we have to put up with that, including the banana republic issue of the LBB being able to play fiscal kingmaker when the Lege is gone? No.

Of course, the LBB could be reigned in by the Lege as it now stands. Require any spending, or spending shuffling, of more than X dollars without a demonstrable emergency, to require a special session.

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