This week, I stood with members of both parties to support HB 21, which would address our broken public school finance system and increase funding for our schools by $1.6 billion. I am honored that Chairman Huberty, who heads the Public Education Committee in the House, asked me to be a joint author on this important piece of legislation.
After a Texas Tribune series exposed the connections between the state’s embattled child welfare system and child sex trafficking, the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus has asked state
“If there was ever a call to action for state officials to get serious about reforming foster care, this was it,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, wrote in the letter to Paxton on Wednesday.
The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit filed against Texas’ child welfare system was a victim of sex trafficking. Turner’s letter cited The Texas Tribune’s reporting in the “Sold Out” series, which found there could be tens of thousands of child sex-trafficking victims in Texas today — and that many of them have had some contact with the child welfare system.
“Those stunning facts should outrage every single one of us,” Turner wrote.
Since a federal judge ruled in late 2015 that the long-term foster care system had violated children’s constitutional rights by placing them at undue risk of harm, Paxton has objected to or worked to delay various court-ordered reforms.
The judge’s scathing opinion held that Texas had violated the constitutional rights of some 12,000 children in permanent managing conservatorship, the state’s designation for children who cannot find lasting homes with relatives or adoptive parents and are unable to be reunited with their biological families. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”
“Since the ruling, you and your office have inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on pointless and unsuccessful appeals and objections,” the letter said. Paxton’s most recent objection, which the court rejected last week, is the latest example of “legal foot-dragging,” Turner wrote.
Paxton and other top Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have argued the class-action lawsuit against the state a waste of money, that the federal judge overstated foster care’s deficiencies and that the state can make its own decisions about reforms. Paxton’s office has called the ruling a “misguided federal takeover of the Texas foster-care system.”
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. In previous comments about the lawsuit, Paxton has said he is obligated to defend the state, not make policy.
Link to letter to Attorney General Paxton: 2.22.17_CTurner_LettertoAGPaxton_CPS.FosterCare
It’s only Thursday and it’s already been a busy week.
On Monday, my colleagues chose me to serve as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. I am honored and humbled that my fellow House Democrats have put their confidence in me.
As Caucus Chair, I look forward to working with all of my Democratic colleagues as we focus on strengthening our public schools, creating more economic opportunity for Texas families and standing up to the misguided policies coming from the Trump Administration.
The House Democratic Caucus has a lot of work to get done this legislative session, but by working together, I am confident we will protect the best interests of Texas families.
It didn’t take long before House Democrats were put to work.
On Tuesday, Governor Abbott gave his State of the State address and laid out his priorities for the legislative session. With so many critical issues impacting our state, it was my hope that Governor Abbott would focus on those issues and largely avoid partisan rhetoric.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. In his speech, there was far too much focus on right-wing red meat issues and too little on the crisis impacting CPS and foster care or the need for more public school funding. There was no mention of the 60,000 children who may lose access to their speech, occupational or physical therapy due to last session’s draconian budget cuts or the need to spend time and money on expanding mental health services across our communities and state.
In reaction to the speech, I also released the following statement:
Governor Abbott’s State of the State address was one of missed opportunities and misplaced priorities. Texas Democrats have one priority – giving all Texans a fair shot at achieving the American Dream. That means investing in our schools, making college more affordable, protecting vulnerable children and making sure Texans can earn fair pay.
Governor Abbott spent his speech largely on partisan and divisive issues that will hurt, not help, the people of Texas. New barriers to women’s health care, attacks on local elected officials, telling Texans how they can and cannot spend their paycheck and denying homeowners the right to hold their insurance company accountable do nothing to move our state forward.
In contrast, House Democrats are ready to focus on our communities’ priorities and to address the real needs of our state, not focus on partisan rhetoric. We want every Texan to have a fair shot at getting a good education, finding a well-paying job and feeling safe in their community.
House Democrats have a lot of work ahead of us and we will fight day and night for our communities and the children of this state, and against the divisive hate-filled rhetoric that is plaguing our political system in Washington and here at home.
Yesterday, several Republican members of the Texas House held a public “briefing” to spread misinformation about members of the Islamic faith in Texas. As a member of the Legislature who proudly represents a community with a large Muslim population, I am disgusted by today’s event.
It’s obvious to me that there is an incredible lack of understanding about and experience with the Muslim community. I invite any of my colleagues to come to Tarrant County and join me for Friday prayer at one of our local mosques. I think it would help open their eyes and minds – maybe even their hearts.
Displayed prominently in my office is a sign which reads, “Hate Has No Home Here.” It never will.
Our state’s budget is a moral document. How the state legislature spends taxpayer dollars for the next two years is a direct reflection of the priorities of our government.
Last week, both the House and the Senate released their initial budget proposals. I haven’t quite made it through all 2000+ pages of what’s being proposed, but what I know so far is that the House version provides more necessary funding for public education and health and human services than the Senate budget. That’s good. Of course, with the good comes the bad – both proposed budgets come up short in adequately addressing the critical issues facing our state.
These are the urgent needs:
- Increasing public school funding and making our finance system more equitable
- Addressing the critical CPS caseworker shortage and finding ways to improve foster care
- Reinstating acute therapy rates which were cut, impacting 60,000 children who may lose access to physical, speech and occupational therapy
- Expanding and supporting mental health programs to help more Texans
Even with so many critical issues in need of attention, some of which are at crisis levels, there’s still far too much emphasis on border security funding in both budgets (to the tune of $800 million in the Senate version and $663 million on the House side).
In response to these figures, the El Paso Times editorial board called state funding for border security “more about politics than results.” I couldn’t agree more.
During the next several weeks, there will be much debate about the budget proposals. For those outside our district, call your legislators in both the House and Senate and share your thoughts. To find out who represents you, click here. Of course, you can always contact me and share your views.
On Saturday, members of my Capitol staff, including our honorary “junior intern” (aka Lisa’s and my godson), 5-year-old Tristan (pictured waving at the crowd), were among the 50,000+ marching at the State Capitol. The marches held on Saturday around our nation and around the world were a real testament to grassroots organizing and the power of a unifying message.
It was an important first step of what I
hope will be many.
I look forward to hearing from the energized women and men who marched in our community, in Austin, or in Washington, D.C., as well as from those unable to march, but stood in solidarity. Their collective voices will no doubt result in real change and a brighter future for Tristan and future generations.
P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for Texas 101 Day at the Capitol. We still have a few seats available. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for updates and exciting announcements about the trip. Call 817-459-2800 to reserve your spot!
With Lisa by my side, last week I once again took the oath of office to represent the people of District 101.
It’s an incredible honor to come back to the Capitol to be a strong voice on the issues that matter to our community: increasing funding for our public schools, protecting our state’s most vulnerable kids who have been victims of abuse and neglect, and fighting for fair and equal treatment for all, regardless of economic status, race, or sexual orientation or identity.
During the next several months, if you’re in Austin, I hope you will come by and say hello and talk to me or my staff about the issues that matter most to you.
To help kick off the new year and the new legislative session, my website — www.repchristurner.com — has a new look. Please take a few minutes to check it out and let me know what you think. I hope you will visit it often for regular updates about what’s going on at the Capitol and in House District 101.
On the home front, you probably received the announcement that we have moved. Right before Christmas, we relocated our district office to 320 Westway Place, Suite 501 in Arlington, just south of I-20 and east of Matlock, a more central location in our district. The new Center Street bridge will be open soon, providing convenient access for constituents north of I-20. We hope you will come by and visit.
While you are there, say hello to our new district director, Miles Wilson, who joined Team Turner earlier this month. Miles grew up in Arlington and recently graduated from Claremont McKenna College in California. He’s already been great addition to our office and has hit the ground running. I hope you reach out to Miles, either by visiting the office, by phone at 817-459-2800 or email at email@example.com.
If you’ve signed up for the February 8th Texas 101 Day at the Capitol, you’ll have any opportunity to meet Miles then. If you haven’t signed up for a seat on the bus, it’s not too late! For details, call our district office, which you can reach at the number above.
The bus is leaving on Wednesday, February 8, for our biennial Texas 101 Day at the Capitol. My staff and I are putting together a great day of activities in and around the Capitol for those who attend.
Departing Arlington at 6:00am, the bus will arrive at the Capitol at 10:00am and return to Arlington at 7:00pm.Breakfast and lunch are provided. Space is limited, so email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817-459-2800 for more details or to reserve your spot on the bus!
“BSI (Brain Synergy Institute) put the health and safety of participants at risk…”
Last year, I asked for an Inspector General (IG) auditof a 2013 contract between Brain Synergy Institute (formerly Carrick Brain Centers) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The request came after Dallas Morning News and NBC5 news stories highlighting troubling issues with the contract and the use of a controversial “spinning chair” treatment on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Late last week, the IG’s report was released and the findings confirmed many of my concerns.
First, some background – in the summer of 2013, then-Governor Rick Perry’s staff began negotiations with HHSC executives to sign a contract with Irving-based Brain Synergy Institute (BSI) for a research study focused on treating veterans with PTS and/or TBI with a spinning chair or “Off-Vertical Axis Rotation Therapy” (OVART). This controversial “treatment” had not been vetted by the scientific community and there was no proof that it would help veterans, or anyone else. Even so, after Governor Perry visited BSI several times and with pressure from his office, the contract was quickly approved.
The state ended up spending more than $2.2 million of your money on this useless “study.”
The Inspector General concluded what I have suspected all along – a stunning level of incompetence on the part of former agency officials and abuse of taxpayer dollars by BSI.
Here’s are some of the deficiencies highlighted in the report:
- A poorly designed contract, including inadequate research protocol and did not have a control group nor oversight by an Institutional Review Board (IRB)
- BSI didn’t provide the same treatment to all participants, making findings invalid
- Completion reports didn’t meet the contract requirements
- The study was not valid and there is no way to determine whether participants benefitted from the treatment
- BSI billed for treatment of veterans who were not Texas residents and several veterans who had already received the treatment
- Worst of all, BSI put the health and safety of participants at risk
In response to the findings, HHSC is demanding BSI pay back over $278,000 to the state of Texas.
Getting some money back from these bad actors is a good start, but given the long list of their failures, they should return every penny of the $2.2-plus million they received as part of this contract.
BSI is not the only one at fault. This is yet one more example of the cronyism that was rampant during the administration of Governor Perry. It is clear this contract would never have happened were it not for his office’s meddling.
Texas taxpayers deserve better than this kind of corruption and cronyism. And veterans who have served our nation deserve better than useless studies and false promises.
Bring an unwrapped toy for a child served by Mission Arlington. To RSVP, click here or call 817-459-2800.