Abdallah case highlights battle for tougher DWI laws

by JIM DOUGLAS | WFAA-TV | April 23, 2010

ARLINGTON – A repeat drunk driver, John Patrick Barton had three prior convictions and now faces murder charges.

However, his is not the only face that has sparked outrage over the state’s drunk driving laws. Stewart Richardson had seven previous convictions before his alleged eighth left an Arlington child in a vegetative state. If convicted, Richardson’s sentence cannot exceed 20 years, no matter how many convictions.

Now, there is a push to change that.

State Rep. Chris Turner is leading the effort for tougher DWI laws, which would be called Abdallah’s Law, named after three-year-old Abdallah Khader.

While the law wouldn’t help Abdallah, it could help other victims and maybe get more drunks off the roads.

Steroids now help keep Abdallah alive in a permanent vegetative state. Abdallah can’t move, but his story has moved a lot of people. About 10,000 people have signed up on the Facebook page “Pray for Abdallah.” People are outraged by the long DWI history of Richardson, the driver who crushed the Khader family’s car, leaving Abdallah in his current state.

“A person with seven DWIs before, I thought it was obvious to put this man in jail for life,” said Loubna Elharazin, Abdallah’s mother.

Prior to the crash with the Khader family,  the DWIs were in other states. Unless Texas prosecutors convince an appeals court otherwise, the most Richardson faces if convicted is 20 years.

“I think the time is right for the legislature to act on this, and really, really get aggressive with drunk driving,” Turner said.

Turner, who met with Abdallah’s family, wants laws tightened to make sure all out-of-state DWIs carry their full weight in Texas courts. Turner also wants tougher penalties for intoxication assault when the results are catastrophic.

“Obviously, that type of catastrophic injury is far different than breaking a leg, breaking an arm, that sort of thing,” he said.

Change in DWI cases is something Abdallah’s mother hopes will save lives.

“No law that’s going to get passed will take this pain away,” she said. “It’s not going to change anything, but it will protect other people.”

Khader turns four next week. His family will throw him a party, but just like his third birthday, he’ll never know it.

Texas is the worst state for drunk driving deaths. In the state of Texas, there were 1,292 alcohol-related deaths in 2007. Twenty-one percent of were in North Texas, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Saturday, dozens of members of “Abdallah’s Army,” as they call themselves, will don their bright yellow T-shirts and take part in the annual Walk Like MADD, sponsored by MADD. Thousands are expected to take part in the walk, which begins at 8:30 a.m.

Under fire, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas offers to cover medical expenses for Crowley baby

BY JAN JARVIS | Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Mar. 30, 2010

Houston has health insurance.

The news, announced on a Web site set up for the Crowley baby, ended his family’s weeklong fight after the newborn was denied health insurance because he needed surgery to repair a heart defect — what the insurance company called a pre-existing condition.

Doug and Kim Tracy’s battle with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas garnered national attention, coming on the heels of historic healthcare legislation, signed by President Barack Obama a week ago, which will require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

The Star-Telegram reported on the Tracys’ problem on Friday. That evening, Darren Rodgers, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, personally contacted the family. Initially he offered to see whether coverage through the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool could be back-dated to the baby’s birth, Tracy said.

But when that was not possible, he offered to work with Cook Children’s Medical Center to pay for Houston’s medical care.

On Monday, a letter outlining the offer was sent by courier to the Tracy home. Blue Cross Blue Shield agreed to pay the baby’s medical expenses from his birth on March 15 through March 26, when coverage through the risk pool took effect. Houston’s surgery took place on March 19.

“I feel like Blue Cross Blue Shield finally realized they made a mistake and did come through for me,” said Tracy, 39. “I am happy this is taken care of and my little boy is going to be fine.”

Privacy laws prevent Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas from commenting on individual situations, said Margaret Jarvis, a company representative.

“We understand what an emotional time this is for the Tracy family and we regret the frustration they are feeling,” a statement from the company reads. “What we can tell you is that we’ve responded to Mr. Tracy in writing over the weekend and are pleased to report that we’ve proposed a solution that addresses his and his family’s concerns.”

Tracy said that coverage his son will get through the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool will cost only $10 more than the policy that he was denied.

Doug and Kim Tracy do not carry health insurance on themselves, but they do cover their two other children and planned to add Houston. The couple said that they are self-employed and find insurance for themselves too expensive. She owns a beauty salon and he owns Burleson Scuba and Paintball. They paid for prenatal care and hospitalization out of their pockets.

Tracy said he called Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas before the baby’s birth to get the child covered but was told by an insurance representative that he had 30 days after the birth to apply for a policy. Then the baby was born with the defect.

After the denial of coverage, friends rallied around the family and contacted politicians and the media to publicize the situation. State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, and Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, asked Blue Cross to reconsider its decision. Turner said that it was great news that the medical bills would be covered.

“I commend Doug and Kim for their tenacity in fighting for their son, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to help in this situation,” the statement read.

Doug Tracy said he appreciates all the support his family received. Friends used Facebook and other outlets to garner national attention for the story, which Tracy said put a lot of pressure on Blue Cross Blue Shield. “I think they realized this is not going to go away,” Tracy said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield would not say what prompted its decision, citing privacy laws. The issue is sensitive, Jarvis said, but the company is committed to providing affordable coverage whenever possible.

Tracy said that the money that people raised through benefit concerts and contributed to a fund to pay for Houston’s medical bills will be donated to Cook Children’s Health Foundation.

The Tracy family is an example of a pervading philanthropic spirit that exists at Cook Children’s, said Gary Cole, vice president for development for Cook Children’s.

“In a time of personal need, this family is seeking ways to help others,” he said. “This is the truest form of philanthropy, and we are most grateful for such acts of kindness and concern for our patients.”

North Texas Legislators Call for Insurance Reform

homeowner_insState Reps. Kent, Miklos and Turner respond to recent rate hikes by Texas’ largest insurance provider

AUSTIN – Today State Representatives Carol Kent, Robert Miklos and Chris Turner renewed their call for comprehensive insurance reform in light of last week’s announcement that State Farm, Texas’ largest homeowners insurance provider, will raise rates by 4.5% in May, just seven months after an 8.8% rate hike. This comes on the tail of recent rate increases by both Allstate and Farmers Insurance.

“Most families in North Texas haven’t seen their incomes go up by double digits this year, yet these big insurance companies think it’s ok to increase their premiums by double-digit percentages,” said Representative Chris Turner (HD 96-Burleson). “With Texans already paying the second highest homeowners insurance rates in the nation, this is unacceptable.”

In November, Allstate announced a 9.8% jump in their homeowner’s insurance rates. In January, Farmers Insurance, the third largest insurance company in the state, proposed raising rates 10% statewide and 11% for North Texas area customers. According to the Dallas Morning News, after Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin called the hikes, “excessive and discriminatory,” Farmers agreed to only increase their rates by 4.5%. However, the company will be allowed to charge the excessive rate through March 2011 and keep the premiums they have already overcharged.

Currently, insurance companies are required to notify the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) of rate increases, but TDI has no authority to block these rate hikes.

“The insurance commissioner should have the power to stop outrageous rate increases,” said State Representative Robert Miklos (HD 101 – Mesquite). “By increasing their rates by double digits in less than a year, State Farm is sending a message that it is ok to for insurance companies to line their pockets at the expense of consumers.”

In an attempt to combat overnight rate hikes by insurance companies, legislation has been filed in the past to create a “prior approval” system, which would give TDI the power to approve or deny these rate increases and give the agency true oversight over this industry. Many of the filed measures would have allowed for increased public input when insurance companies ask to raise their rates.

“During the next Legislative Session, when TDI is up for sunset review, we need some common sense oversight to protect homeowners.” said State Representative Carol Kent (HD 102 – Dallas). “There are far too many North Texas families struggling to make ends meet in this economy, and raising their insurance rates over and over again will just make that struggle even harder.”

In late May, the Legislative Sunset Advisory Commission, comprised of six member of the Texas Senate and six member of the Texas House, will begin to review TDI. Once the review process is complete, the advisory committee will present its recommendations to the 82nd Legislature.

State Representatives Carol Kent and Robert Miklos represent Dallas County districts. Representative Chris Turner represents southern Tarrant County.

Vet lottery ticket sales top $5M in 1st month

Special to the Burleson – Crowley Connection | Dec 14, 2009

Sales of Veterans Cash, a scratch-off lottery ticket created to fund veterans’ programs, totaled more than $5.3 million during their first month of sales, said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington.

The game launched on Nov. 9.

The Fund for Veterans Assistance will receive more than $1 million based on sales to date.

“I am thrilled to see that the initial veterans lottery game is off to such a great start,” Turner said. “With so many men and women returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq joining the ranks of the 1.7 million veterans in Texas, organizations that provide aid to veterans need resources now more than ever.”

The Texas Legislature created the FVA in 2007 to provide aid to veterans and their families in need.

The FVA was not funded by the Legislature until the lottery game was created this year.

Turner authored and passed legislation in the House to create the dedicated lottery game to benefit the FVA.

“In this season of sharing and helping those less fortunate among us, the people of Texas have proven once again that they support our active duty military, our veterans and their families by participating in the veterans scratch-off lottery ticket program,” said John Miterko, legislative liaison with the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations. “The money that will go into the Permanent Fund for veterans assistance will provide much-needed help for our disabled veteran population and will go a long way in easing their burdens into the foreseeable future.”

With revenue from Veterans Cash, FVA will be able to provide grants to organizations who help veterans and their families who are in need of services, such as transportation to and from VA hospitals and clinics, job placement services and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Twenty-three percent of the sales go to the FVA. The remainder goes to prizes paid out, 65 percent, administration, 7 percent, and retailer commissions, 5 percent.
The Texas Lottery Commission estimates that Veterans Cash will raise about $9 million annually for FVA.

State Senators Chris Harris and Wendy Davis and State Representative Chris Turner Purchase First Veterans Cash Lottery Scratch-Off Tickets

New $2 Ticket Will Provide Much Needed Funding for Veterans’ Programs

ARLINGTON – Today State Senators Chris Harris and Wendy Davis and State Representative Chris Turner were joined by fellow legislators and veterans’ leaders at a press conference as they purchased some of the first Veterans Cash Texas Lottery scratch-off tickets to go on sale. Stores across the state began selling the ticket Monday, November 9, and the game will be in full circulation by Wednesday, November 11, Veterans’ Day. The proceeds from the ticket will benefit the Permanent Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA).

The FVA was created by Legislature in 2007 to aid those who served our nation in uniform, as well as their families. Since its creation, the fund has received very little financial assistance and as a result, organizations that aid veterans in need are having to look elsewhere for grants and funding sources.

“With the launch of this game today, we are saying ‘thank you’ to the men and women of our state who have risked so much in service to our nation,” said Rep. Turner, who pushed the Veterans Cash legislation through the House earlier this year. “The revenue from this game will provide meaningful funding for the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance to help provide grants for job placement services, health care costs and PTSD and TBI treatment for Texas veterans.”

“Texas is currently home to more than 1.7 million veterans who dedicated their lives and service in order to protect our freedoms,” said Senator Harris. “We, as Texans, owe these men and women as well as their families a great debt of gratitude. Veterans Cash will set up the stream of revenue enabling the Texas Veterans Commission, and all Texans, a way to say thank you for a job well done and welcome home.”

“I am thrilled to take part in the release of Veterans Cash which will create the greatly needed revenue source allowing Texas the ability to give back and take care of our returning veterans and their families, who have so selflessly given their service for our protection,” continued Harris.

“On behalf of veterans across the state, I cannot thank Senator Harris, Senator Van De Putte and Representative Turner enough for their hard work to pass the measure creating the Veterans Cash scratch-off and being tireless advocates for veterans and their families.” said John Miterko, Legislative Liaison, Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations.

The Legislative Budget Board projects that the single scratch-off game will mean an economic impact for the Permanent Fund for Veterans’ Assistance in the amount of approximately $9 million during the first full year it is in circulation.

During the 81st Legislative Session, HB 1299 by State Representative Chris Turner and its Senate companion, SB 421 by Senators Van De Putte and Chris Harris, were filed to create the lottery scratch-off game. HB 1299 passed the House with only minutes to spare and was eventually added to Senator Van De Putte’s SB 1655. The passage of legislation to create this scratch-off ticket has been a top priority for veterans’ organizations across the State of Texas.

New lottery benefits Texas veterans

Chris_1By  State Senator Chris Harris  and  State Rep. Chris Turner | Mansfield Mirror | Nov. 13, 2009

Texas is home to 1.7 million veterans, 240,000 of whom have served our nation in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past eight years. In 2007, the Texas Legislature created the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA) to provide funding for grants to aid veterans and their families during difficult times. However, there was no money directed to the fund, and it has been unable to serve its purpose.

During the most recent legislative session, we, along with State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, authored legislation to create a lottery scratch-off game, the proceeds of which will go directly to the FVA. We were proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with every major veterans organization in Texas to pass this important measure. The first Veterans Cash scratch-off game goes on sale this week, as we observe Veterans Day. The $2 game is projected to generate up to $9 million per year into the FVA. Why is this so important?

Our servicemen and women sacrifice so much for our freedom. Many have returned from war suffering from mental and physical wounds that may never heal. And the families of our service members sacrifice greatly for our nation as well; the months and years that their spouses have spent overseas, the constant worry and anxiety they must feel knowing their loved ones are in harm’s way or knowing that their loved one is missing the special moments in their children’s lives.

When funded, the FVA will provide grants to organizations that work directly for veterans and their families. Services that will be made possible include job placement programs, assistance with transportation to VA hospitals and clinics and help for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

As we remember the sacrifices and bravery of those in uniform this Veterans Day, we hope this new lottery game will make a difference in the lives of those who have served. We know this game will not repay the debt we owe our veterans who have served our nation in uniform — nothing can. We can’t put a price tag on the incredible sacrifices Texas veterans have made to protect our freedom. But hopefully with the launch of this game, we can provide our veterans some help they need and have more than earned.

State Rep. Chris Turner Receives Texas Veterans Commission’s Leadership Award

Major (Ret) Eliseo "Al" Cantu of the Texas Veterans' Commission stands with State Representative Chris Turner in front of a mock-up of the first Texas Lottery's Veterans Scratch-off game, which will be released on November 9, 2009. Also pictured are State Senators Leticia Van De Putte and Wendy Davis.

Major (Ret) Eliseo "Al" Cantu of the Texas Veterans' Commission stands with State Representative Chris Turner in front of a mock-up of the first Texas Lottery's Veterans Scratch-off game, which will be released on November 9, 2009. Also pictured are State Senators Leticia Van De Putte and Wendy Davis.

IRVING – Today State Representative Chris Turner was presented with the Texas Veterans Commission’s Leadership Award in appreciation for his efforts in passing the measure to create a lottery game to benefit Texas veterans. Turner was given the award after speaking to over 500 people attending the Texas Veterans Commission annual statewide training conference in Irving.

Texas Veterans’ Commission Executive Director James E. Nier  presented Turner with the award, which reads: “His leadership on veterans’ issues has inspired the respect of the entire veterans’ community… his capable, diligent and continued leadership in the Texas House has enhanced the lives of Texas veterans and their families.”

“I am honored and humbled by this recognition, ” Turner said.  “The passage of the veterans lottery bill was a testament to the hard work of every veteran organization in the state, and I am just happy I could be part of this important effort that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of many veterans across Texas.”

Eventually amended to Senate Bill 1655, Turner’s House Bill 1299 created a single scratch off lottery ticket to benefit the Permanent Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA).  The FVA will provide grants to aid veterans and their families in times of financial need and support PTSD counseling and other veterans’ services.  The lottery ticket will be released on November 9 and the expected revenue will be over $8 million per year. This one was on the top priorities for veterans’ organizations in Texas.

Turner, who was named “Freshman of the Year” by the bipartisan House Veterans Caucus, also passed legislation requiring institutions of higher education to designate a financial aid specialist to be trained on issues related to veterans’ programs, including the GI Bill and the Hazelwood Act.  He was also the House sponsor of legislation allowing state employees who are members of military reserves or National Guard to continue to accrue their sick and vacation leave time while they are on active military duty.

New lottery game to benefit Texas veterans

By AMY JOHNSTON | KVUE News | October 19, 2009

Click here to watch the video. About 1.7 million veterans live in Texas, but the state doesn’t have enough money to meet all their needs. Monday, a new way to raise money was announced, and the Legislature is gambling that a new lottery game will pay big.”

Monday, a new way to raise money was announced, and the Legislature is gambling that a new lottery game will pay big.

At the Zip’n in North Austin, the lottery is big business.

“Mostly we sell the $10 (or) $20 tickets,” said Salim Mardia.

Scratch-off tickets are especially popular — from one dollar up to $50, according to Mardia.

Now the Legislature is banking on that popularity to help Texas veterans. On Monday, they unveiled a new $2 lottery ticket called Veterans Cash. Part of the money goes back to the state’s Permanent Fund for Veteran’s Assistance.

“We could help more veterans with transportation assistance to hospitals. We could help fund PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) counseling services that are so crucial especially to many of our younger veterans. We could do more to reduce the shame of homeless veterans,” said State Rep. Chris Turner.

Ticket sales are expected to generate about $8 million in revenue in its first year. Here’s where money that will go: 65 percent to prizes; 5 percent to retail commission; 7 percent to administrative costs; that leaves 23 percent of sales — about 46 cents per ticket — for the Fund for Veteran’s Assistance.

Rep. Chris Turner Receives Endorsement of Texas’ Largest Police Officers’ Organization

With CLEAT Endorsement and Fundraising Success, Turner Starts 2010 Election Cycle Strong

cleatArlington – Today, State Representative Chris Turner received the endorsement of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT). This endorsement comes just weeks after Turner was named “Freshman of the Year” by both Texas Watch, a pro-consumer group, and the bi-partisan Legislative Veterans Caucus.  Combined with these recognitions and the Turner Campaign’s impressive fundraising  — the campaign already has over $100,000 in the bank — the CLEAT endorsement is the latest indication that Turner begins the 2010 election cycle with strong support and momentum.

“During the 81st Legislative Session, Chris Turner stood by Texas police officers and never stopped working on our behalf,” said Charley Wilkison, CLEAT Political Director. “Now we are standing strong with him during his bid for re-election in 2010. We need Chris Turner to remain in office to continue to be a strong voice for the law enforcement community in Southern Tarrant County and across our state.”  With over 15,000 members across Texas, CLEAT is the largest police officers’ association in the state.

“I am honored and humbled to have received CLEAT’s endorsement,” said Turner. “Since I was elected, I have made it a priority to work hard for the families of Southern Tarrant County, including the men and women who protect our families and our communities day in and day out.”

Turner joint authored legislation requiring homeless sex offenders to register with local law enforcement once every two weeks. Oftentimes sex offenders evade registration by claiming to be homeless in order to live in locations prohibited by their sentence, including in the home of their victim. This legislation will aid in protecting families and children from dangerous sexual predators. He also authored legislation requiring computer technicians to report the discovery of child pornography found during the course of their job duties. This measure had strong support from law enforcement and passed the House, however it failed to pass in the Senate.

Turner was elected in 2008 to serve Southern Tarrant County’s House District 96, which includes Crowley, Kennedale, and portions of Arlington, Burleson, Mansfield, and Fort Worth. During the 81st Legislative Session, Turner was appointed to serve on the House Committee on Urban Affairs and the House Committee of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs.


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