State Representative Chris Turner

I Am Honored to Continue to Serve You

I want to thank the voters of District 101 in Arlington & Grand Prairie for entrusting me with the privilege of representing them in Austin for another two years. When all the votes were counted, we received 66.3 percent of the vote and won every precinct in our district.

Lisa and I are so appreciative to all our friends and supporters who contributed and volunteered, as well as to my dedicated staff in our capitol, district and campaign offices. It means more than you know and I am honored to continue representing our community in Austin.

Obviously, the outcome of the presidential election was not the result many of us had hoped for. As I watched Hillary Clinton’s gracious concession speech this morning, I was reminded of how proud I have been to support her. She is, above all else, a patriot. We owe her immense gratitude for her lifetime of service to our nation.

As President Obama said today, no matter the outcome of an election, the sun always comes up the next day. And today is no different. For all the shock and dismay that many feel today, no one questions that we will have a peaceful transfer of power in January, just as our country has seen following every election since 1800. No one questions that when the people speak and the votes are counted, we know who our leader will be. There are a lot of people around the world who can’t say that about the country they live in. We’re blessed to be Americans – and our national elections, even when they don’t turn out the way we want – are a reminder of that blessing.

We have important work ahead. Let’s all keep fighting for our beliefs and working to make Texas and America stronger.

Thank you for all you do.

State Representative Chris Turner

After the thoughts and prayers

It’s been a really tough few weeks. From Orlando to Dallas to Baton Rouge, our nation has seen more tragedy in rapid succession than in any time I can recall. For those of us in North Texas, the loss is especially profound – not since 9/11 have so many American police officers been killed in the line of duty.

As a community, we will continue to grieve for our collective loss. For the families who have lost a husband, son, brother or father, their pain is incomprehensible. For the police officers who lost partners and friends, I have to imagine the pain they feel is only magnified by the continued daily pressures and dangers of the job.

So for the rest of us, after the memorials and vigils have passed, as social media and the 24/7 news cycle inevitably directs our attention elsewhere, how do we hold on to the grief and horror we’ve shared lately and translate it into something tangible that maybe helps avert future tragedies?

In the aftermath of the Dallas attack, Dallas Police Chief David Brown rightfully underscored the mounting responsibilities our country places on police officers each and every day.

He said, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding — let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding — let’s give it to the cop…”

He’s right.

Although there is still much to be learned about the Dallas and Baton Rouge killers, it seems clear both were troubled men who decided they wanted to die while killing police officers. The sad and frightening reality is that in any urban police department, cops are coming into contact with people who have mental health issues every single day. Obviously and thankfully, most of those interactions don’t end in tragedy. But it underscores how police never know what to expect in any given encounter – but when they get there, we expect them to deal with it, no matter what it is.

Soon after being named to the House Select Committee on Mental Health, I sat down with Arlington first responders to learn how mental health issues impact public safety. It was an eye-opening discussion and it was immediately apparent that police have become de facto mental health caseworkers.

Responding to repeated calls from the same person who suffers from paranoia. Checking in on people they’ve interacted with in the past to make sure they’re taking their medicine. Driving someone to JPS in Fort Worth – and often staying with them all day – so they can be checked into the psychiatric facility, instead of taking them to jail.

Arlington PD is doing some great things. Working with the local mental health authority, MHMR of Tarrant County, the APD has 24/7 access to mental health care resources, including four counselors on staff.

Arlington is not alone. Police departments across our state are finding innovative ways to help those with severe mental health needs. They have come up with effective local programs, which is good.

The reality is that Arlington and other departments are doing this out of necessity. That doesn’t mean we should accept it as their responsibility alone.

The state of Texas needs to step up in a big way on mental health care and take some of the pressure off of our first responders. In the next few months, our committee will make recommendations to the full Legislature on what we need to do to improve access to mental health care. Chief Brown’s words should serve as a wake-up call to all of us in the Legislature, because we can’t continue to push problems down to local communities. As Brown noted, “policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

He’s right. It’s time for the Legislature to act to help ensure that first responders aren’t expected to solve every acute problem on their own.

A concerted, meaningful focus on mental health care is good place to start.

Dallas

What an empty feeling to start a day. What happened in Dallas, the city I grew up in, is still unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine the grief of the families of the five officers who gave their lives in the line of duty…and the anguish of those families whose loved ones are in the hospital. Let’s all pray that those officers are able to return home to their loved ones. It’s a tragedy of incomprehensible magnitude. Let’s all pray for Dallas.

Yesterday, I was trying to process the tragedies in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. And I think of the anguish of the families of those two men who lost their lives. And as I saw the reaction on social media to both these shootings (and I have already seen some of this re: Dallas), I’m frustrated to see people’s reactions and perceptions break down along predictable lines: if you say #blacklivesmatter that means you’re against law enforcement. If you support the police, that means you don’t care that African American men are killed in this country at an alarming and unacceptable rate. If you’re political, this is somehow all the other party’s fault. We saw similar storylines unfold in the wake of Orlando: if you support the Muslim community, you’re an ISIS sympathizer. And on it goes.

As a nation, we have to stop this.

Everything is not so black and white (pardon the expression). It is possible to believe Black Lives Matter (as I do); that what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile is unacceptable – and still hold law enforcement in high regard.

There are bad apple teachers, lawyers, doctors, but that doesn’t mean everyone in those professions is bad. In fact, the vast majority are honest, professional and dedicated to do what’s right. We have to look at law enforcement the same way. Remember those officers who ran toward the gunfire last night in Dallas — some of them are in the hospital this morning. Five of them are never going home again. That’s the kind of valor that few of us, honestly, can comprehend.

Similarly, those who support law enforcement (as I do) can recognize there is a problem when minorities are statistically so much more likely to be charged, arrested and yes, shot. And just as those are true facts, we need to focus on fact-based solutions — training? different policing techniques? — I don’t know the answer, but we need people who are experts to develop solutions and then policymakers to implement them. What we need not do is dismiss the real and understandable anger and apprehension many Americans feel in the wake of the news of another African American man killed.

So, as President Obama said last night (before Dallas, but it’s even more applicable now), we have to do better as a country. We are better.

It’s my hope in the wake of a terrible week, Dallas — and our larger North Texas community — will lead the way for our nation, forging a trail of better understanding, more appreciation for our fellow Americans, and real solutions to the tremendous challenges confronting us.

June 29, 2016 Comments are off Admin2

Out of Control

The Republican Party is out of control. Every day, Donald Trump is on TV spewing hateful insults and demonstrating he has neither the wisdom or the temperament to be President.

Here in Texas, it’s not any better. One statewide Republican official is under indictment and another is under criminal investigation. And several are implicated in a scheme to pay hush money to employees who no longer work for the state.

We can thank the Tea Party for Trump and our government in Texas. Now, a Tea Party Republican is running against me in the November election – I need your help to make sure he does not win.

It has been an honor to serve District 101 in the Texas House of Representatives and be your voice in Austin. While I am proud to say we’ve gotten a lot done, there is still more to do. Tea Party Republicans are gearing up for an all-out assault on public education, local control and a renewed effort to undermine women’s health care. I am committed to fighting their misguided efforts every step of the way, but I need your help.

My campaign faces an important deadline tomorrow, June 30th. This deadline is a chance to show that my campaign has the broad support it needs to win in November – and that folks in our district and beyond are fed up with divisive rhetoric, public corruption and misplaced priorities.

I need your help. Will you make a contribution today to support my re-election campaign?

State Representative Chris Turner

Turner: Supreme Court Decision a Victory for Texas Women

AUSTIN — In reaction to today’s United States Supreme Court decision overturning Texas’ abortion law (HB2), State Representative Chris Turner (HD101 – Grand Prairie) released the following statement:

“Today marks a landmark victory for Texas women and a strong rebuke of Texas Republican leaders and their misplaced priorities. The United States Supreme Court has sent a powerful message to lawmakers across our nation that they may not pass restrictive, unconstitutional barriers to reproductive healthcare. The rejection of this ill-conceived law will help ensure that Texas women once again have access to safe, legal reproductive health care. Now that this case is decided, the Legislature should stop trying to find new ways to deny health care to Texans and instead start creating pathways to expanded health care access.”

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

Today we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and ensure that our nation remains the greatest in the world.

Although we will never be able to repay the tremendous debt our nation owes these heroes, we can honor their sacrifice by serving our communities, making a difference in the lives of others and by shaping the future for our state and our nation.

Take a moment today and every day to remember those who through their selfless acts of courage gave what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

Our Public Schools

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

Texas Constitution, Article 7, Sec. 1

In a ruling last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court apparently overlooked that part of our state’s constitution when it declared our broken, underfunded and inequitable school finance system to be…“constitutional.”

Needless to say, this ruling stunned a lot of people, myself included.

As I said on Friday:

“As a result of today’s Supreme Court ruling, 5.2 million Texas school children will be left further behind, unless the Legislature is willing to take it upon itself to act. It is shameful that our state ranks in the bottom third in per-pupil funding and that many of our schools have yet to recover from the $5.4 billion in cuts in 2011. I have always argued we should not wait for a court to force us to fulfill our constitutional duty – now, the Legislature needs to do the right thing by fixing our broken school finance system and improving equity and quality for Texas students.”

What’s even more mystifying than the Court’s erroneous decision is the reaction of many Republican leaders. Instead of acknowledging the part of the court’s ruling that urges the Legislature to do its duty and overhaul an outdated and unfair school finance scheme —

“Our Constitution endows the people’s elected representatives with vast discretion in fulfilling their constitutional duty to fashion a school system fit for our dynamic and fast-growing State’s unique characteristics. We hope lawmakers will seize this urgent challenge and upend an ossified regime ill-suited for 21st century Texas.”

— many Republicans, including the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General have seen fit to spike the ball on students, teachers and parents by declaring victory and giving no indication that they’re inclined to press for needed reforms. In fact, we’ve heard a lot in the last week from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick about private school vouchers, a dangerous idea that would further harm our public education system.

It’s now up to all of us who understand that our state’s very future depends on a good education for 5.2 million young Texans to speak up, speak out and be relentless in our demand that Austin work for our students, parents and teachers and not against them.

Just because it’s “constitutional” doesn’t make it right.

Chris

PS: Don’t forget this Saturday is our Save Energy, Save Water, Save Money event. It will be held from 10:00 to 11:30 AM at Koinonia Christian Church, 2455 SE Green Oaks in Arlington. For more details, call 817-459-2800.

save

Helping Our Neighbors

I say it often — the most important part of a state representative’s job is being responsive to the needs of constituents.

This can mean helping constituents navigate what can be a complex and confusing system of state services, by answering questions regarding state law, or providing information by hosting events like our Town Hall earlier this month or the utilities forum we’re hosting in May.

I want to take a moment to highlight one example of why these constituent services are so important.

Last December, I met with Vicki Niedermayer, the CEO of a not-for-profit organization called Helping Restore Ability (HRA). The organization, founded in Arlington in 1977, helps disabled Texans remain independent by helping them receive assistance in their homes. Last year, due to other providers no longer offering these services, and the Legislature providing additional funding to move people off years-long wait lists, Helping Restore Ability’s client base grew quickly. Unfortunately, at the same time, HRA wasn’t being reimbursed by the state and they thought they may have to shut their doors as a result. That’s when Vicki came to me and asked for help.

After back and forth with several agencies and individuals, my staff was able to untangle the issues that resulted in the delayed payments. Although there are still issues being worked out, the problems that nearly shut the organization down earlier this year have largely been resolved.

In appreciation for our role in addressing these crippling issues, Vicki Niedermayer sent me the following note in appreciation and thanks for our efforts:

“Recently, our nonprofit agency experienced an unprecedented surge in the number of people with disabilities needing our help. Our business model is that once we determine that the person is eligible for services, we provide those services and then bill our contracts with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) for reimbursement.

Due to a staff shortage and a backlog of authorizations for care at the state level, we were experiencing delays of up to 6 months in being reimbursed for services rendered. Rep. Turner and his staff met with our team, listened to our concerns and the impact on those we serve, and went to work on our behalf immediately. Within just a few weeks, our information was entered into the state billing system, and we were able to recover most of the funds we had been waiting on for many months.

Rep. Turner and his staff were immediately responsive to our situation, which was jeopardizing our 39-year-old agency and more importantly, the elderly and disabled that we serve all across the state of Texas. It is so refreshing to know that we have a caring, compassionate servant leader acting in Austin on our behalf. On behalf of those we serve, thank you Rep. Turner and your dedicated team!”

I’m proud that due to the good work of our team, this organization will continue to serve many people in need, not only in our community, but across the state of Texas.

If you are in need of help with a state agency or have a question about a state law, call my Arlington office at 817-459-2800 and speak with our Director of Constituent Services, Tammy Dubberke.

We’re here to help.

A Broken System

I am sure by now you have heard the name Leiliana Wright. Last month, the Grand Prairie four-year old was tied up, choked and beaten to death. In the months preceding her death, attempts had been made to involve Child Protective Services (CPS) in what had become a very dangerous situation for this young child. Sadly, due in part to inaction by the state agency charged with protecting Texas children from abuse and neglect, her innocent life was cut short.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated case of a child tragically “falling through the cracks.”

CPS has long been impacted and overwhelmed by an incredible demand for their services. In part due to a lack of adequate funding, the agency has far too often failed to protect our most vulnerable young Texans. In learning about the breakdown in the system in Leiliana’s case, it is apparent that this agency is in crisis.

We all know that a CPS caseworker’s job is hard and stressful and that the pay is low. Last fiscal year, more than one-quarter of the state’s CPS workers left; 59 percent of those had worked for the agency for three years or less. In Dallas County, from September through November of last year, the turnover rate was an astonishing 57 percent. Since many leave in the first few years of service, the amount of institutional knowledge is limited, further eroding CPS’ ability to protect abused and neglected children.

CPS isn’t alone in failing our children. The foster care system, designed to protect the children taken out of harmful situations by CPS, is also in dire need of repair.

Last month, it was reported that children are sleeping in CPS offices and state mental health facilities due to a lack of foster care facilities and homes. This comes just four months after United States District Court Judge Janis Jack found the state’s foster care system to be unconstitutional. To address this dire situation, last month, Jack named two special masters to overhaul the CPS and foster care system.

In the December 17, 2015 court order, Jack stated,

“Texas’s foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades. It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads. Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’s PMC (permanent managing conservatorship) children, who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.

Texas should embrace the opportunity to work with Judge Jack and the special masters to develop immediate reforms. Unfortunately, Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to appeal and is filing motions against supposed “federal overreach.” Now is not the time for those partisan games, and Paxton needs to stop dragging this out through the courts.

In an interview with NBC5, while discussing the enormity of this situation, I stressed that “…if there was ever an emergency in state government, the failure that we are seeing right now in CPS to protect vulnerable children from serious injury is it.”

This is a crisis. And one that we must address now.

Earlier this week, the Abbott administration announced new leadership at the Department of Family and Protective Services. I wish these new appointees the best; they have a very difficult job in front of them. I hope they can quickly identify and implement dramatic improvements. However, if they find the changes they need require legislative action, then Governor Abbott must call a special session of the Legislature. The bottom line is, this can’t wait until the 2017 legislative session. There are too many children’s lives at stake.

Chris

PS: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you would like to learn how to help prevent child abuse in your community, visit the child advocacy center for Tarrant County, Alliance For Children, or Texas CASA.

Mental Health and Our Kids

“What weighs on me the most as a pediatrician is that adults with mental illness say their symptoms began in childhood and we missed most of them when they presented in front of us…More children in Texas suffer from mental illness than we would otherwise expect, which really speaks to the unfortunately hidden nature of these conditions.”

Anu Partab, MD, Pediatrician
Testimony, House Select Committee on Mental Health, March 22, 2016

Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and seventy-five percent by age 24.

Please take a moment and let that sink in. It is a startling statistic and one that should not be ignored.

Last week, I was in Austin for the House Select Committee on Mental Health hearing, where the focus was child and adolescent mental health. We spent several hours hearing from health care providers, educators and others on the frontline of this critical issue. It quickly became clear that while many in our state are doing great work and finding innovative ways to address this issue, there is much more that needs to be done.

I am still processing much of what was said, but my initial takeaway is this: it is critical that we improve access to care, increase early intervention and find innovative ways to address an overwhelming need. Ultimately, the more resources we bring to bear to address children’s mental health care — time, money and people — the more likely we will achieve better educational outcomes, lower rates of incarceration and keep more of our neighbors off the streets.

The first step is to increase access to care. According to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, in Texas each year more than 525,000 children experience severe mental health needs. Thirteen percent of youngest kiddos — ages 2 to 7 — have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. With a shortage of child psychiatrists and other providers, many of these kids and their families simply do not have the ability to access care. This isn’t isolated to children; the lack of providers, as well as a lack of mental health coverage, extends to adult Texans as well. We must focus more attention on training and retaining mental health providers, as well as decreasing the stigma associated with receiving mental health care.

The second step is to focus on early intervention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children receive an annual mental health screening as a part of their well-check. Based on information provided during the committee hearing, children accessing care through Medicaid only receive one screening between the ages of 12 and 18. I brought this issue to the attention of the state’s Medicaid director and asked why the state was not following the AAP’s guidelines. This must be addressed and it’s an issue I will continue to push. We must also ensure that educators and other school staff have the tools they need to be able to recognize mental health concerns and once they do, have a place to refer a child in need of care.

Finally, we must share best practices, as well as find new and innovative ways to address this issue. We heard testimony from representatives from several school districts who have partnered with private counseling centers or the local mental health authority and brought mental health care services to their school campuses. The impact of these counseling centers has been incredible, and according to those who testified, has resulted in higher graduation rates, lower suspension rates and a more positive atmosphere on the campuses served. Funded largely through 1115 Waivers, these programs may not work in every community, but are definitely a step in the right direction and the model should be shared across our state. It is this sort of outside-the-box thinking that is needed.

th2016Children’s mental health should be a top priority during the next legislative session. If we take real steps to address this issue and make the investments needed, it will result in long-term success and positive outcomes for generations to come.

I have heard from many of you on this issue and invite you to continue the discussion regarding mental health by emailing me at chris.turner@house.texas.gov or by visiting my Facebook page.

If you would like, we can discuss your thoughts in person at my upcoming Town Hall meeting on April 9 from 10:00 to 11:30 am at the Arlington Municipal Airport.

Chris

 

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