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Continued from page 3 creation of more hardened criminals. Maximum-security prison beds should be reserved for those violent offenders who represent a threat to society. House Bill 2335, enacted during the last legislative session, provides innovative and much more cost-effective alternatives to prison, such as boot camps and electronic monitoring. Cost is also something to consider. Each large maximum-security prison, like the TDC’s Michael Unit, will cost $65 million to build. At 7.5 percent interest, over 20 years, the cost becomes $130 million, which only represents about 10 percent of the cost of operating such a facility. Calculated over 20 years and the figure -based on $50 per prisoner per day becomes just over $1 billion per prison. And unlike the general obligation sewer and water bonds, and the microenterprise bonds, prison bonds offer no payback by their users. Several years ago California began a program similar to what is now proposed in Texas. They are up to 80,000 beds, have not reduced their crime rate, and they continue to build. The Observer votes no. Proposition Nine would consolidate various agencies that perform criminal justice functions. Proponents claim that it is necessary to eliminate any possible constitutional ambiguity that might threaten the consolidation of criminal justice agencies under the new Criminal Justice Reform Act. Opponents contend that it is far broader than needed to implement the law and that it poses a threat to the separation of powers. The Observer takes no position. Proposition Ten would allow the Legislature to pass laws either permitting or compelling courts to inform juries about the effect of good conduct time and eligibility of parole on the actual time served by convicted criminals. In effect, it would allow or perhaps compel a judge to say, “If you sentence this person to ten years, he could be out in two years.” State Senator Buster Brown, State Rep. Dan Morales, and much of the let’s-get-toughon-crime crowd are flogging this amendment along. But it seems likely that it would distort the sentencing process, as jurors pile on more time in attempts to assure a certain period of time served. If lawmakers are concerned with convicts serving too little time, then parole rather than sentencing procedures need reforming. The Observer votes no. Proposition Eleven would increase the per diem pay for legislators by linking it to the per diem federal income tax deduction. This would have the immediate effect of increasing per diem expenses, that is, a daily allowance for those days while the Legislature is in session, from $30 to $81. Except for those legislators who represent Austin, members of the House and Senate pay for extra food, lodging, and other quotidian expenses while the Legislature is in session.The current $30 per day is hardly sufficient to allow someone to maintain two households. Proposition 11 represents another step toward public financing of government. It would make legislators less dependent on the lobby for meals and deals. The Observer votes yes. Proposition Twelve would allow the Permanent School Fund to be used to guarantee up to $750 million in state revenue bands for school districts to buy equipment, construct buildings, or repay outstanding bonds. School districts could save as much as $10 million a year, through lower rates obtained through state-backed bonds. If a school district defaulted, payment would be deducted from their stateaid entitlement. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Paul Colbert and Senator Bill Haley, two legislators recognized for their commitment to and understanding of education issues. The Observer votes yes. Proposition Thirteen would define certain constitutional rights of crime victims. A combination of triskaidekaphobia and a wariness of thirteen’s sponsors, Lake Jackson Senator Buster Brown and Austin Rep. Bob Richardson, make us a little uneasy with this proposal. It seems that the rights of crime victims are protected by Texas criminal law. And they are enumerated in the Crime Victims Act, which was passed in 1987. Victims’ rights seem more appropriately addressed by statute, rather than by the constitution. The Observer votes no. Proposition Fourteen would allow residents of Fort Bend County to elect a district attorney at a time other than what is specified by the constitution. A local bill was passed during the 1989 regular session eliminating the position of criminal district attorney in Fort Bend County and creating two separate offices, district attorney and county attorney. Now that they have a district attorney position, they want to hold an election in an off year to fill the spot, thus avoiding a gubernatorial appointment. The Observer takes no position, but notes that this is a local matter being placed before a statewide electorate. Proposition Fifteen would allow qualified nonprofit groups to hold raffles for charitable purposes. Supporters say that hundreds of charities already hold raffles, unaware that they are in violation of the Penal Code’s gambling prohibition. Local prosecuting attorneys generally ignore the raffles, rather than throwing ladies from the Holy Name Society and Eastern Star into jail. The proposed amendment would allow prosecutors to stop disregarding state law in cases of raffles for charity. The Observer votes yes and reminds readers to watch for Texas Observer raffle ticket orders in the months to come. Proposition Sixteen would allow county commissioners to create local hospital districts a function that is now a right of the Legislature. This amendment would give local officials and citizens greater control of local affairs. When the Legislature considers the creation of a hospital district, members usually defer to the requests of local representatives. This amendment puts the authority where it belongs, at the local level. It might also provide some solution to the crisis in rural health care. The Observer votes yes. Proposition Seventeen would allow the state to provide financial assistance to local fire departments. Since the constitution prohibits grants of public money to individuals, associations, or corporations, many small public fire departments cannot provide protection for the areas they serve. Half of the state’s communities of fewer than 10,000 residents have no fire protection, while others serve with outdated equipment. This amendment would allow the state to provide some financial and training assistance to small fire departments. The constitution includes many similar exceptions to the prohibition on grants of public funds. This is an appropriate use of government money; the Observer votes yes. Proposition Eighteen would remove a five-year limit imposed on the issuance of $200 million in agricultural water bonds approved in 1985. The general obligation bonds provided for a loan program for farmers and ranchers to purchase more efficient irrigation systems. Seventy percent of those who cast their votes in 1985 voted in favor of the bonds. This amendment would only allow more time to issue the bonds. The Observer votes yes. Proposition Nineteen would permit local governments more discretion in how they invest their money. Proponents claim that local governments could earn more interest if they could invest in such ventures as low-risk money-market funds. Opponents claim that large cities might benefit, but that small cities and school districts, which do not have access to investment counseling, could be placed at risk by a more liberal investment policy. They cite the city of Beaumont’s huge losses, caused by the imprudent handling of a Treasury note, a relatively sound investment instrument. The Observer takes no position. Proposition Twenty-One would allow the Legislature to issue $75 million in bonds to finance student loans. The HinsonHazelwood Program, which will benefit from the bond sale, has been a successful means of allowing students from families of limited resources to attend college. The loans are paid back by the borrowers. And the tax-free bonds, when issued in the form of college saving bonds, can be purchased in small denominations by families saving to send their children to college. Proceeds derived from the bonds would not be considered in determining an applicant’s eligibility for financial assistance to attend college. This seems to be a productive use of the government’s power to issue bonds. And the bonds would be retired by the borrowers. The Observer votes yes. L.D. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15