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” . . www-planetktexas.com GROWNUP GIFTS FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES IN & NORTH SOUTH EAST S.E.MILITARY 832-8544 443-2292 654-8536 333-3043 RESEARCH E. RIVERSIDE CENTRAL WEST 502-9323 441-5555 822-7767 521-5213 consider our Austin bureau an extension of our local desk,” says Dallas Morning News deputy managing editor Mark Edgar. As one instance of what’s lost in that approach, Kronberg points to the battles in this year’s session over how to fund the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which offers coverage to people who can’t get private insurance. At first glance, windstorm insurance may seem relevant only to coastal citizens. But folks in non-coastal areas might have found themselves paying for the billion-dollar, state-chartered fund. The myriad, thorny possibilitiesgetting policyholders around the state to subsidize the fund, using general state revenue, tapping Texas’ Rainy Day Fundclearly resonated far beyond the coast. Ferreting out the complex machinations, taking a deep-rooted look at who was lining up where and who was scratching whose back, is the kind of story that can take weeks or months. \(Kelley Shannon of the Associated Press was one of the few reporters Such far-reaching stories sometimes require strength in numbers: an organic, holistic process where one reporter pursues one angle, another reporter from another news outlets advances the story by building on the first reporter’s findings, and on and on until some sunshine prevails. Brandi Grissom says the competition elevated the level of journalism as reporters fed off one another. Talking about Elizabeth Hernandez, she says: We competed, but we could bounce ideas off each other.” In the end, the most troubling aspectwhich might become even more evident when the lawmakers reconvene in 2011 with even fewer reportersis this: The kingmakers with the bucks to control their public image will be more powerful than ever before. As Ross Ramsey puts it, having a decimated state Capitol press corps “increases the power of those with the resources to communicate. It disempowers the people who have to rely on the free press.” * Bill Minutaglio is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books, including unauthorized biographies of George W Bush and Alberto Gonzales. His book on Gonzales and his book on the Texas City disaster were excerpted in the Observer. Minutaglio is the coauthor of a biography of Molly Ivins that will be published later this year by PublicAffairs Books. OUT OF THE BOX Is it time for Texas to have a full-time Legislature? BY SEN. DAN PATRICK espite the various slowdowns and mad rushes in the Texas House this session, the Legislature managed to pass a number of key bills that will benefit Texans. But the fact that the system almost crashed, and the likelihood it will only get worse in the future, means that we must take a serious look at how our legislative process can be improved to meet the people’s needs in sessions to come. Here’s the reality: By 2040, the state’s population will double to nearly 5o million. Our budget will likely be well over $5oo billion. We’ll need hundreds of miles of new roads, 40,00o or more new teachers, more nurses, more schools, more hospitals. In legislative time, under the system of meeting every two years, 2040 is only 15 sessions away. Since both chambers spend only about two months of every session actually voting on bills, this means that we have about 3o actual months to solve the problems, and take advantage of the opportunities, of what will likely be the state with the nation’s largest population, economy and budget. Consider a few other data points. This session’s Legislative Councila group of 5o state-employed lawyers who write all the legislation, amendments and resolutionslogged 100,000 hours of overtime. The workload increased in some areas by more than 150 percent over just the 2005 session. The council did an outstanding job, but this insane workload created errors that gave some House members the chance to kill important legislation based on minor mistakes. We cannot continue to operate as we have, with 140-day sessions every other year, and serve the best interests of the people. The jobs of legislators will only grow more difficult as our population grows. Already, each state Senate district is larger than a congressional district in Texas. By 2040, each House member will have nearly 250,000 constituents. What should we do? I have several ideas. The most controversial: Make legislating a full-time job. This is not just a matter of making the House and Senate work more smoothly. Today, the people who can afford to serve are mostly lawyers and wealthy businesspeople. There is nothing wrong with these folks, but we do not have a true cross-section of the people. The average person cannot work for $600 a month and take six months 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 26, 2009