Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
You may be wondering what exactly it is that they do. They do quite a bit given their small size. One of the services they provide, Social Security Work Incentives Planning and Assistance, (WIPA), helps people currently receiving Social Security benefits to understand how they can return to the workforce without losing their benefits. I can see this is a great benefit to people who are on a low, fixed income and want to improve their standard of living a bit.
By far, VAIL's biggest contributions are their Independent Living Services. These include:
- Information & Referral
- Peer Counseling
- Multiple Sclerosis Support Group
- Independent Living Skills Training
- Informational Sessions
- Social/Recreational Activities
- Deaf Services
In addition, VAIL offers Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS). This program is geared towards helping people with developmental disabilities before age 22 to become independent.
There are also other services provided to the deaf and hard of hearing through VAIL. These go beyond translation. They provide, for instance, videoconference services, which works like we use the telephone, except through sign language. VAIL also helps their deaf and hard of hearing consumers get reimbursement for the T-Mobile Sidekick 2. The Sidekick is a great device, having had one myself, for communicating. It offers unlimited instant messaging and text messaging. The same reason most of us have a cell phone apply to their consumers, freedom.
It is amazing what range of services they provide for being such a small group. What they do is important from two points of view. One is the perspective of their consumers. Many of them may be living in a nursing home where they receive care. Unfortunately, it may not be enough for their social/emotianl well-being. If you can imagine living in a nursing home while in your 20s or 30s, you realize that there is a wide age gap between you and the majority of the other residents. Living independently, in such a case, would mean having the ability to go out to social events, having a pet, and maybe even having a job.
The other perspective in why VAIL provides a useful service, not only to their consumers, but to society as a whole is that it costs less for a person with a disability to live on their own than to live in a nursing home. I asked to be certain about the circumstances. Their consumers still receive public assistance to live on their own, but the overall cost is less than staying in a nursing facility. In fact, it costs about $9,000 less per person each year. That is a great benefit to the state of Tcxas.
We did go over some business, such as their funding needs for the upcoming biennium. With time, VAIL is getting an increasing number of consumers due to their success in helping people with disabilities live independently. VAIL is one of only a handful of such organizations throughout the state providing these kinds of services. Of course, they depend on grants from various agencies and other public entities. They are facing some challenges in that they have a very large service area required of them, which covers over 40 counties. In effect, grants are requiring much more from agencies like VAIL for the same amount of funding. Any funding increases would go a long way in helping them meet their consumers' needs.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
My hPDA is sitting here waiting for my next entry.
The paper clip is big enough that my hipster can stand like its docked on a cradle. This is my first day using it. I'm still adjusting to all the features. I like the always-on function. As in all systems, the initial data entry is a bit time-consuming. Currently, my hPDA has tons of memory available. I don't see the day that I would have to add a new memory card; but we shall have to wait and see.
One issue that is the same with my hPDA that I have with regular PDAs is that I keep losing my stylus. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Monday, November 27, 2006
at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. They discuss closing the loopholes on eminent domain legislation. I had a fresh battery on this interview, so was able to record in its entirety.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
To make it slightly easier, we have pointed both www.capitolblog.org and www.acapitolblog.com to the blogger site. This seemed like the best intermediate solution until Rep. Peña decides to go full force into a hosted site.
I have started work on a possible future incarnation of A Capitol Blog at http://www.aaronpena.com/wordpress temporarily. It's a dummy site until we figure out all the functions and features. Your opinion is welcome.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
What I have done to mitigate the HUGE error is I've contacted as many of the blogs that link to Rep. Peña's blog as possible to request they update their links to the temporary blog site at http://aaronpena.com/acapitolblog.
Rep. Peña was NOT pleased when I told him what I did. This is probably one of the worst ways to start a new job.
I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.
I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.
In my case, being on a monthly salary is a bit strange. I feel wierd just picking up and leaving or simply showing up and going right to work. When working as a teacher, I learned the value of transitions for getting children to follow what's going on. Transitions are basically activities that you do that require participation, but signal that you are about to change activities. For example, when things were getting messy, we'd sing the clean up song while picking up our toys. We also had a song prior to eating. Then, there are general transitions you do for whatever activity you want to do. It really works! Back to the point, the whole punching in and out routine is like a transition activity, it seems. Maybe I can sing a song in lieu of a punch card.
Monday, November 20, 2006
As an employee of a state rep, EVERYTHING is under scrutiny. If you write something positive about somebody, his or her opponents will take issue. If you write something negative, his or her suporters will take issue. If you write your own opinion, your variance from your boss's opinion could be construed as weakness in the team. If you agree with your boss, you're a sycophant. In other words, you can't win. All you can write about is trivial nonsense or very personal, non-political stuff. You're better off not writing.
If you want to write about politics, then don't be an insider. As of today, The Huffington Post is #6 on Technorati. Daily Kos is #8. Michelle Malkin is #14. None of them works for a public official. Scobleizer, by Robert Scoble, is a blog by a guy who gets hired by companies, even though he sometimes criticizes them while employed by them. Forget such a job in the ego-centric world of politics.
So, if you are an out-of-the-box and non-conformist type, forget about being a legislative aide. There are other places where blogging candor is appreciated, just not in politics. In my case, I've decided that if I can't write what's on my mind, I just won't write. That will be my sign that everything is not kosher.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
What I'm getting out of my research is that the more technical you get about elections, the bigger the can of worms gets. This, of course, gives ample testimony as to why we need a voter verifiable voting system versus an all-electronic system. As I look into other aspects of the issue, I'll go over the subject in a more comprehensive manner.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
There were some common themes that stood out in the stories of some of the individuals who spoke their experience. One theme was that their electric bill seems to be getting higher and higher. Another theme was that they are generally displeased with deregulation because it has had the opposite effect, in their experience, from what was intended. And, finally, they shared some bad experiences when switching electricity providers.
The main concern of most retired persons is making ends meet with their fixed income. I think, to put it more accurately, it is of serious concern when they are on a low fixed income. If one cost of living goes up, they have to allocate that increased cost out of some other budget item. The way it was described to me is that they had to make a choice to feel comfortable, or buy less food, or do without medication. One gentleman in his 70's told me that he has had to limit his use of air conditioning to the evenings so that he can sleep. He only watches TV to catch his favorite stories and then turns it off. One person spoke of how she signed up for the average monthly payment program so that she could budget her money. Somebody failed to explain to her that at the end of a year on the program, there is an adjustment charge to make up any variations in billing. She was charged $2,000. Obviously, when you have to budget your spending, surprises like that can cause serious problems for our retired citizens.
The second common sentiment present amongst the people present at the Town Hall meeting, is that deregulation is not working in Texas. Rather than prices coming down, they keep going up. Some of the retirees who spoke are Winter Texans. Back in their home states, they pay anywhere from 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Here in Texas, they are paying anywhere from 14 to 16 cents per kilowatt hour, about twice the rate. They agree that electric companies should make a profit; however, they have issues with electric providers making billions. Many of the people present do not see the touted benefits of having deregulation of electricity.
Finally, along the same lines, having the ability to switch has caused a lot of problems for many retirees. What often happens is that competing companies make all kinds of claims about the savings their client will have by switching over. At first, there are some savings; but, eventually, their rates start to creep up. Or, in another variation, if their rates stay the same, they see an increase in other things such as "line charges". One gentleman shared his story how he left the RGV for a month and used no electricity. His company charged him over $100 in fees at 0 kilowatt hours. One lady spoke before the audience to share her experience as an adult day care center manager. She related how many sales people will convince her clients to switch providers failing to explain all the charges or simply confusing them. She spends a great deal of time helping her elderly clients clean up the problems that ensue from switching providers. She expressed frustration that the elderly are targeted and lured with promises of lower rates, only to end up spending more. One last problem that was pointed out was that some companies have rates so low that they go out of business. When this happens, you only have 10 days to choose a new provider before being put on a POLR (Provider of Last Resort). A POLR will often charge outrageous rates in the 20 to 24 cents per kilowatt hour range. There was also some frustration that after switching companies, they were locked in by contract, even when the new company failed to produce true savings.
These are the stories that I heard today. I have to admit that my wife and I never even paid attention to our electricity rate. We simply looked at the dollar amount and paid it. I was surprised to learn how most of the retirees present knew exactly what their rates are. I suppose that being on a fixed income leads to such scrutiny. We checked our rate, tonight. The members of the AARP who spoke are displeased with deregulation and called for some sort of government intervention. They are pragmatic enough, however, that they realize that trying to re-regulate electricity is like "putting the toothpaste back in the tube".
I received a handout with some information that could prove useful.
Power to choose website: www.powertochoose.com
Power scorecard website: www.powerscorecard.org
PUC Customer Line: 1 (866) PWR 4 TEX
- Take nothing for granted. Double check the terms of service before agreeing
- Check the rate, the minimum time the rate must be in effect, penalties, and extra fees charged by the retail electric provider
- You have 3 days to rescind the agreement. Use this right if you think you may have made a mistake.
- Be careful signing up with small, start-up companies. Many go out of business and customers end up with POLR (Provider of Last Resort).
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
HB 124 is an amendment to the Penal Code that deals with impersonating an officer. Currently, it's a 3rd degree felony to impersonate a police officer. The amendment would raise that to a 2nd degree felony if you impersonate an officer in order to commit another crime. In addition, it adds "uniform" as one of the items that a person is prohibited from using to appear to be a law enforcement officer. Currently, cards, certificates, badges, insignias, and other items with insignias of law enforcement agencies are prohibited.
HB 211 would prohibit wireless phone companies from selling your call records or other personal information. It would also penalize anybody getting that information by fraudulent means. Violations would result in a $5,000 fine payable to the State of Texas.
I'll keep you posted as new bills are filed. I need to go through all the bills on file to get an idea of what is already in the pipeline and to learn the language.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
There is a lot of interest, at the moment, in the legislation Rep. Peña filed. For more information, see HB 123. The gist of the bill is that it would require voting machines to produce a paper record of your vote for you to review before you press the red "VOTE" button. This way, you can be sure that what you see on the computer screen is exactly the same vote that will counted.
The main benefit of the bill is that it would make us, the voters, more confident in the voting machines. More importantly, a paper trail also gives election officials the ability to audit the voting systems to make sure that they are working correctly. And finally, having a paper receipt would also make it possible to do a manual recount if something went wrong with one of the ccomputers
The way things are right now, if you cast a vote, you don't really know for sure if it got counted right or if it got counted at all. We are to believe in God, who is perfect, but sometimes we question. Therefore, it's not a big stretch to question our faith in these voting systems. A wise man once said, "trust, but verify". At home, we trust our computers, but we all know that you need to save the file you are using and ,once done, backup your work in case something happens to the computer. That is essentially all we need, a backup system in case the electronics go haywire.
Another drawback to paperless voting is that if we are auditing the machines to ensure their veracity, how do we go about doing that? Any tampering would occur during an election rather than in between. Therefore, testing the machines "off season" would be worthless. It would be much better to audit elections on actual data as it comes in.
Finally, the question of recounts. If your votes are all electronic and the person challenging the election claims that there was tampering, how do you sort out electrons to prove otherwise? You won't find any subatomic hanging or dimpled chads. With a paper trail, you could, if you had to , manually count every vote. This would take care of instances where there is a power outage or surge that wipes out the memory of a voting machine. It would deal with "touchscreen rage" in which a voter takes it out on the voting machine. It would deal with allegations of a vote-stealing virus in the machine or even programmer error. It would deal with any weird computer stuff that just loses data; as a former computer tech, I know it happens. Simply put, Rep. Peña's bill makes it possible to "reconstruct" an election if it ever becomes necessary.
To put this in the simplest terms, whenever you work on an important document on a computer, you ALWAYS save and back up you work. I think most of us have lost work on the computer, at some point, because we did not save or back up. The same is true for voting machines. The paper copy is a backup copy of your vote in case something goes wrong.
Monday, November 13, 2006
After that, I went back to the office while Rep. Peña went to speak to STC Nursing students on Ridge Road in McAllen. Orlando took up that event. He suggested we alternate events.
About the most exciting thing today is that I worked on my first press release for Rep. Peña. Of course, I didn't do it all by myself. I solicited Orlando's help after getting the basic outline done. He showed me the basic structure of a press release and gave me some tips on how to flesh it out. In case you get a chance to read the press release, it was about a bill that the Rep. has submitted to require a paper trail on all electronic voting systems.
Overall, much of the groundwork for doing what I will be expected to do in Austin is underway. I think I will be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the job once the session starts. I really am getting into the groove.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Today, Orlando Salinas and I accompanied Rep. Peña to Veteran's Day events. Personally, I was at a ceremony organized by Sylvia Handy at Delta Park, which is north of Elsa, Texas. The ceremony included recognition of the veterans attending. I don't have too many pictures as I was working the video camera. Orlando probably got more shots than I did with the camera he had.
The next event was an unveiling of the new stone memorial for Freddy Gonzalez in Edinburg. The memorial was erected at Freddy Gonzalez Elementary. Dolia Gonzalez, mother of the local hero, was present to see her son honored.
Let us also not forget the veterans who are still amongst us, for this is their day.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I understand that once the Legislature is in session that I probably won't spend much time there except to crash out. There are shuttles that go between the apartment and UT, which is just a short walk away from the Capitol. So, I'd save some money on lodging and fuel expenses on top of getting exercise. I'm going to look into the possibility of an efficiency apartment to compare the pricing. As much as I don't think of myself as old, I doubt I have too much in common with somebody in his early 20's. If an efficiency costs much more, then I'll go ahead and stay at the place I found.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Next, I need to sit through the training for open records. I'll probably take care of that tomorrow morning.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
The good news is that our Chief of Staff was able to get my login information for the legislature's network. Now, I can communicate and keep myself organized with the state's Outlook system. In addition, there is a handy program that works like flashcards with pictures and names of all the Reps so that I can recognize them once in Austin. I'll explore the system a bit more tomorrow.
The only thing left to complete the whole picture, as far as being a state employee, is to get business cards. The ones I've seen look nice. I am hard pressed to think of who would want one or care to contact me. I suppose things will become apparent once the session starts. I'm sure networking at the capitol will demand I hand out a few cards. I think I'll be conservative in my use of them.
Friday, November 03, 2006
The team accompanied Rep. Peña to the opening of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery today. This is the first opportunity I've had to be in a place where representatives of all levels of government are present at the same time. We had a U.S. Senator, a Congressman, State Senators, State Representatives, the County Judge, and the Mayor all present. Off the stage were City of Mission employees, particularly Mission Police and Parks & Recreation.
Lately the weather has been cloudy and a bit cool. However, on this day, the weather turned perfect. The sun was out; there was a nice breeze that was just strong enough to make all the flags wave to show their full designs. We could not have asked for a more perfect day.
When I first got there, Orlando called me and we met so that he could hand me the video camera. I set up the camera and tripod near the band up front. It's funny, I was trying to figure out how to use the camera on the spot. I finally got it on and managed to pop in a DVD as the event was starting.
Mari, another team member, joined us a little while later. She took pictures with my camera while I recorded the event. She got some nice shots in.
Afterwards, we left to grab a bite to eat and to critique Mr. Peña's speech. He likes feedback after a speech so that he can make improvements. One thing that Mr. Peña has is that he is sincere when he speaks to people. Consequently, he doesn't adorn his speeches with flowery words. That really just leaves his presence and delivery to critique.
Listening to some of the other speakers, there are occasions in which you become overwhelmed with emotion knowing that there are veterans and the families of veterans in the audience. It's a feeling of ... I can't describe. Let me just say that the new cemetery is made to honor those who have served their country and who have died. From this point on, there will be veterans buried in the 75 acres. Imagine knowing that you are honoring the dead and those who are living now. That's the feeling, knowing that some of the veterans in the audience will be buried there soon; and they have come to see what their country, state, and city have done to honor them for their final rest. It's a mixture of happiness and sadness for the veterans. Obviously, to take advantage of the cemetery, they must leave us.
Being present at such events, I think, makes this a great job.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
In one instance, Mr. Peña was telling me how he likes to simply blend in and be just another guy without being recognized as a State Rep. This way he knows what people are really thinking. This seemed a reasonable thing as he was in sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, very undignified compared to how he usually dresses for work. So, we were headed back to meet the group of veterans waiting for us to resume walking. The little pickup was full, leaving only the bed for The Rep and me to climb into and sit. Those of us who live in the Rio Grande Valley often see pickups going down the expressway with laborers sitting in the back of trucks. So, here we were, sitting in the back of the truck like a couple of grapefruit pickers going down the expressway at 65 mph. Halfway back, a driver recognized Mr. Peña hunched in the back of the truck. He honked and rolled down the window to greet The Rep. So much for blending in. We had a laugh about that.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Speaking of Mr. Peña, he was out with America's Last Patrol marching from Brownsville to San Benito today. Ultimately, they will make their way to Rio Grande City. Poor guy, you can hear the suffering in his voice at the end of the walk. It's admirable that he's willing to give so much of himself to our veterans.
I also took advantage of the lunch hour to explore Edinburg. I was specifically looking for the Public Library. No, I wasn't looking for the next piece for blogging. I actually need to become a member so that I can conduct personal business. The state computers in the office are strictly for state business. I occasionally have research or personal business to conduct that must be done during business hours. With no Kinko's, or whatever it's called now, in Edinburg, the public library is the next best thing. By the time I found the library, it was time to go back to work. There will be other opportunities.