Issues: Environment

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear Friend,

Today is about more than the traditional feast – it’s about giving thanks. As I count my blessings today, the honor of serving as the State Senator from District 13 is close to the top. I want to thank my constituents, family, colleagues, and staff for making my time in public service meaningful in so many ways.

I pledge to continue fighting for the families of District 13 to make Texas a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Texans deserve a state that gives its residents a fair shot at a good-paying job to support their family, offers all children access to quality educational opportunities, and provides every family access to affordable and quality health care.

I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis


Time for schools to end suspension-first mindset

This ran as an op-ed in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle. Click here to view it on the Chronicle’s website.

Before they know the ABCs or how to tie their own shoes, thousands of four-year-olds in Texas are suspended from school each year, forced out of the classroom and denied the opportunity to learn.

A report issued this month by the nonprofit Texas Appleseed brought the issue into focus: more than 88,000 out-of-school suspensions were issued to pre-kindergarten and elementary school students in Texas in the 2013-14 school year alone.

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Recently, the Houston ISD Board of Education voted on a proposed rule change that would have ended suspensions for children in second grade and younger, except as required by law, and limited removals for third through fifth graders. Teachers would still have the ability under state law to remove a student from the classroom for repeated or seriously disruptive behaviors. HISD’s proposal also provided funds and training for educators in proven, alternative discipline methods that improve classroom safety and educational opportunities for all students.

A vote in favor of the proposal would have solidified HISD’s position as a leader in positive, forward-thinking education and school safety policies.

Unfortunately, the Board rejected the full proposal and instead supported a weakened version that effectively maintains the status quo for how our schools approach suspending our youngest children.

Unwarranted suspensions and other removals from school hurt students. When children, particularly young children, are arbitrarily suspended from school, they miss important learning and socializing time with their teachers and peers, they learn that the way to handle conflict is to push it away and ignore it, and they begin to believe they are bad children who do not deserve help. They realize that whenever they want a day off of school, they simply act out until they get sent home. The consequence can therefore reinforce the bad behavior the school is actually trying to prevent.

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Suspensions also don’t improve classroom outcomes for the rest of the students. An American Psychological Association task force points out that research shows a “negative relationship between the use of school suspension … and school-wide academic achievement, even when controlling for demographics such as socioeconomic status.”

Out-of-school suspensions often have the greatest impact on Texas’ working families. When a young child is sent home, someone must be there to watch him or her. Parents are forced to take time off of work and put their jobs in jeopardy. Stories of family members losing their jobs because a young student is suspended are regrettably not that rare.

If studies indicated that suspending our youngest students resulted in improved outcomes, it would make sense to continue with the status quo. But research shows the opposite, as classroom removals for young children can lead to even more significant problems down the road. Studies show that early removals increase the likelihood of suspensions in higher grades, which then increase the odds of being held back a grade, dropping out of school altogether, and entering the juvenile justice system.

What’s more, Texas Appleseed’s research shows classroom removals are issued disproportionately to certain groups of students. Black children, boys, and students who receive special education services are punished at disproportionately higher rates compared to their peers, but those rates are most alarming for black students. Black children make up 26 percent of students in HISD but represent 67 percent of pre-k out-of-school suspensions. Seventy percent of the pre-k through second graders suspended in HISD are black boys.

Fortunately, there are proven, evidence-based alternatives to a system over reliant on out-of-school suspensions. HISD’s proposal includes a robust, tiered system of behavioral interventions that can be used as alternatives to classroom removals. A staff of twenty-five trainers and sixty school psychologists would be trained in research-based methodologies, which they would then pass along to teachers, staff, and administrators at all HISD elementary schools. Behavioral interventionists would be available to provide further assistance and referrals to external agencies to any campuses that request them.

Sometimes opportunities to make sweeping change can seem rare. But this instance provides our community a unique chance to adapt our schools’ discipline policies in a way that will help the youngest students stay in the classroom. I remain hopeful that at the upcoming December meeting the Houston ISD Board of Education will support a ban on out-of-school suspensions for the district’s youngest children.


Now is the time to plan for climate change

The science is clear: the world is getting hotter. Scientists announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2001-10 was the hottest decade on record. There is convincing evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been exacerbated by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use. And even if there’s disagreement about what’s causing the increased heat, you must have spent too much time in the sun to not think it’s getting hotter. So Texas has to plan for this hotter future.

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For the past four sessions, I’ve filed legislation to require 12 state agencies to produce climate adaptation plans every four years assessing each agency’s role with respect to climate change. Each climate adaptation plan must include: an assessment of vulnerability; how existing programs will be impacted; specific mitigation steps; budget impacts of mitigation; potential funding sources for mitigation steps; a statewide strategy to monitor the continuing effects of climate change; and a written statement by the Texas state climatologist regarding the adequacy of the scientific basis of the plan.

The bills haven’t passed, but I pledge to continue the fight. Plain and simple, it’s a bad business practice to not manage risk and uncertainty. With millions of lives and billions of dollars relying on sound state policies, the lack of risk mitigation around climate change exacerbates future economic uncertainty and sets the state up for potentially destructive surprises.

Organizations of all kinds – whether in the public, private, or non-profit sectors – have formalized planning processes to mitigate climate change impacts because planning is a prudent business practice. Adaptation plans would give Texas state agencies a roadmap to contend with unknown future climate conditions and help minimize their impact.

Click here to read a recent Houston Chronicle article on my efforts at the Capitol.


Do you have health insurance?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare” – millions of uninsured Americans now have access to new health insurance options through a Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov. This is great news for Texas, as our state has the highest uninsured rate in the nation with nearly one in five lacking coverage – around 5 million people. In Harris County, almost 1 in 3 people are without health insurance coverage.

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Beyond the benefit for my constituents and community, I’m personally grateful for Obamacare, as it has allowed my oldest daughter, Nicole, to get health insurance while she attends school in New York. She’s more than 26 years old and is no longer able to be covered under my health care plan.

If you don’t have health insurance, you now have an opportunity to enroll in coverage, as the marketplace opened again on November 1, 2015. We will all get sick at some point in time, and access to health insurance is a critical part of ensuring that individuals and families are healthy and successful. Plus, if you are eligible and don’t enroll in coverage by January 31st, you might have to pay a fine at tax time of $695 dollars per person or 2.5% of your income, whichever is more.

Many people are able to get a plan that works for them and is not too expensive because financial help is available for individuals who make between $11,670-$46,680 and between $23,850-$95,400 for a family of four.

According to estimates for Houston, a 27 year old with an income of $25,000 might be able to purchase coverage with assistance for as a low as $81 per month. A family of four with an income of $50,000 may be able to get coverage for $52 per month after tax credits.

v>These plans purchased on the exchange will have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care – ensuring consumers get comprehensive coverage instead of a bare bones policy.

Information about these new health insurance plans, where to get in-person assistance, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Remember, the deadline for enrolling is January 31, 2016.

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Houston legislator offers climate change bill

GALVESTON – The “F” that Texas got in a recent study that graded states on their readiness to confront the extreme weather posed by climate change came as no surprise to state Sen. Rodney Ellis.

The Houston Democrat has introduced a bill in each of the last four sessions of the Legislature that would require state agencies to prepare for climate change, but so far it’s gone nowhere.

 “Unfortunately, anything that’s associated with combating the effects climate change has a difficult time moving through today’s Texas Capitol,” Ellis said.

Texas received an overall “F” in planning to prepare for extreme weather in the report, “States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card.” The Lone Star State received the “F” grade for being unprepared to deal with extreme heat, “D-” for its drought preparations, “D” for wildfires and “D+” for coastal flooding.

The report said Texas was one of the five states receiving the lowest grades  and one of the three states facing the most extreme weather changes.

Ellis says he intends to reintroduce the bill in the 2017 session. “The science is clear: the world is getting hotter,” Ellis said.  NOAA announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2001-10 was the hottest decade on record.

“And even if there’s disagreement about what’s causing the increased heat, you must have spent too much time in the sun to not think it’s getting hotter. So Texas has to plan for this hotter future.”

The bill filed by Ellis last year would have required 12 state agencies to produce climate adaptation plans.

Each agency, as part of its plan, would have had to:

–Conduct a climate change vulnerability assessment.

–Review existing programs for how they would be affected by climate change.

–List the steps necessary for dealing with climate change.

–Determine how preparing for climate change would affect the budget during the next five and 10 years.

–List potential funding for climate change preparation.

–Prepare a statewide monitoring system for climate change’s effect on the agency.

–Obtain a written statement from the state climatologist  about the adequacy and scientific basis of the plan.

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Senator Ellis praises new EPA rules on carbon dioxide

(Austin, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement regarding President Obama’s announcement of new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

“I’m proud of President Obama and the EPA for fighting to protect Americans from climate change and air pollution. There is an urgent need to act, and the President has answered the country’s call. My preference is that Congress would act, but we all know that’s not going to happen.” said Senator Ellis.

“Climate change is already here: the country’s twelve hottest years on record have come in the last 15 years, and Texas is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in recorded history. If we want to leave our children and grandchildren a safe and healthy environment, we’ve got to limit carbon emissions – just like we’ve done with arsenic, mercury, and other pollutants.”

“Texas has already made great strides in recent years in growing its clean energy industry, and the flexibility provided by these new rules will help to expand our use of wind, solar, and other renewables even further.”

Senator Ellis serves on the Texas Senate Committee on Natural Resources and chairs the Commission to Engage African Americans on Energy, Climate Change, and the Environment.

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Ellis Joins Rep. Turner, Advocates in Support of LITE-UP Texas Enrollment

Deadline for low-income Texans to qualify for help on energy bills looming

(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today joined Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) and advocates urging low-income Texans to sign up for LITE-UP Texas energy bill assistance before the August 10, 2013 deadline.

The LITE-UP Texas program is designed to help qualified low-income individuals who live in areas where they can choose their own electricity provider to reduce their monthly cost of electric service. During this year’s regular session, the 83rd Texas Legislature made profound changes to this program, increasing the discount from 16.5 percent to 82 percent. The 82 percent discount will be effective for this September and also for May, June, July and August of 2014.

“Time is running out for low-income and elderly Texans to get the help they need to keep the power on in late summer,” said Ellis. “We are here to spread the word to make sure that Texans know there is help on the way.”

In 1999 the legislature created the System Benefit Fund to help low-income Texans pay summer energy bills when Texas deregulated electric utility companies. The Fund’s goal was to assist the least fortunate Texans in braving the summer heat, and as temperatures across the state soar to increasingly high levels, that mission is more critical than ever. Unfortunately, this session, the legislature ended the surcharge on customers’ electricity bills but took steps to provide a discount on customers’ September electricity bills for 2013 and May through August bills for 2014. According to the Public Utility Commission, about 500,000 Texans received aid from the System Benefit Fund to help pay their summer bills.

Since the creation of the System Benefit Fund, the legislature has often neglected to use the full balance to help Texans pay their summer electric bills, instead redirecting the balance to shore up budget shortfalls. For instance, in 2011 $650 million was left in the Fund instead of distributed to senior and needy Texans.

“I opposed the reverse Robin Hood plan to take from the poor,” said Ellis. “The System Benefit Fund was created for the explicit purpose of helping low-income Texans pay rising energy bills after electric deregulation. That’s where the money should be going and where Texans want it to go. Unfortunately, our side did not prevail, but at least there is the silver lining that Texans will receive a bigger discount this summer and in 2014, so Texans need to take advantage of it while they can.”

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Austinites required to recycle, but not bars

While Austin is trying to save the planet by banning plastic bags, every night thousands of glass bottles are thrown away. A lot of those are beer bottles that could be recycled, but in Austin there’s no requirement to do so. However, that could soon change. Continue Reading »

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Lawmakers want a deep look at hazardous sites

In response to the deadly explosion of the West Fertilizer Co., two Texas lawmakers have launched inquiries into the state’s oversight of hazardous materials in an attempt to prevent future catastrophes. Continue Reading »

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Ellis Asks TCEQ How Texas Can Better Protect Communities

April 26, 2013

Dr. Bryan Shaw
Chairman
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, TX 78711-3087

Dear Chairman Shaw:

All Texans are saddened by the tragedy that occurred in West as a result of the explosion at the fertilizer plant. Like you, I extend my thoughts and prayers to those who lost family members, and I pray for the recovery of those that were injured. Continue Reading »

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Bill Aims to Prepare Texas for Climate Change

By Mose Buchele (Originally posted 12/21/2012)

In a state like Texas, where much of the political leadership still disagrees with the scientific consensus on global climate change, you might call Rodney Ellis a dreamer. Continue Reading »

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Report finds Texas lags in preparing for climate change

Texas lags behind most states in planning for the unavoidable impacts of climate change on its landscape and economy, according to a national report released Thursday. Continue Reading »

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Ellis pedals toward fitness diversity

It’s been a goal of state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to get more African Americans and Latinos on bicycles. His purpose is simple: Riding bicycles on a regular basis can improve their health and well-being through a fairly inexpensive and available activity they can do throughout their lives. Continue Reading »

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