AUSTIN — Texas’ top three officeholders on Oct. 12 instructed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to improve the protection of children at risk of abuse.

With recent data showing the agency is struggling to see children in a timely manner, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman, calling for immediate action to more quickly help vulnerable children. 

“Protecting children from abuse is going to be a top priority in next year’s legislative session, but there is a need for action right now,” Straus said. 

The letter instructs Whitman to:

- Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators;

- Develop a plan to ensure that DFPS has the caseworkers to handle the increase in cases and to prioritize hires in the most critical regions of the state;

- Develop a plan to address a shortage of foster homes and residential providers;

- Reinforce a culture of accountability within CPS; and

- Build upon ongoing efforts to enhance partnerships with faith-based communities.

The 85th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature will convene on Jan. 10.  

Registration breaks record

Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos on Oct. 13 announced the number of registered voters was 15,015,700, an all-time high number for the state.

The last day to register in time for the Nov. 8 election was Oct. 11.

The 15 million-plus number reported by Cascos is about 78 percent of Texas’ estimated voting age population of 19,307,355. Voting age population estimates include Texans who may not be eligible to vote, such as non-citizens or convicted felons who have not yet fully discharged their sentence.

Cascos said the number of registered voters reported is preliminary, and likely will increase a bit as last-minute applications continue to be processed during the next few days.

According to figures compiled by the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, in 2012, the last presidential election year, Texas had 13,646,226 registered voters, or 75 percent of voting age population. In 2008, the number was 13,575,062 or roughly 77 percent of the voting age population. More recently, ahead of the 2016 primaries in March, Texas had 14,238,436 registered voters, or 74 percent of estimated voting age population.

October allocations improve

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Oct. 10 announced cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts would receive $650 million in local sales tax allocations for October.

The amount to be allocated, based on sales made in August by businesses that report tax monthly, is 5.5 percent greater than in October of the previous year. 

“The cities of San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano and McKinney saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations,” Hegar said, but “the cities of Houston and Midland saw significant decreases in sales tax allocations.”

School bus safety is urged

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Oct. 13 urged drivers to comply with laws prohibiting the passing of school buses.

During National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 17-21, DPS Highway Patrol troopers will watch for drivers who pass any school bus that is stopped and operating a visual signal, either flashing red lights or a stop sign. Drivers who violate the law could face fines as much as $1,250.

Texas law requires a driver traveling in either direction to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped and operating a visual signal. The driver may not proceed until one of the following occurs: the school bus resumes motion; the operator is signaled by the bus driver to proceed; or the visual signal is no longer activated.

DSHS issues Zika reminder

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Oct. 14 issued a public reminder that Zika testing is available for pregnant women who cross the border with Mexico.

DSHS encouraged those women to discuss testing with their health care providers. Under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Zika testing is recommended for any pregnant woman who has traveled to a country with ongoing Zika transmission, including those who regularly cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Testing for Zika antibodies is now a part of routine prenatal care during the first and second trimesters in pregnant women with an ongoing risk of Zika exposure.