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Northeast News

Rep. Deutsch of Florida and Rep. Gene Green introduce the Pension Protection Act of 2001

Rep. Peter Deutsch was joined by Rep. Gene Green in introducing the Pension Protection Act of 2001 today, legislation which restricts the employee 401 (k) contribution to no more than ten percent in company stock. Employer matches would be unaffected by this restriction. Additionally, the initiative includes a provision that allows for the divestiture of employee stock three years after acquisition.

After the financial community watched the collapse of Enron Corporation, Enron employees witnessed the destruction of their retirement security.

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Enron employees had a total of 62 percent of 401(k) assets invested in company stock at the beginning of the year. Attorneys for Enron employees estimate that workers have lost more than $1 billion of their retirement funds.

“The current financial situation with Enron is an example of the risks that are involved when a company invests most of the employees 401(k) plan in it’s own stock,” Green said. “This was an adequate system until that stock price declined to pennies on the dollar. Many of it’s employees lost thousands of dollars due to restrictions on diversifying their 401(k) plans.

“This legislation is based on the proven principle
that broad diversification is the most successful approach to long term retirement investing. Employees should not be forced to gamble with their retirement security.”

“This bill is a first step to revise the way 401(k) plans are set up in an effort to avoid another retirement catastrophe as it happened with Enron. Diversity is the key to a sound financial future and I look forward to working with employers to safeguard their employees investments,” Green concluded.

“The employees at Enron have suffered devastating losses to their retirement savings, Deutsch continued. “The Federal Government must ensure that the pensions of hard working Americans at other companies do not suffer the same fate.”

Rep. Deutsch introduced the measure today and has already received interest from some of his colleagues who would like to join as a co-sponsor of this initiative. Rep. Frost of Texas, Rep. Barbara Lee of California, and Rep. Lipinski of Michigan join Rep. Green as an original co-sponsor of this legislation.

Enforcing Child Support

Q: Can I lose my driver’s license or my hunting license if I don’t pay child support?

A: Yes. Non-custodial parents who hold a State of Texas license, owe more than three months past due child support, and are not in compliance with an existing court-ordered or voluntary repayment schedule, may face license suspension.

Most adults have a driver’s license. Many have professional licenses such as medical, dental, law and commercial vehicle. Others have recreational permits such as hunting and fishing licenses.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division matches its caseload with computer tapes from 60 different licensing agencies.

The system checks every six months for non-custodial parents who hold eligible licenses and meet the criteria for license suspension. When a match occurs, the Office of the Attorney General provides the license holder with a warning and an opportunity to resolve the outstanding delinquency.
If the non-custodial parent fails to respond, the Child Support Division will confirm the parent’s location and other information necessary to suspend the license and refer the case for administrative or judicial prosecution. In State Fiscal Year 2001 (ending August 31), we filed 4,753 cases for administrative or judicial license suspension.

Q: Can any other state agency or private company handle child support enforcement cases, and if so, would I receive money sooner?

A: In Texas, county-operated domestic relations or child support offices, private attorneys, and private collection agencies also provide some child support enforcement services. Private agencies charge for their services.

If you use the services of a private child support collection agency, be sure that you fully understand any contract that you sign. The majority of the Attorney General’s incoming cases do not have established paternity or child support orders. These cases take longer to process than cases with established paternity and child support orders. Private child support collection agencies and county domestic relations offices generally handle only cases with established paternity and existing court child support orders.

The Office of the Attorney General is required to provide child support services to all families who apply for our services and to all families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

Moreover, the Office of the Attorney General provides the full range of child support services free of charge. As a result, the Attorney General’s caseload is very large much larger than that of any private collection agency.

A private agency may be able to process some cases more quickly. This factor should be balanced against the cost of hiring a private agency.

The 77th Texas Legislature passed a law regulating the activities of private child support enforcement agencies. Effective January 1, 2002, agencies are required to register with the Texas Department of Banking to operate in Texas. The Department of Banking has the authority to revoke the registration of an agency that does not comply with the law.

Q: How can the amount of child support be changed?

A: Only the Court can modify a child support order, which establishes the amount of child support to be paid. It cannot be done by agreement of the parties. Grounds for a modification include a material and substantial change in the circumstances of a child or another person affected by the order, or the passage of three years since the last child support order and a difference in the existing monthly payment by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be ordered according to an updated calculation using the child support guidelines.

A parent subject to a child support order can request a review of the ordered child support amounts every three years by contacting the Office of the Attorney General.

To request a modification, or for further information on Child Support Services offered by the Office of the Attorney General, call (800)252-8014. Information is also available on our website at www.oag.state.tx.us.

Spring is in bloom at the 8th Annual Houston House Beautiful Show

Home and garden gurus can shop, compare and get expert advice at the 8th Annual Spring Houston House Beautiful Show continuing from Friday, February 1 through Sunday, February 3 at the Reliant Arena, 8400 Kirby Drive at Loop 610 South
With more than 650 booths, from interior design to the perfect home project tools, the House Beautiful Show is the homeowner’s premier resource for finding terrific ideas, top quality products and first rate services for every home and garden project. This year’s show will feature “The Real Man’s Garage,” everything a garage should and could be!

The show will feature Houston’s debut performance of “The Tool Pro,” Leon Frechette.

Visitors can laugh and learn as “The Tool Pro” reveals tool tips for women and men alike! He’ll demonstrate cutting edge techniques for use of common household tools in his daily seminars.

Homeowners can view the latest in new products and get great gardening ideas, as well as learn how to better care for backyard pools or spas.

In addition, financial experts will be available to answer questions about buying or remodeling a home.

Commissioner announces new rules for homeowners insurance and mold coverage

Texans concerned about whether their homeowners insurance will cover any future problems related to water damage and mold have a new set of rules to learn.

Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor has restructured the state’s residential homeowner’s policies to help resolve the controversial mold-claims issue.

Last June, a Travis County jury awarded $32 million to a family that claimed its insurance company’s failure to fix a water leak allowed the toxic mold stachybotrys to fester in their home, causing serious health problems.

The high-profile case worried consumers and insurance companies alike. By late August, several large carriers – citing an unexpected surge in mold-related claims – announced they would stop selling comprehensive HO-B policies in Texas, which cover accidental water damage and cleanup of mold resulting from water leaks. The vast majority of Texas homeowners purchase this type of coverage.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Montemayor conducted hearings across the state to solicit public input. Key provisions of the commissioner’s plan, unveiled Nov. 28:

•Retains coverage for removal of mold related to “sudden and accidental discharge, leakage or overflow of water” if the water damage is otherwise covered by the policy, including HO-Bs. There’s no dollar limit, other than the policy limit, on the amount of covered loss.

•“Sudden and accidental” includes a physical loss that is hidden or concealed until detectable. A hidden loss must be reported to the insurance company within 30 days of discovery.

•Eliminates coverage for testing, treating, containing or disposing of mold beyond what’s necessary to repair or replace property damaged by water.

•Policyholders have the option of purchasing more coverage in increments of 25 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent of policy limits.

Insurers can offer the new coverage as early as Jan. 1, 2002 but must offer it no later than Jan. 1, 2003. After a company begins offering the new coverage, policyholders won’t see a change until their policies come up for renewal.

Homeowners who choose the new, less expensive HO-B policy before their renewal dates may be entitled to refunds on the unused portion of old policies.

Because there are presently no licensing or inspection standards for mold in properties, you may want to discuss mold inspections with more than one expert – if you are considering buying a home. Most experts will discuss limitations of the inspections.

The cost for such inspections varies depending on the size of the property, the extent of mold present, the type of expert conducting the inspection, etc.

For more information on this and other consumer issues, visit the Texas Association of Realtors’ Web site at www.texasrealestate.com.

Harris County Flood Control District eligible for $15.3 million for flood mitigation project

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced last Thursday the approval of a $15.3 million grant to the Harris County Flood Control District aimed at removing individuals and property from harm’s way.

The flood mitigation project, approved under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), is designed to acquire and demolish substantially damaged structures at risk of future flooding in the City of Houston.

All acquired parcels wi1l be converted to open space.

The cost for this flood reduction effort is approved for $20,481,713 with federal funding of $15,361,284. As in previous Tropical Storm Allison acquisition projects, FEMA is paying for 75 percent of project costs. The remaining 25% will be paid locally. Participation in the program by owners of the eligible properties is strictly voluntary: only those properties voluntarily offered for sale to the program will be considered for purchase.

“These funds are a cost-effective measure aimed at reducing or eliminating future risks to human life and property due to natural hazards,” said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells. “Mitigation funds are designed to help break the cycle of damage, reconstruction and repeated damage that has been typical with past disasters.”

The approval of this mitigation grant brings the total flood damaged homes proposed for acquisition to more than $37,815,686 in the City of Houston and more than $57,014,235 throughout the communities affected by Tropical Storm Allison in June.

DPS, Guard, DEA eradicate 760,000 marijuana plants in 2001

More than 760,000 marijuana plants growing in Texas were eradicated in 2001 by DPS officers, the Texas Air National Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies. Most plants were growing wild, but 48,700 others were cultivated outdoors or indoors by marijuana traffickers. DPS investigations into marijuana cultivation (indoor and outdoor) resulted in the arrests of 160 people and the seizure of 77 firearms.

The domestic marijuana eradication (DME) program has operated in Texas since 1987. In 2000, more than 415,700 marijuana plants were eradicated, 71 people were arrested and 53 weapons were seized.

“Domestic marijuana eradication by the DPS, the Air National Guard, local law enforcement agencies and the DEA has helped make Texas a safer place,” said Col. Thomas A. Davis Jr., director of the DPS. “This is a program that shows definite, immediate results. Many burglaries and other crimes are directly related to drugs and drug use.”

The DEA provides operational, financial and technical assistance to the program. DPS Narcotics officers work with the Texas Air National Guard and DPS Aircraft, which support the ground efforts by providing aerial reconnaissance. Although local law enforcement agencies often provide information about marijuana grows, some plots are located by flying over them.

Officers this year found fairly sophisticated cultivations, including one that had an automated watering system that ran off an electrical generator in the woods. Other growths were wild, remnants of previous legal cultivation for hemp in wartime 1940s.

DPS’s domestic marijuana eradication program also includes an educational component. DPS Safety Education Service troopers present programs in schools about the dangers of drug use and are planning an educational section within the DPS Web site.

“Our Safety Education Service troopers try to reach out to children at a young age to emphasize the importance of staying drug-free,” said Col. Davis.

The Little Taco Stand that Grew

Tacos Locos started out as a little mobile taco stand…my, how it has grown!
Into this impressive new restaurant located on Fulton, a couple of blocks north of Crosstimbers.
Tacos Locos will be open early in the New Year serving up all your favorites, so get ready to come hungry and eat hardy!

Houston Workforce to benefit from $832,016 job training grant from TWC

The Houston workforce will benefit from an $832,016 training grant that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) awarded last week to the Houston Community College System, in partnership with a local business consortium.

The grant is from the Self-Sufficiency Fund, which helps welfare recipients move into the workforce and off public assistance. It will create 260 jobs for the business consortium. Upon completion of training, employees will hold such positions as stocker, cashier, meat cutter, bus driver, security guard and certified nurse assistant, and will receive an average hourly wage of $9.14.

“This grant is a boon to the Gulf Coast and to the 260 workers who will receive workforce training,” said state Senator Rodney Ellis. “When we provide people the means to support themselves, we have done a valuable service to the individual, the fami1y and the community as a whole. This grant does just that, and I congratulate the Houston Community College System and the employers involved for making it a reality.”

“Assisting all Texans to be self-sufficient is one of our top priorities,” said TWC Chair Diane Rath, “Thanks to the governor and the State Legislature, TWC makes these grants available each year, assisting thousands of Texans to enjoy the rewards of this great state.”

In Fiscal Year 2001, 24 Self-Sufficiency Fund grants created 3,607 jobs. The jobs paid an average hourly wage of $8.41. The grant’s totaled $11,911,839 and helped 195 employers.

The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically. For details on TWC and the services it offers in unison with its network of local workforce development boards, call 512-463-8S36 or Visit www.texasworkforce.org

St. Luke Missionary Baptist to honor Eagle Scout

Rev. Stanley T. Hillard, Sr., pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, is proud to announce, after 86 years of community service, a “Court of Honor Celebration” of the church’s first BSA Eagle Scout, Trenton LeBritt Reece.

Trenton is a member of Scout Troop #766 which is in the “Antares District”, and a part of the Sam Houston Area Council.

The Court of Honor will be held Sunday, December 16 at 11:00 a.m. during the worship service, with a reception to follow in the Fellowship Hall.
The Church is located at 4200 Lockwood Dr. in the Kashmere Gardens section of the city.

All Scouts and Scout Leaders are requested to wear their uniforms. Please come and celebrate this “First” for our Church and Troop.

All kids invited to make a gift at Santa’s workshop

Aldine First United Methodist Church, located at 4623 Aldine Bender, is offering a unique opportunity for all children this Christmas. All children 4-years and older are invited to come and be Santa’s elves on Saturday, December 15th from 1:00-4:00 p.m. The children can “shop” and for $1.00 each, they will pick out which gift is just right They will have help making wonderful Christmas presents for their families. There will be many choices of gifts for all age levels to create. Kids will feel really special when they have been able to make a unique gift for their Mom, Dad, and sisters and brothers. While they secretly create their Christmas gifts, adults can enjoy refreshments in an adjoining room. The gifts will be packaged so that they remain a surprise until Christmas. Let your children experience the joy of Christmas gift giving this season. See you at Santa’s Workshop! Call the church office at 281-442-4961 for more information.