In This Issue…
- Reflections on Reasoned Discourse
- Scholarships Available
- Photos from Campaign Office Open House
- Blockwalking Begins!
Update from Ellen
When offered the option between contentious public debate and reasoned discourse, I always choose the latter. I am confident that getting things done in the Texas House is not about pointing fingers, not about making people afraid. It’s about respecting those who may not agree with everything I believe and working through our differences. The next session will bring incredible challenges with a projected budget deficit of $18 billion. We will need to make hard decisions understanding that people’s lives are deeply impacted by our choices.
A good example of the reasoned discourse I’m describing took place during my first term in 2007. Legislation, often described as Jessica’s Law, was introduced as a result of the 2005 abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida. The bill provided that if a child is a victim of aggravated sexual assault by a previously convicted sex offender then the offense could be punishable as a capital felony. At face value, this bill “looked good on paper,” as do so many under consideration.
I was outraged by Jessica’s assault and murder—as were my colleagues. But the suggested recourse concerned me deeply. With 18 years of experience at the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) dealing with victims of sexual and domestic violence, I knew that approximately 90% of sexually abused children are abused by family members. What girl or boy who is sexually assaulted by a family member is then going to be able to testify knowing that their testimony could put Uncle Bill, Cousin Bob, or Granddad to death? Those of us who opposed the law felt it would re-victimize the victims.
Prosecutors and law enforcement agreed and also suggested that the availability of the death penalty would decrease reporting in rape cases and might lead some perpetrators to kill their victims to keep them from testifying.
In the end, even though many of my colleagues agreed with the reasoned response that I and others presented, they couldn’t vote in such a way that they felt would make them appear soft on crime. The bill passed 122-17. In 2008, however, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Louisiana law that allowed the death penalty for the sexual assault of a child younger than 12 and, thus, invalidated the death penalty provision in Jessica’s Law.
As I reflect on my approach to Jessica’s Law, I know that my vote represented the right decision to truly protect children. As I consider the upcoming session with the extraordinary deficit and difficult decisions that will be required, I will continue my commitment to protecting the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
I know, at times, some of my votes may not be politically advantageous, but for District 134, I am more concerned about making good laws than making headlines. I welcome your feedback on this and any other issues of concern. Please email me at email@example.com.
State Representative Ellen Cohen
Ellen in the District
The Campaign Office open house was a full morning that included visits from familiar faces and new volunteers. Next on the campaign agenda is our upcoming blockwalk. Scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 12, the walk will begin at the Campaign Office location at 1535 West Loop South, Suite 412. An orientation and all supplies will be provided. For more information or to volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713.838.0134.
Hurricane season begins June 1. You can find a hurricane preparation checklist at ready.gov.
To view Appropriations and Higher Education Committee meetings online, go to www.house.state.tx.us/media. Upcoming meetings for Rep. Cohen are June 14-15.
The State Board of Education’s (SBOE) final vote on the new social studies standards has drawn nationwide attention. With board members voting on hundreds of changes to social studies standards without the presence of a historian, economist or any other social studies expert in the room to advise them, the ensuing outcry is justified. You can read a minute-by-minute account of the debate on the Texas Freedom Network’s blog at www.tfninsider.org.
Save The Date! On September 22, Rep. Cohen is planning a Town Hall Meeting focusing on the SBOE and needed changes. Location and details will be forthcoming in future issues of the Cohen Connection.
Two scholarship opportunities have come to the attention of the District 134 office.
The Urban Scholarship Fund is for graduating high school seniors and/or new and returning college students attending any accredited nonprofit college, university or technical school. Amounts vary from $700 to $2000. The deadline to apply is July 6, 2010. For information or an application, visit the Texas Association of Developing Colleges website.
America’s Promise Alliance and AT&T have launched the “My Idea Grants Program” which will benefit students who offer ideas to help increase a community’s graduation rate. National grants of $10,000 – $20,000 will be awarded to 25 young people across the U.S. Grants of $500 – $1500 are available to support local projects in urban areas including Houston. Applications are available here and are due June 11, 2010.
Child Advocates Needed
Child Advocates, Inc., located in the heart of District 134, is Houston’s leader in providing critical advocacy for Harris County’s most severely abused children. Since its inception, Child Advocates has provided life-saving support to more than 16,000 abused children. Volunteers are needed to serve as court appointed advocates, guiding the children and helping to break the vicious cycle of child abuse.
For more information, attend an event listed online at www.childadvocates.org or plan to participate in a one-hour orientation. Dates are included on the website.
Events in the District
Serving in the Legislature, meetings with constituents, speaking engagements, and attending events in District 134 are what Rep. Cohen enjoys doing most. Below is a partial list of recent activities. Those marked with * are linked to online photo albums.
- Serving as honorary starter for the ACHIEVE Triathlon at the Jewish Community Center *
- Presenting a flag at a West University Little League Celebration of players receiving the Senior World Series Championship rings *
- Speaking to the Greater Houston Partnership
- Hosting Appropriations Forum with Chairman Jim Pitts *
- Presenting proclamation to Jerry Wische, retiring executive vice president of the Jewish Community Center
- Presenting award to Sherry Merfish at the Houston Area Women’s Center Gala
- Speaking at the graduation ceremonies of Texas Southern University and the Harris County Hospital District’s School of Diagnostic Imaging*
- Participating in the park and field dedication at Poe Elementary *
- Speaking to the Women’s Finance Exchange *
- Hosting the Campaign Office Open House *
- Attending the Human Rights Campaign Gala *
- Participating in the Baylor College of Medicine Commencement
- Meeting supporters at the Young Professionals for Ellen event *
- Touring Holcombe Life Sciences Plaza *
- Celebrating 40 years of cancer survivorship at the 20th anniversary CanCare Survivors Luncheon *
- Participating in the Texas Council on Economic Education *
- Cutting ribbon at the Colonial Park Pool opening *
If you would like to invite Rep. Cohen to participate in an upcoming event, please email us or call (713) 627-0134.