News

Committee mulls easing gun license ‘burden’

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

TEXANS seeking a license-to-carry firearms permit would see a much smaller fee under a bill considered by the senate’s state affairs committee on Monday.
If bill author and Jacksonville senator Robert Nichols has his way, he says Texas will go from the “burden” of being one of the nation’s most expensive states for carrying handguns to one of the cheapest.
Nichols said he was introducing the bill because the current fee of $140 to apply for a license that permits concealed and open carry of handguns in the state is among the highest in the nation.
He said: “These fees impose an undue burden on people’s constitutional right to bear arms as it relates to concealed carry or license to carry. This will take Texas from having one of the highest fees in the nation to one of the lowest in the nation and still covers what I believe to be the real cost of running the program.”
His proposal, senate bill 16, would reduce the application fee to $40 for the initial license and cut the renewal fee from $70 every five years to $40 as well.
He told the committee members his original idea had been to eliminate all fees for application and renewal but, with state revenue tight this year, he changed his proposals to cover the public safety department’s costs of managing the program.
It costs DPS $27 to conduct a background check on license-to-carry applicants and there are further incidental costs relating to processing and management that raise the total to about $40 per applicant.
In order to receive an LTC permit, applicants must take a four-to-six-hour class, pass a written test and then demonstrate adequate proficiency with a handgun at a gun range.
The committee also considered a few bills that would relax or change some of those requirements for certain people.
One, SB 263 by senator Charles Perry, would remove the minimum caliber requirement for range qualification. At present, people are required to use a handgun of at least 0.32-inch caliber to demonstrate proficiency, but supporters argue that this could present difficulty at the range for people accustomed to using smaller-caliber handguns.
Another bill by Perry, SB 264, would waive the range requirement for county jailers and state corrections officers because they receive handgun training as part of their profession.
Similarly, Plano senator Van Taylor offered a bill, SB 138, to exempt active and retired military-service members from the proficiency demonstration if they have gained a military-range qualification in the past ten years because they would have already received much more rigorous firearms training during their military service.
All four bills passed the committee unanimously.

Creighton birth bill moves on

THE TEXAS senate tentatively approved a bill in which senator Brandon Creighton seeks to remove “wrongful birth” lawsuits in the state.
SB 25 author Creighton, whose district includes Bolivar peninsula, says the 40-year-old current law, under which a doctor can be sued for delivering a child with a disability, is archaic and sends the wrong message about people with disabilities in Texas.
He said: “We should not coin a child born with a disability as an injury. We should not create that negative connotation and a physician should not be liable in any way because a child is simply born disabled, as long as that physician did everything in that standard of care that’s accepted.”
Opponents of the bill raised concerns that it might permit a doctor who opposes abortion to withhold information about congenital anomalies that might make a mother decide to seek an abortion.
Creighton disagreed, saying that doctors would still be required under other statutes
to meet existing standards of care and disclosure and that those statutes provide parents with adequate remedy for malpractice.
He said: “If a physician omits critical information that a patient deserves, or directs a patient towards an outcome that is different than what the testing has shown, they are very much on the hook for malpractice, fraud, emotional distress, gross negligence and losing their license”. –Richard Lee, Texas Senate News

                Nathaniel Sillin

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

MAYBE your financial house is in order. Your debt is manageable or paid off. You have an emergency fund and now you’re looking for ways to grow your wealth. Or, perhaps you’re planning ahead by learning about different investment options. Have you considered becoming a landlord?
Rent prices tend to rise over time, providing an inflation-protected income into your retirement years. You also might be able to cash in big later if the unit’s value increases. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. Some landlords wind up with a trashed property after evicting a tenant or lose their savings in a natural disaster.
In between the extremes of easy, hands-off income and total ruin are the everyday concerns, benefits and risks that most landlords face.
Risks. Investment-property mortgages tend to be a little more difficult and costly to secure than mortgages for your primary residence. It can also be harder to take cash out of investment properties – either with a cash-out refinance or a home-equity line of credit. In other words, you might not have access to your money during an emergency.
Owning a rental property outright can be risky as well. Especially if you’re placing a significant amount of your savings in a single investment, the lack of diversification could put you in a precarious situation.
Those aren’t the only risks you could face when owning a rental.
• Tenants. Finding and keeping good tenants is one all-important risk. Landlords learn from experience that it’s worth leaving their rental empty for a month or two rather than pay for an eviction or expensive repairs later. You can pay for professional tenant-screening reports or credit reports and call applicants’ references before offering a lease.
• Expenses. Between taxes, insurance, repairs, maintenance and mortgage payments, the monthly and one-off costs of rental property can quickly stack up. Some landlords lose money because their rental income doesn’t cover their expenses but they won’t be able to attract tenants if they raise it. If the housing and rental markets drop, you could be stuck losing money each month or selling the property at a loss.
• Management. The time or cost of managing a rental property can be significant. Becoming a landlord is often far from a hands-off job. When the phone rings in the middle of the night because the roof is leaking, you’ll need to figure out how to solve the problem. You might be able to hire a property-management company to take on this work for you but you could be charged about 8 to 12 per cent of your rental income or a flat monthly fee.
Even with the risks involved, there are countless examples of successful landlords. Many find the experience so rewarding that they purchase additional investment properties.
Income calculation. You must set yourself up for financial success. What separates the successful and sorrow-filled landlords? Luck certainly comes into play but you can also take steps to start on the right foot.
When buying an investment property, try to determine its capitalization rate, its estimated annual return, before making an offer. To calculate the capitalization rate, divide the annual net income by the property’s purchase price.
Your net income will be your rental income, which you can approximate based on rental prices for similar properties, minus your costs, such as maintenance, upgrades, vacancies and emergencies. You might need to consult an accountant to understand how your new tax situation can affect your costs.
Capitalization rates tend to change depending on the area and type of property. But, regardless of what’s considered “good” in your area, you can use this formula to compare different investment opportunities.
Bottom line: Many people focus on the positives of owning investment property. An extra income and potential to build equity with their tenants’ money seems too good to be true and it just might be. If you’re going to be a successful landlord, however, you should acknowledge the risks that come with the territory and plan accordingly.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

               Denisha Maxey

Consumer business by Denisha Maxey

STORIES of companies facing financial difficulties make the news daily. Small businesses merging with larger concerns and vice versa in an attempt to stay financially afloat has become the new norm.
Economic issues have affected commercial entities in a major way and, just like families in many households today, businesses must make tough financial decisions.
Sometimes those decisions include financial action plans to help the company try to maintain financial stability. Sometimes, the solution is to file bankruptcy or go completely out of business.
When a business chooses to file bankruptcy or close its doors, its customers are the ones left holding the bag. Finding that you have made a purchase from a business that has since closed its doors or filed bankruptcy can be a nightmare.


It can seem like a difficult situation but there are ways you can protect yourself as a consumer when facing such circumstances.
If a business has filed chapter-seven bankruptcy under Texas state law, it is obligated to pay its debts to creditors and employees, as well as any taxes owed. The debts are satisfied with profits made from selling the assets of the business.
Unfortunately, when this happens, consumers are the last on the list to receive any money. However, if you have made a purchase from the business with a credit card and have never received your merchandise, you do have the option to file a dispute with your financial institution. If you’ve paid for the purchase with cash or your personal check, you will need to pursue a claim with the court handling the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Knowing the difference between a chapter-seven or chapter-11 bankruptcy can also help you explore your options. When a business files under chapter 11, it is still able to operate and its customers might not
be affected.
If you have made a purchase from a company that has since gone officially “out of business” and the purchased item has a warranty, you might still be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.
If you have an extended warranty, most probably it has been supplied by a third party. The fact that the business that sold you the merchandise has shut down does not affect a warranty administered by a third party, so your merchandise will still be covered.
The worst-case scenario is a business closing its doors while in possession of your items. You might have an expensive item such as an electronic device or a vehicle being repaired, only to find the doors locked when you attempt to retrieve your property. Try to contact the business owner. If all else fails and the cost of the item is less than $10,000, you may file a case in a small-claims court.
Whether you are dealing with a large or small business that has filed bankruptcy or has closed its doors for good, it can be frustrating. Knowing what recourses you have to protect you as a consumer is beneficial and can help you avoid losing out financially.
Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.

                       Walt Candelari

Crimewatch with Walt Candelari

REMEMBER your high-school English class? You had to write on a given topic and limit the essay to a specific number of words; say 500. I used to struggle to stretch mine to that many! Well, here comes Crime Prevention 101 in 500 words or less.
Locks – good. Good locks with three-inch screws better.
Double locks on windows – good.
Exterior lights – good. Lights in good working condition that illuminate all entrances and storage areas – better.
Plants – good. Plants that do not hide burglars and can hinder them – better.
House numbers – good. House numbers in reflective paint on curb or pole that are easily seen – better.
Names on mailboxes – not good.
Peep holes in solid doors – very good.
External alarms – good. Added internal alarm – even better.
Clean, well-kept neighborhood yards – good. Working with neighbors to help the elderly tend their yards or keep abandoned properties clean – better.
Neighborhood Watch programs – good. Scheduled meetings to keep abreast of issues and changes – better.
Working with the police – very good. Building personal contacts with officers – even better.
Attending your local citizens police academy – very, very good. Staying in touch either through the local citizens police academy alumni association or special programs such as Citizens On Patrol – even better.
Locking car doors in your driveway – good. Locking car doors at all times – even better.
Never leaving valuables or purchases in plain view in a vehicle – good. Shopping little and often and carrying fewer total purchases at one time – even better.
Fencing to restrict access and direct visitors to where you want them to go – good. Privacy fencing that allows someone to hide – not so good.
Not letting unexpected strangers in your house – good. Contacting the company they “represent” or the police to verify their identity – better.
Deleting all e-mail and unsolicited ads without opening them – good. Not giving out personal information to a source you haven’t verified or on an unsecured site – better.
Checking out all financial offers, investment “opportunities” such as pyramid schemes, solicitation of funds for “charities” and urgent requests for emergency funds – good. Dealing only with well-established charities and financial institutions – better.
Reading all e-mails carefully to determine if they’re from a legitimate company or a carefully crafted phishing scheme – good. Reporting the fakes to your real business and the appropriate government agency – better.
Being very careful about revealing personal information to social contacts on Facebook or any social meeting club or service – good. Avoiding personal contacts to prevent conducting business or meetings in a “private” setting with people you don’t know – better.
Checking all financial and medical statements frequently for errors in billing and treatment records – good. Checking your free credit report to make sure only accounts and transactions you have authorized are reflected – better.
Remember: Think, plan and execute crime-prevention design. Don’t be a crime victim.
Four hundred and seventy-three words – made it!
Walt Candelari is a crime-prevention specialist and community-policing officer with Dickinson police department.