AUSTIN ‘ When a lawmaker makes a speech in his home district, he usually paints pretty word pictures. But when El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh spoke to the Texas Associated Press Managing Editor’s Association in his hometown recently, he focused on the reality of the situation along the Texas border. The picture is far from pretty. He said Texas’ 22 border counties, from El Paso to Cameron, amount to a third-world country. Combined per capita income in those counties, he said, is 33 percent lower than cash poor Mississippi’s. Problems along the border range from low college graduation rates to lack of transportation infrastructure. He didn’t even mention the poverty-ridden colonias scattered up and down the river. The solution, he said, is a major revision of Texas’ tax system. While careful not to directly advocate a state income tax, the Democratic senator said the state must study ways to better provide for the needs of its citizens. “The plain fact,” he told the editors, “is our tax system is frugally and efficiently starving the Texas dream.” Fond memories Most of us never forget that first kiss or the first car. To drive that first car, however, you need a driver’s license. Having a driver’s license even plays a role in many a first kiss. For years, when you turned 16, if you had taken a driver’s education course and a certified behind-the-wheel course and could pass the test, you got a driver’s license. For teenagers these days, it’s not that simple. And from their point of view, it may get worse. From the perspective of safety-minded adults, a graduated licensing bill approved by the House is good news. Newly licensed 16 or 17-year-olds would not be able to drive after 11 p.m. or before 5 a.m. without an adult in the car. The only exceptions are going to or from school or a medical emergency. That, of course, will play havoc with teenage romance. But it also should impact teenage drinking and driving and the late-night cruising that often is a destination to trouble. Though only 5.5 percent of Texas’ licensed drivers are teenagers, their age group accounts for nearly 20 percent of the traffic fatalities logged each year in the state. The sober truth is that the crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is 1.5 times higher than it is for 17-year-olds and three times higher than it is for 18 and 19-year-olds, still hardly the most safety minded members of society. Forty-three other states have some form of graduated licensing law on the books. All have enjoyed reductions in teenage traffic fatalities involving 16-year-olds. Michigan, for instance, saw a 35 percent decline in traffic deaths from that vulnerable age group. The version passed recently in the House is even stronger than the Senate version. Similar bills have come up before, but never gotten this far down the legislative road. Gambling bill headed off at the pass A bill that would legalize gambling on three Indian reservations in Texas passed the House, as reported last week, but it looks like it’s still not going to get off the reservation. Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff has said the bill will not be debated in the Senate. “I am adamantly opposed to casino gambling anywhere in the state of Texas,” Ratliff said earlier this month.