Issues Facing the 79th Legislature
(AUSTIN) - Over the next few weeks, I will continue highlighting issues we will face during this Legislative Session. This article focuses on items I will review as a member of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. This article is taken from the Senate Research Center publication entitled "Issues Facing the 79th Legislature," and more issues from the report will be highlighted in future Capitol Updates. To view the entire report, please go to www.senate.state.tx.us or call my office to receive a hard copy.
Urban, Exurban, and Rural Areas of Texas
S.B. 264, 78th Legislature, Regular Session, required the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the House Urban Affairs Committee to jointly investigate whether subdividing uniform state service regions into urban/exurban areas and rural areas would impact the provision of state and federal financial assistance to meet the housing needs of rural areas in Texas. It also required the committees' findings to include a proposed definition for "exurban areas" and an assessment of the housing needs of exurban areas and recommended solutions to address those needs.
Edwina Carrington, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), has stated that an agreed upon definition of exurban does not exist within the planning community and that TDHCA does not have sufficient data substantiating the need to have an urban/exurban region or the fiscal impact of further subdividing the current regions. Consequently, TDHCA defined exurban as an incorporated city that is not a rural area and has a population no greater than 100,000 based on the most current information published by the United States Census Bureau as of October 1 of each preceding application year.
The 79th Legislature may consider legislation to clarify the definition of exurban. The legislature may also direct TDHCA to conduct a needs-assessment study regarding the establishment of an urban-exurban region for the purpose of allocating housing funds.
County Clerk Filing Fees
Currently, Section 51.605 (Continuing Education), Government Code, requires county clerks to complete 20 hours of continuing education courses, including one hour dedicated to fraudulent court documents. The committee found that there is a need for county clerks to have a better working knowledge of the formula used by the Texas Building and Procurement Commission (TBPC) to calculate charges for formatted data.
The legislature may consider a mandatory training requirement for all county clerks to be provided by the Open Records Section, TBPC, on assessing charges for copies of public information (within the mandates of Chapter 552, Government Code).
Rural Economic Development
The Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) was created to facilitate the state's economic and community development and health programs targeting rural communities in Texas. ORCA was formed by consolidating existing rural-focused programs and services from various state agencies under the single administrative umbrella of the new agency, and charged with providing a sustained and comprehensive focus on rural issues, needs, and concerns.
There are additional responsibilities that could assist ORCA in promoting greater opportunities for economic growth in rural areas, such as:
* Currently, ORCA is not required to help businesses in rural communities. Businesses considering relocating or expanding into rural areas may need assistance and guidance to succeed and revising ORCA's mission to this affect could complement rural economic development and business expansion.
* Currently, there is no clearinghouse of information detailing resources available to rural communities. ORCA, the agency dedicated solely to serving rural Texas, would be the likely entity to develop a comprehensive guide detailing available state and federal resources dedicated to rural communities.
*In addition, ORCA has some discretion allocating Community Development Block Grants and may use those funds to address the rehabilitation of older homes in rural areas. The increasing number of non-border colonias affects the progress of rural economic development in the state. The legislature will likely consider legislation requiring an assessment of the number and conditions of non-border colonias and a report submitting those findings to the legislature.
Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) have developed an extensive network to address the state's critical need for rural workforce development. The states' three current AHECs have the opportunity to increase access to health care education, provider recruitment, professional support, and community coordination.
A methodology is needed for recruiting physicians and other needed health care practitioners for basic health care services in rural communities and for determining specific areas where shortages are continually prevalent. Additionally, health care is an important consideration for workforce development boards to ensure the viability of rural communities.
Currently, the 4A/4B Economic Sales Tax cannot be applied toward health care services. Health care is a critical part of the viability of local rural economies. The legislature may consider recommendations from rural stakeholders for promoting economic growth in rural areas of Texas, including legislation to clarify and expand the allowable uses of 4A/4B economic development sales tax revenues to include health care services.
The ability to properly research and develop grant proposals is not immediately available to rural communities. The legislature may consider establishing a grant database that would allow increased access to the necessary information to complete a grant application, increasing access to the grant process for local communities and improving their ability to compete for federal, state, and foundation funding.
Currently, data submitted to the Department of State Health Services regarding health status and access to care does not define rural and urban differences. Distinguishing the differences could better serve to identify rural health care needs and expand rural communities' access to federal assistance programs.
The legislature may also consider legislation to require the governor's state grant writing team, in conjunction with ORCA, to assist rural communities with grant writing, model grant applications, and basic grant writing instruction. In order to bring attention and support to rural issues and more effective relationships with local elected officials, the legislature may examine whether state agencies are coordinating with local councils of governments to further regional cooperation and funding for rural areas.
The legislature may also examine additional ways to increase health care options for rural Texas, such as increasing the appropriations to the state's Area Health Education Centers and amending the Health and Safety Code to require the Department of State Health Services to research and report on the current and potential use of non-physician health care practitioners in medically underserved areas and health professional shortage areas.
Texas Wine Producing Industry
Twenty years ago, Texas had approximately 12 wineries and 2,500 acres of planted grapes. Today, Texas is the fifth-largest wine producing state. Sixty wineries are in production, with 80 permits pending. The wine industry is a value-added industry because everything is done in Texas, and it is estimated that the industry currently creates $200 million in revenue for the state.
Since September 2003, with the passage of a state constitutional amendment, the number of Texas wineries has doubled and the areas served by wineries have expanded. The constitutional amendment authorized the legislature to adopt laws and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to adopt policies applicable to all wineries in Texas, regardless of whether the winery is located in an area where wine sales have been authorized by local option election, thereby encouraging the development of wineries in "dry" areas. Wineries are now located in every region of Texas.
The legislature may consider several issues to assist the Texas wine industry, including:
* Establishing of a comprehensive enology (the study of wines) program to train and educate future Texas winemakers, e.g., a university degree program in viticulture and enology, to ensure that Texas has sufficient Texas trained wine specialists who will more than likely remain in Texas to work.
* Addressing the need to increase state and federal funding for the science of winemaking and research and development, particularly regarding Pierce's Disease, a potentially devastating disease that attacks grapevines and can lead to the decimation of entire vineyards and wine regions.
* Continuing support for the Texas Department of Agriculture's Wine Making Assistance Program, enacted by the 77th Legislature in 2001.
* Continuing to look for ways to promote national and international awareness of Texas wines through festivals and agri-tourism and create a "Brand Texas" image.
* Authorizing wineries to have more than four events per year, eliminate the tasting room sales cap and expanding tasting room hours in order to optimize the economic benefits of the attractions of Texas wineries.
* Authorizing every Texas winery to post a sign directing visitors to the winery, thus increasing sales and visitors to the wineries.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0556 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: email@example.com.