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June 17, 2002     (512) 463-0300

Access To Higher Education Discussed By Senate Committee

The Senate Education Committee is studying the effects of HB 400, which is designed to help open college doors for more students. Committee Chairman Teel Bivins summed up the problem by saying "This is not a simple goal, students must study at a higher level than they are currently (and) some need financial assistance."

Don Brown, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board described the residency requirements and how they impact who can attend Texas colleges. Other witnesses from the coordinating board spoke on specific instances where certain students might be considered out of state, even though the family had lived in Texas for many years.

Wanda Simpson, from the Texas Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers (TACRAO) and Manuel Lujan, the Dean of Enrollment Management for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, testified that residency rules are currently so difficult that TACRAO currently sponsors seminars on how to determine which students qualify for in-state tuition.

Recruiting and retaining economically disadvantaged students has been an issue as well. Don Brown returned to testify, speaking on what the state is doing to keep students in college once they gain admission. He also said that the state needs to do a better job of keeping experienced teachers, to ensure that the students will be able to meet the challenges they'll face in college.

Bill Wenrich from the Dallas County Community College District, told the committee about the success of The Rising Star Program, which guarantees that any student with a "B" average can get two years of higher education paid, up to $1100 per year. Madelyn Hunt, from Lamar University, spoke on how they handle students who are on scholastic probation and Robert Ferguson of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi described how his institution encourages freshmen students to succeed.

Regarding the number of college-bound students, Ann Rogers from the Texas Education Agency said that the agency's goal is to increase current projections by 300 thousand for the year 2015.

Teresa Sullivan of the Texas Higher Education Opportunity Project examined the Top Ten Percent Rule which, as mandated by the Legislature, allows the top ten percent of a high school's graduating class to attend college. She reported that preliminary studies show that only a relatively small number of minority students in Central Texas even knew about the law. Bruce Walker from the University of Texas at Austin and Frank Ashley of Texas A&M testified that some parents are claiming they'll switch schools so their children can be in the top ten percent, but that there is really no evidence proving that this is actually happening on a widespread basis. Another problem faced by A&M is that once minority students are accepted to the universities, they may choose to go somewhere else.

The Senate Education Committee is chaired by Senator Teel Bivins of Lubbock. Members include Senators Judith Zaffirini, Kip Averitt, David Cain, Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro, Todd Staples, Carlos Truan and Leticia Van de Putte. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

You can access the archived video webcast from the Senate's web page of the Senate Education Committee.

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Health And Human Services Committee Adopts Recommendations On Interim Charges

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has adopted its final recommendations regarding charges from the Lieutenant Governor for the 77th Interim. The first set of charges included mental health and mental retardation issues including availability of services for children, the community mental health services delivery structure, and the state's formula for distributing funds.

The committee was also charged with coming up with recommendations to improve the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. One proposal adopted by the committee allows a family getting certain federal relief to exempt a vehicle of up to $15 thousand dollars in value, so that the ownership of an automobile won't cause benefits to be cut off.

The committee also recommended that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) income forms be simplified. Committee Chairman Mike Moncrief said that today's forms are so complicated that the federal government doesn't get the information that it needs to make a decision on whether a family or individual deserves SSI. The committee also adopted a report proposing new ways to prevent the abuse of prescription painkillers, ways which include special forgery-proof prescription pads.

Bio-terrorism was also on the committee's agenda. It made recommendations on how the Health Department should handle any act of bio-terrorism and give local health departments the power to act in local health emergencies as well.

The committee also came up with recommendations to improve the state's organ donation and allocation system, to increase childhood immunization rates, and to improve the reporting and training regarding the use of restraints and seclusion in state mental health facilities.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services is Chaired by Senator Mike Moncrief. Members include Senators John Carona, Kip Averitt, David Bernsen, Mario Gallegos, Chris Harris, Frank Madla, Jane Nelson and Eliot Shapleigh. The committee stands adjourned.

You can access the archived video webcast from the Senate's web page of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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Committee Looks at Progress of e-Government in Texas

AUSTIN - The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Electronic Government met June 17, 2002, at the State Capitol. The panel was created by the Legislature in 1999 to oversee the establishment of electronic government projects.

The first witness, Carolyn Purcell, is the executive director of the Department of Information Resources (DIR) --in charge of establishing and managing e-government in Texas. Next to her sat Shannon Porterfield, director of the Program Management Office (PMO) of DIR. Purcell first informed the members about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice moving its Data Center operations to San Angelo. Some members of the committee were uncomfortable with the logic and expense of the move, which decentralized the department between Huntsville, San Angelo and Austin.

One of the successful electronic initiatives, available since 2000, is the web site www.texasonline.com . Its purpose is "to serve as the official compilation of Texas government electronic resources, both at the state and local levels." Texans may access the page to renew their driver and vehicle licenses, file sales taxes, apply for oil and gas drilling permits, apply for occupational and professional licenses, search for corporations' information, and research insurance providers. Some cities and counties already allow their residents to pay parking and traffic tickets, some taxes, and utility bills via the Internet site.

TexasOnline is a public/private partnership between KPMG Consulting and the State. KPMG manages all privacy issues and assures the site is secure, since visitors may have to give a credit card number to pay car registration fees, for example. There is no charge for using the public services. No state general appropriation was assigned to the project, which at the moment is self-funded and generates some revenue. The site is bilingual, and public surveys done about it are very positive.

Besides allowing the government to reach out to the public, other electronic programs connect the different state agencies and departments' data centers.

Peter Vogel, chair of the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, talked about the juvenile information system. This system allows information about gangs and juvenile delinquency to be shared by prosecutors, police departments and municipal courts around the state. Vogel also talked about the in-progress electronic filing by lawyers.

Mel Mireles, from the Enterprise Operations Division of DIR, talked about electronic sharing as it applies to security issues. Dominica Council of Hewlett Packard, and Andy Slack of IBM, were present as representatives of the Texas Association of State Systems for Computing and Communications. Stan Reid, director of the County Information Resources Agency of the Texas Association of Counties, also testified. He is trying to get all Texas counties on board so they can share a centralized technology assistance system.

The committee is co-chaired by Senator Jeff Wentworth and House Representative Jim Pitts. Members include Senators Jon Lindsay and John Whitmire, and Representatives Scott Hochberg and Brian McCall. The committee recessed subject to the call of its chairs.

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