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May 24, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Senate Committees Examine the Texas Military and Reorganization of Health and Human Services

The Texas Military forces will be lighter and more mobile in the future, and more women will be serving alongside men. That's what Brigadier General William W. Goodwin told a Texas Senate Committee today, May 24, 2004. He said these changes reflect the direction of the nation's entire military structure as the armed forces are called on to be in more places, more quickly, than ever before. During today's meeting at the Capitol, the committee was also given a review of the Texas National Guard's strength and the current disposition of forces.

The committee heard that several years ago, the Secretary of Defense was not satisfied with the speed with which American military forces could be mobilized. Since then a decreasing response time has been a goal of the Guard as well as the Army itself.

Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso said the length of time that some members of the Guard have been deployed is unacceptable. In his community he has heard stories of young mothers with children who have been left alone for up to two years. The General said that the Guard does have some assistance programs for those families who are hard off financially, but that Texas employers have been holding jobs for those who have been on active duty. Both Senator Shapleigh and Committee Chair Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio requested a report on the status of Texas Guard families. She said that the Guard was never designed to be deployed for such a long time and that this was a hardship on the members of the Guard, as well as families and employers.

Chairman Van de Putte and Representative Frank Corte, Jr. of San Antonio, also issued a press release announcing a program to collect goods in support of the deployed soldiers and families, as well as a scholarship program for their children.

The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations is chaired by Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Members include Senators Craig Estes, Troy Fraser Kel Seliger and Eliot Shapleigh. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

During the afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee held a rare joint session with the Health and Human Services Committee. The two committees are overseeing the consolidation of the various health and human services agencies as mandated by legislation passed during the 78th Legislature. The two committees were briefed by Gregg Phillips, Deputy Executive Commissioner for the Health and Human Services Commission, as well as Albert Hawkins, the Executive Commissioner.

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos was concerned about some of the hearings that had been held for public input, saying that they had been held at times and places that might have been less than convenient for those who were supposed to testify. The Commissioners responded that they had been scheduled at the times and places that were the best compromise for all involved.

Commissioner Phillips said that currently most of the contact between clients and the agencies comes when current clients need recertification for services. The commissioner hopes to reduce that time for recertification when the agencies are combined, but pulling those recertification calls for separate handling could take up to a year. But in an answer to a question from Senator John Whitmire, Commissioner Hawkins said that some offices were currently so overburdened that someone applying for the first time might not get to see an aid worker that entire day. In regard to closing certain offices of the agencies being consolidated, Senator Zaffirini asked whether they examined what effect those layoffs would have on the Employees Retirement System. Hawkins replied that as of this point, it had not.

Senator Eliot Shapleigh criticized the consolidation plans, saying that Mississippi had attempted to adopt a similar system and then backed off, saying it was a "disaster in the making". Commissioner Phillips said that this was not the case, that Mississippi had adopted something completely different. Senator Robert Duncan said that the new model for assistance includes methods of communication between client and agency that are in place today and can be more efficient under the new system.

The Senate Finance Committee is chaired by Senator Steve Ogden. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, Robert Duncan, Kyle Janek, Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh, Todd Staples, Royce West, John Whitmire and Tommy Williams. The Health and Human Services Committee is chaired by Senator Jane Nelson. Members include Senators Ken Armbrister, Bob Deuell, Kevin Eltife, Mario Gallegos, Jr., Kyle Janek, Jon Lindsay, Royce West and Judith Zaffirini. Both committees were to recess subject to call of the chair.

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