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May 25, 2009 (512) 463-0300

SENATE APPROVES TRANSPORTATION AGENCY REFORMS

Sen. Hegar
Senator Glenn Hegar of Katy carried the TxDOT sunset bill, one that seeks to improve accountability and transparency at the agency.

(AUSTIN) — The agency charged with building and maintaining state transportation infrastructure would see significant changes under a bill approved by the Texas Senate. Each state agency must undergo what is called the "sunset" process, where lawmakers look at the role and scope of state bureaucracies to ensure effective and efficient operation. Monday, it was the Texas Department of Transportation's turn. Katy Senator Glenn Hegar, who carried the bill, HB 300 in the Senate, said the bill proposes to increase accountability and transparency at the agency.

HB 300 seeks to increase accountability at the very top of the agency, and would require TXDOT to develop and adhere to a code of ethics. The five-member governing board would be limited to two-year terms, requiring them to go before the Senate for confirmation every legislative session. The agency's executive director would be charged with evaluating the performance of decision making staff. TXDOT would have to formulate plans that forecast transportation needs and projects in 4, 10 and 25 year increments, and would have to publish progress toward goals on their website. Rural and metropolitan planning organizations would take a more active role in developing those goals.

Currently, Hegar said, TXDOT has no policy with respect to citizen complaints. Under HB 300, the agency would have to develop a plan outlining the complaint process and how the agency will respond to concerns from the public. They would also have to make recordings of all meetings and workshops available on the agency website within 24 hours of the meeting.

Hegar said many citizens and lawmakers have expressed concern about TXDOT staff lobbying state legislators in favor of certain policies and projects; in some cases, lobbying was done in support of projects not supported by the public. The sunset bill would prohibit TXDOT staffers from using state funds to lobby state government, but would still allow them to lobby on the federal level.

Another major provision of the bill would end the Trans-Texas Corridor. This planned state-wide highway infrastructure plan has been controversial among property owners concerned about losing private land in the cause of greater highway capacity. "That in itself has caused more problems for our state, in my opinion, than has been worth it," said Hegar.

Now members of the House and Senate will work together to try and hammer out the differences between both chambers' version of the bill. Each chamber will then vote on the final product, and send it to the governor's desk for final approval.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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ALSO TODAY IN THE SENATE...

Dianne Arrington
Journal Clerk Dianne Arrington (center) poses with the entire Senate after a resolution honoring her Monday. Dianne will retire following the 81st Session after nearly three decades of service to the Senate.

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