Senator Carona's Capitol Update
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Capitol Update

March 2004

Dear Friends:

While the Texas Legislature is currently in the interim (between regular sessions), there are still many tasks on our agenda. These tasks include a possible special session this spring to reform the public school finance system, public hearings on the recently-assigned 78th legislative interim charges, and the "sunset" review process for evaluating state government agencies.

Special Session on Public Education

Current speculation is that the Governor will announce a special session at the end of March to begin in mid-April for the purpose of formulating a new school finance system. The agenda of the session is also expected to include repeal of the "Robin Hood" share-the-wealth school funding mechanism, the Governor's performance-based incentive program, various reforms of education programs, and an overhaul of the state's tax structure. The Select Joint Committee on School Finance is meeting this month to debate the education and tax proposals to be presented to the Texas Legislature. If you have Internet access, extensive information on this special committee and its activities can be found at the following website: www.capitol.state.tx.us/psf/capitol.htm. I am hopeful that by the time you receive this update the Governor will have called this important education special session.

Interim Committee Assignments

During the interim, members of the Texas Legislature are assigned to study issues which shape much of the legislation of the next session. The committees hold public hearings, conduct research on their assigned topics, and make recommendations with draft legislation. Most committee reports will be completed by December 1, 2004. The Speaker and Lieutenant Governor have named the House and Senate interim study committees, as well as joint committees composed of House and Senate members. A complete listing of the Senate interim committee assignments are located on the Internet at: www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/Commit.htm. House interim committee assignments can be found on the Internet at: www.house.state.tx.us/committees/charges/78interim/03nov4.pdf. Joint interim committees are listed on both of the above websites. At the conclusion of this Capitol Update, I have included summary information on many of these committees for your review.

Sunset Review of State Agencies

Texas created an effective system to cut waste in government agencies in 1977 called the "sunset" review process. Sunset requires the Legislature to review the more than 150 state agencies and decide whether or not an agency should continue to exist. The Sunset Act created the Sunset Advisory Commission which has 12 members appointed by the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor. I am honored to recently have been appointed to the Sunset Commission by the Lieutenant Governor.

The Sunset Commission's role is to study a targeted list of state agencies each legislative interim and evaluate their performance to streamline functions or do away with an agency altogether. The Sunset process begins with a review of the agency by Sunset Commission staff. Agencies are typically reviewed every 12 years. During 2004, the Sunset Advisory Commission will review 30 agencies including the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission, the Texas Lottery Commission, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the Public Utility Commission. Recommendations supported by the commission will be incorporated into legislation for consideration during the 2005 session.

Workers' Compensation Study Committee

The Lieutenant Governor also appointed me to serve on the Select Committee on Workers' Compensation, which goes hand-in-hand with my appointment to the Sunset Advisory Commission since the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission (TWCC) is scheduled for sunset review during the 2005 legislative session.

The current workers' compensation system is designed so that employers agree to provide workers' compensation insurance for workers injured on the job, and, in return, employers gain immunity from personal injury lawsuits by injured employees. Employers paid about $2.5 billion in workers' compensation premiums in 2002. The injured worker, in turn, is assured that his or her medical bills will be paid, and in some cases there will be partial compensation for lost wages. Many employers, employees, and health care providers consider the current system to be in crisis because of problems related to the medical fee structure for physicians, patient access to quality care, over-utilization of the system, and the medical review process to name a few of the concerns. I share these concerns and am pleased to be in a position to develop proposals for revamping the workers' compensation system.

Record Votes

There are currently three different methods of casting votes in the Texas Legislature. Voice votes are a popular method. However, there is no way to find how a legislator voted with a voice vote. Division votes are another way of casting approval or disapproval. The Speaker or Lieutenant Governor gavels a measure being debated as either approved or disapproved before the vote is actually recorded. Last, there is the record vote. House members record their votes electronically from their desks. In the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate calls the roll and records the vote indicated by each member electronically. However, in most cases, lawmakers have to request a record vote, which is a deterrence for some. The votes in Texas that are recorded are available as part of the House and Senate Journals, which are available in many libraries and on the Internet.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures there are fewer than ten states that do not require recorded votes on all legislation. In fact, of the ten most populous states, Texas is the only state that does not require recorded votes on at least final passage of legislation. The legislatures of Arizona and California routinely record votes and post them on state websites. California's Assembly takes 10,000 roll call votes a year which are recorded and posted on the Internet the next day, compared to the Texas House which took 951 record votes last regular session. Congressional votes are also easily and readily accessible to the public.

Those opposed to requiring more recorded votes argue that it would be too costly to record all votes. While I do not believe that recording votes would be costly, I do believe that whatever small cost that there might be would be well worth it. I strongly support making all votes of the Texas Legislature recorded votes and for these votes to be easily accessible to the public. I have offered amendments twice to require recorded votes in Texas. Although they were not adopted, I plan to offer legislation and amendments on this topic in any special session and in the next regular session. Texans have a right to know how we vote on the bills and amendments that come through these chambers.

Conclusion

I am honored to serve you in the Texas Legislature. If you have Internet access, I encourage you to access my website and sign up for my monthly email updates. www.carona.senate.state.tx.us. Please let me know your views. I will always appreciate hearing from you.

Sincerely,

John Carona


SELECTED ASSIGNMENTS OF INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEES OF THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE
March 2004

Use the following link to download or view this document in PDF format: Texas Senate Interim Study Committees (PDF)

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