Senator Carona's Email Update
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August 31, 2006

What's new . . .

On August 21, 2006, Governor Rick Perry issued Executive Order RP60 creating the Texas Task Force on Appraisal Reform. The task force will have 15 members and will be chaired by Thomas W. Pauken, of Dallas. Also serving on the task force from our area will be Dr. Curtis Culwell, Superintendent of the Garland Independent School District. The Governor said he would like to see the task force study and make recommendations on how to address "skyrocketing" property appraisals and cited the "silent tax hikes of rising appraisals" as the primary reason for creating the task force. Currently, there is a 10% cap on annual increases in a residential homestead's assessed value.

On August 1, 2006, Shirley Neeley, Commissioner of Education, created the Commissioner's Task Force on Test Security. This task force is charged with overseeing the investigation of campuses and districts with alleged testing anomalies on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test and examining other security issues related to the test. An earlier analysis of TAKS scores revealed irregularities in one percent of classrooms. Commissioner Neely has stated that she would like to determine the causes of such anomalies before taking further action.

In other TAKS news, the Texas Education Agency has released accountability ratings for our school districts. There are four ratings: exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, and academically unacceptable; these ratings are based on districts' TAKS scores. Of the five school districts in Senate District 16, all were rated academically acceptable or higher, with Highland Park ISD receiving an exemplary rating and Richardson ISD receiving a recognized rating. School districts will also be able to offer the TAKS test online in the upcoming school year. Online testing is optional, but it is less expensive and could help prevent some of the irregularities in test scores found in certain districts.

Texas hosted the 24th Annual Border Governor's Conference August 23-25, 2006, in Austin. The six border governors from Mexico, along with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Governor Perry attended the conference, which took place at the Capitol. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was unable to attend but sent a representative. One of the features of the conference was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's address to the governors. Border security and economic development were the primary themes of the conference.

The funding outlook for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has improved over the past month. Governor Perry and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick have expressed support for increasing funding for the department, while the State Parks Advisory Committee released a report recommending dedicating the full amount of revenue received from the sporting goods tax, approximately $104 million, to state parks. Although this is encouraging news for our state parks, nothing is certain until the budget has been written.

Focus . . .

This month's focus is on the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), the "umbrella licensing agency of the State of Texas." It was created in the 1930s as a regulatory agency for boxing. (This was one of the few ways the state could generate revenue during the Depression.) The department is overseen by a seven-member board, each member being appointed by the governor. To ensure that there is no conflict of interest, no commissioner may have a financial interest in any of the regulated industries. An executive director is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the agency.

Over the past 70 years, as the Legislature has made more industries subject to state regulation, TDLR has grown and now issues over 90 licenses covering 22 occupations and industries ranging from cosmetologists and talent agencies to electricians and auctioneers. The agency is responsible for issuing licenses, conducting inspections, investigating complaints, assessing penalties, and setting rules for the occupations and industries it regulates.

TDLR relies on 14 advisory boards to assist in the rulemaking process and evaluate the educational requirements for licensure. To download an application for an advisory board click here. Interested applicants should be licensed in the area in which they wish to serve. Individual requirements and restrictions for each advisory board are listed on the application.

Although TDLR was originally created to generate revenue for the state, the primary function of the agency now is to regulate occupations and industries with the goal of ensuring the quality of services delivered by its licensees. To that end, TDLR is also an enforcement agency. The agency regularly inspects businesses it licenses and issues warnings and bulletins to consumers on its website. Consumers can find bulletins on a variety of subjects ranging from questions you should ask at a salon prior to getting a pedicure to a listing of air conditioning contractors who have had their license revoked. Consumers may also find information on how to resolve complaints against licensees and how to file a formal complaint.

TDLR's website also has a wealth of information for those who are licensed by the agency. Licensees or those wishing to be licensed can find information on licensing, continuing education requirements, examinations, and much more. This information is divided by program area and can be found by clicking the area for which you would like more information located on the right side on the agency's home page. One may also subscribe to email notification lists on the website, which allows subscribers to receive information on proposed rule changes, new rules, notification of public meetings and more for any occupation or trade regulated by the agency. To subscribe to the email list click here.

Did You Know . . . ?

The Department of Public Safety, in conjunction with ALLTEL, Verizon, Cingular, and Nextel, have established a statewide, wireless phone number to report non-life threatening situations while out on the road. Customers of these companies can dial *DPS (377) free of charge to speak with a DPS representative, who will dispatch a State Trooper or other peace officer. These calls are free of airtime charges and are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Student Opportunities...

With school starting, financing your child's higher education is a primary concern for many of you. I would like to point you to two state agencies to assist you as you and your children begin applying for college. Texas Guaranteed is the state agency responsible for administering the Federal Family Educational Loan Program. Their website has a wealth of information on financing college. The Higher Education Coordinating Board operates, which offers information on preparing, applying, and financing higher education.

In Closing . . .

I hope you all enjoy the slightly cooler weather and have a safe Labor Day weekend.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16