Senator Carona's Email Update
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July 31, 2007

What's New . . .

In January 2004, Governor Rick Perry appointed Shirley Neeley as the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. After being told that she would not be reappointed to her position by Governor Perry, Shirley Neely resigned, effective July 1, 2007. During her 3 1/2 year tenure, the agency implemented the nation's largest teacher merit pay program, which the Legislature created in a spring 2006 special session, as well as Governor Perry's executive order that school districts spend 65% of their revenue on classroom instruction. Currently, Robert Scott, Chief Deputy Commissioner, is serving as the acting Commissioner of Education until the selection of the new commissioner by the governor. As of this writing, the Governor has not given any indication of who he will appoint to lead the agency or when that appointment will be made.

The state has settled a thirteen-year federal class action lawsuit (Frew v Hawkins) regarding the care children receive under Medicaid. Under the terms of the settlement, the state will spend an additional $707 million over the next two years. This state expenditure will draw down over $1 billion in federal funds for the program. The bulk of increased spending will be used to increase reimbursement rates for dentists, physicians, and other health care providers. The plaintiffs had contended that the state's low reimbursement rate discouraged providers from participating in the Medicaid program, thus hindering children from receiving necessary care.

SB 8, a new state law that requires random steroid testing of high school athletes was set to go into effect this fall. Due to concerns that over-the-counter supplements may cause false positives, the state may delay implementation of SB 8. Under the provisions of the bill, between 22,000 and 25,000 high school athletes will be tested each year. Students who test positive will face a medical review before a final determination regarding their athletic eligibility is made. The bill's author, State Senator Kyle Janek, has indicated he supports delaying implementation of the bill to ensure all potential problems have been worked out.

The annual sales tax holiday will be August 17-19. During this weekend, state and local sales tax will not be charged on clothes and shoes under $100. This year, backpacks will be exempt from sales tax as well. Comptroller Susan Combs estimates that Texans will save $52.1 million this year. The sales tax holiday was established by the Legislature in 1999, as a means to help parents with back-to-school expenses. It has saved Texans an estimated $336 million since its inception.

Focus . . .

In light of the resignation of Texas Education Agency Commissioner Shirley Neely and the impending appointment of a new commissioner, I would like to highlight the role of gubernatorial appointees and the appointment process, as well as provide you with information on becoming an appointee.

The Texas Constitution gives the governor the power to make appointments to state boards and commissions. The appointees must be confirmed by the Senate. Traditionally, nominees must also be approved by their State Senator as well.

With the exception of those state agencies that are led by an elected official (Office of the Comptroller, General Land Office, Attorney General's Office, Department of Agriculture, and the Railroad Commission), all agencies are a part of the executive branch, with the governor appointing either a board or a single commissioner to lead that agency. Among their many responsibilities, state agencies are responsible for implementing and carrying out the majority of the laws enacted by the Legislature. Agency boards and commissioners also have rulemaking authority and set policy.

The governor derives a great deal of his influence through the appointment power. In recent months, gubernatorial appointees have been involved in a number of high profile decisions, from the approval of three coal plants by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to the preliminary decision by the Texas Transportation Commission to award the contract for SH121 to the North Texas Tollway Authority.

In addition to appointing commissioners and governing boards of state agencies, including the boards of regents of public university systems, the governor appoints members of task forces and other advisory groups, such as the Task Force on Appraisal Reform and the Texas Tax Reform Commission. The Governor also appoints individuals to fill the remainder of certain elected offices, including the judiciary, following the death or resignation of the office holder. It is estimated that a governor will make 3,000 appointments over the course of a four-year term.

Individuals who are interested in applying for an appointment to a board or commission should first submit an application to the governor's appointment office. You may find a list of appointments that will become open in the next 12-18 months on the Governor's website. One may apply for as many positions as they wish. For an application and other requirements click here. Once you have submitted your application, you should follow up with your State Senator.

Did You Know . . . ?

Upon the recent passing of Lady Bird Johnson, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) received media calls seeking a comment regarding the influence of Lady Bird Johnson on highway beautification. Lady Bird's influence and legacy dates back to the Highway Beautification Act approved by Congress in 1965. One of the nations' first environmental laws, the Act protected scenic beauty of America's highways by controlling billboards and junkyards while promoting wildflowers. She founded the national Wildflower Research Center in Austin in 1982 that was later renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. She also established the Highway Beautification Award for TxDOT in the early 1980's, an annual award presented to a TxDOT maintenance supervisor for their work in promoting wildflowers, native plants, and overall highway beautification. For years, this award ceremony was hosted by Lady Bird Johnson at the LBJ Ranch.

Today, TxDOT cares for 800,000 acres of highway right of way, and because of Lady Bird's influence, the state works to nurture the right of way by promoting native plants and wildflowers. This work not only provides the spectacular spring wildflower displays that are immensely popular, but the vegetation management program reduces the cost of maintenance and labor by encouraging the growth of native plants that need less mowing and care. These native grasses and wildflowers also help to conserve water and control erosion.

Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson
December 22, 1912 - July 11, 2007

Student Opportunity . . .

The Texas Department of Public Safety is accepting applications for the Speir Scholarship. Students must be enrolled full-time in a Texas university and majoring in criminal justice. Two scholarships will be awarded for $500 per semester for up to two semesters. Applicants should submit their resume and a transcript of completed college work to: Director's Office, c/o DPS, P.O. Box 4087, Austin TX 78773-0110. The deadline is August 15, 2007.

In Closing . . .

We are preparing the annual Capitol Report for distribution. The Capitol Report will include information about the constitutional amendments that will be on our November 2007, ballot. I hope that you are enjoying your summer.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16

Capitol OfficeDistrict Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-3135 (fax)
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-953-1886 (fax)