What's New . . .
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has released Senate interim charges for the 2009 Legislature. In the remaining eleven months before the next regular session, Senate committees will hold hearings on these charges. These charges often form the basis of a great deal of legislation and give committees the opportunity to study the issues surrounding each charge in greater depth than is afforded during the legislative session. At the same time, other charges relate to monitoring implementation of bills passed during the 2007 Regular Session and determining if further legislation is needed in that particular area. For example, the Criminal Justice Committee has been charged with studying the implementation of SB 103, which made numerous reforms to the Texas Youth Commission.
To review the House interim charges, which were issued in late 2007, click here.
Related to the interim charges for the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, I held a press conference today in Dallas to announce my anti-gang initiative. Gangs, especially transnational gangs, pose an immediate and substantial threat to homeland security. This first initiative targets prepaid cell phones, which have become a valuable tool for these gangs, as part of the criminal equation since they are cheap, accessible, untraceable, and disposable.
The Texas Financial Responsibility Verification Program will begin a two-month trial run in the Austin area next month. The program was mandated by SB 1670 (passed by the Legislature in the 2005 Regular Session), which requires that the Texas Department of Insurance, Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation, and Texas Department of Information Resources develop a program to allow law enforcement to immediately verify insurance coverage for Texas drivers. The program is intended to reduce the number of uninsured drivers by eliminating the effectiveness of counterfeit cards and the practice of buying insurance for the sole purpose of receiving the identification card and subsequently canceling the policy. If the two-month trial is successful, the program will expand to Dallas and then the rest of the state.
Earlier this month, the state began fingerprinting teachers and school employees in the Austin Independent School District, as part of the requirements of SB 9 (passed by the Legislature in the 2007 Regular Session), which calls for most public school employees to be fingerprinted and subjected to a national background check. (Non-certified employees, such as janitors, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, who were hired before January 1, 2008, are subject to a name only background check.) It is estimated that it will take four years to complete background checks on all teachers and public school employees.
However, since 2003 all newly certified teachers have been required to be fingerprinted and subjected to a background check, and, under the bill, all new hires will be required to be checked before beginning employment, regardless of their position. Those who are found to have been convicted of certain felonies or sexual offenses with a child will be barred from working at a public school.
The University Interscholastic League has selected a vendor, the National Center for Drug Free Sport Inc., to administer the state's high school steroids testing program. It is anticipated that the first round of tests will begin by the end of February. Under the program, 40,000 to 50,000 high school students across the state will be randomly tested through the end of the 2008-09 school year. The program was mandated by SB 8 (passed by the Legislature in the 2007 Regular Session), and will cost an estimated $6 million for the current biennium. Students who fail the test will be suspended for 30 days and will need to pass a second test to regain eligibility; a second positive test will result in a one-year suspension and a third will result in a permanent ban.
Last month, Governor Perry announced the creation of the Governor's Competitiveness Council. The Council will make recommendations on how Texas can improve its economic footing for long-term, sustained success. The council is comprised of 29 members, representing business, public and higher education, and state agencies. The Council will present recommendations on improving the state's competitiveness to the Governor in July 2008. Governor Perry added that future legislation will be subject to a "Competitive Impact Score" to determine the bill's impact on our state's economic competitiveness, much like a fiscal note determines a bill's impact on the state budget.
Focus . . .
I would like to take this opportunity to explain the Sunset Advisory Commission 's role in state government and share a bit of its history with you.
The Sunset Advisory Commission was created by the Legislature in 1977 to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. The Sunset Commission is comprised of a 12-member body appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. When it was originally created, it was made up of four Senators, appointed by the Lt. Governor, and four Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House. Since then, it has expanded to twelve members, five Senators and a public member, appointed by the Lt. Governor, and five Representatives and a public member appointed by the Speaker. A full time staff assists the Commission members.
During the interim, Sunset Commission staff conduct comprehensive evaluations of the agencies under "sunset review," working extensively with each agency. In conducting the review, the staff looks at how efficiently and effectively the agency operates, the agency's effectiveness in achieving its goals and objectives, any duplication of the agency's programs with other state agencies, and whether the agency performs any duties that are not authorized by statute, along with a host of other performance measures. Agencies also submit a Self Evaluation Report, which identifies problems, opportunities and issues the agency feels should be addressed during their review. Upon completion of the staff review, which usually takes three to eight months, the staff publishes a report containing the issues found in the review and recommendations on how to address these issues. Each of these reports is posted online as they become available.
Following the publication of the staff recommendations, the Sunset Commission holds a public hearing to consider the report. At the hearing, the agency is able to respond to staff recommendations, while the public is able to comment on the report as well and raise other issues not addressed by the Sunset staff. At a subsequent hearing, the Commission votes on their recommendations to the Legislature. If the Commission decides to continue the agency, it must draft a bill containing the recommendations the Commission adopts; the draft bill must also contain language that the agency will be abolished within 12 years if not affirmatively continued by subsequent legislation. If the Commission decides to abolish the agency, no legislation is needed, since the Sunset Act provides for a one-year wind down period for it to conclude its operations.
Sunset bills are usually carried in the Legislature by a member of the Sunset Commission and, once filed, may be amended just as any other bill; it is not uncommon for the final version of a bill to differ greatly from the introduced version.
Since the state created the Sunset Commission, 54 state agencies have been abolished and 12 have been consolidated, and it is estimated that the sunset process has saved the state $784.5 million, compared with $24.9 million in expenditures. Recent changes that have been brought about by the sunset process include: the creation of a Criminal Justice Oversight Committee, which will provide objective research, analysis and recommendations to help guide criminal justice policies as part of the sunset review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the abolishment of the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission, establishing, in its place, the Division of Workers' Compensation within the Texas Department of Insurance; and requiring the Higher Education Coordinating Board to update the Legislature on necessary statutory and funding changes needed to advance the state's higher education plan, Closing the Gaps.
This interim, 27 agencies will be reviewed by the Sunset Commission, among them are the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Residential Construction Commission, and the Texas Department of Agriculture. Given the history of the Sunset Commission, each of these reviews will, once again, work to make state government more responsive and efficient.
Did You Know . . . ?
Comptroller Susan Combs has released the report "Texas in Focus: A Statewide View of Opportunities" that provides a comprehensive examination of numerous factors affecting the state's economy. The report examines the state's demographics, as well as our health care and education systems, and economic development efforts. The report states that although 80% of Texas land is rural, 86% of the population lives in urban areas and Texas produces more energy than any other state, leading the nation in oil and gas, biodiesel and wind energy production.
Student Opportunity . . .
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is accepting applications for its Conditional Grant Program. The program is open to students who are economically disadvantaged and interested in pursuing a degree in civil engineering, computer science, management information systems, or computer information systems. Grant amounts are up to $3,000 per semester. Recipients are required to maintain a 2.5 GPA, carry and pass a minimum 12 hour course load, and agree to work for TxDOT for two years after graduation. The deadline for applying is March 1, 2008.
In Closing . . .
Don't forget that March 4th is Primary Election Day with early voting beginning on February 19 and ending on February 29. Early voting locations, dates and times, as well as polling locations for Primary Election Day are available on the Dallas County Elections Department website.
State Senator - District 16
|Capitol Office||District Offices|
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.|
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.|
Dallas, TX 75205