What's New . . .
Governor Rick Perry has directed the Texas Workforce Commission to suspend collection of the Unemployment Insurance replenishment tax for 2008, which will save Texas businesses an estimated $90 million. The tax rate for this year is .12% of the first $9,000 of payroll for each employee or $10.80. Prior to suspending the tax, the Texas Workforce Commission studied current employment figures and economic forecasts and determined that there are sufficient reserves to meet unemployment obligations for 2008. (There was $1.79 billion in the fund as of January 31, 2008.) In announcing suspension of the tax, Governor Perry noted that Texas led the nation in job creation in 2007 and has largely been immune to recent economic woes.
In an effort to reduce losses incurred following identity theft, the state of Texas launched the Closed Account Notification System earlier this month. The program was created in HB 2002, which was passed in the 2007 Legislative Session. Under the program, banks and credit unions will notify all major check verification companies when accounts have been closed due to fraudulent activity by identity thieves. Prior to the passage of HB 2002, checks would sometimes continue to be used fraudulently even after the checking account had been closed.
Following allegations of cheating on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAKS), the Texas Education Agency developed numerous initiatives to reduce cheating on the TAKS. The initiatives range from having high school students sign a pledge saying they will not cheat to having teachers keep a seating chart for all tests. The state will also analyze blocks of questions, which do not count towards the test, since they are being tried out for inclusion in future tests for evidence of copying. For a complete list of the anti-cheating measures, click here.
This past November Texas voters passed Proposition 15, which created the Cancer Prevention Institute of Texas and authorized the issuance of $3 billion in bonds to find the causes of and cures for cancer. This month, Governor Perry and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick each named three members to the Oversight Committee of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which will guide and oversee the Institute's work. The Governor's appointments to the Committee are: Malcolm Gillis of Houston, Jeanne L. Phillips of Dallas, and Scott Sanders of Austin. The Speaker's appointments to the Committee are: Dr. Joseph Bailes of The Woodlands, Dee Kelly of Fort Worth, and Cindy Brinker of Dallas. The Lt. Governor has yet to make his appointments to the Committee. Along with the appointed public members, the Comptroller and Attorney General will serve on the Committee.
Focus . . .
This month, I would like to explain the rulemaking process, through which state agencies implement legislation and refine and clarify legislative intent, as well as give you a recent example of how state agencies use rulemaking to enact legislation. When passing a bill, the Legislature sets the policy priority. But because the Legislature only meets for 140 days every two years, rulemaking is sometimes necessary, since the Legislature has neither the time nor expertise to address more complex issues to the degree required; this is particularly true for bills that create a new program or affect professional licenses. In such bills, the Legislature specifically gives rulemaking authority to the state agency or agencies that are charged with enforcing and/or enacting the legislation. Because of this, rulemaking can be thought of as an extension of the legislative process.
The rulemaking process is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act. (After opening the link, scroll to Chapter 2001 to view the Administrative Procedures Act.) The Act requires that prospective rules be published in the Texas Register, a weekly publication of the Texas Secretary of State that contains, among other things, proposed, adopted, and withdrawn rules 30 days before they are to be formally adopted. The 30-day period allows for the public to comment on the proposed rules. Agencies are required to respond to each comment and may further revise the rules based on the comments. When drafting rules, state agencies work closely with interest groups that will be affected by the rules. Depending upon the complexity of the legislation being enacted or the number of entities affected by the legislation and accompanying rules, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more to draft and finalize the rules.
As an example, I will use SB 1670 that was passed during the 2005 Regular Session to create the Texas Financial Responsibility Verification Program. The purpose of this legislation was intended to reduce the number of uninsured drivers by eliminating the effectiveness of counterfeit proof of insurance cards and the practice of buying insurance for the sole purpose of receiving the identification card and subsequently canceling the policy. Under the program, law enforcement will be able to immediately verify a driver's insurance card. In February 2008, the program finally began a two-month trial in the Austin area. If the two-month trial is successful, the program will be expanded to Dallas and then the rest of the state. Such a program requires the coordination of law enforcement and insurance companies, as well as the creation of an electronic verification system.
Within SB 1670, the Legislature gave the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Information Resources, and the Texas Department of Transportation rulemaking authority to implement the program and required the agencies to contract for the development of the verification system.
The Texas Department of Insurance took the lead in developing rules for the program, since most of the program's requirements affected insurance companies. The other agencies served in an advisory role. The initial step was for TDI to contract with a vendor to develop and maintain the verification system. Following this step, TDI worked closely with the vendor and each personal auto insurer in the state to determine the information that would need to be submitted for the verification system and the format of such information. This proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of the program, since each insurer has different procedures relating to the collection and storage of information.
The final rules require each insurance company to submit required information, such as drivers on the policy, the car that is being insured, the vehicle identification number, and the policy dates for each policy they issue to the verification system each week. The vendor then matches this information to vehicle registration information for each driver. Under such a system, when checking a vehicle's registration, a law enforcement officer is able to immediately determine a vehicle's insurance status.
As you can see from this example, state agencies are able to work closely and deliberately with each other and with the affected entities and other interest groups to implement legislation through the rulemaking process. At the same time, rulemaking gives the state the flexibility to update applicable regulations as industries evolve, such as improvements in technology or the development of new practices, without having to wait until the next legislative session.
Did You Know . . . ?
The Texas-Adopt-A-Beach Program will be hosting its 22nd annual Spring Cleanup on Saturday, April 26, at 26 sites along the Texas Coast. The program is an all-volunteer effort to remove trash from Texas beaches and increase public awareness of the problems of marine debris and beach litter. Since the first cleanup in 1986, more than 365,000 volunteers have removed more than 6,900 tons of trash from Texas beaches. For more information on the cleanup, please call 1-877-TXCOAST or visit their website.
Student Opportunity . . .
The Texas Association of Developing Colleges is administering the Urban Scholarship Fund Program, which is for graduating high school seniors and returning college students attending any accredited nonprofit public or independent two- or four-year college or university or technical school. For eligibility requirements and to download an application, click here.
In Closing . . .
Early voting for runoffs in Dallas County elections begins today through Friday, April 4th. Check early voting locations with the Dallas County Elections Department. Regular polling locations have been combined for election day, April 8th, so be sure to check for your polling location before you go vote.
On Tuesday, April 8th, I will be co-hosting a town hall meeting with Representative Anchia (House District 103), at Burnet Elementary School located at 3200 Kinkaid, Dallas, from 7 to 9 pm, to discuss education and transportation issues, agendas for the 81st Legislative Session, and constituent concerns.
State Senator - District 16
|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