WHAT'S NEW . . .
With attention on Washington about health care reform, I'd like to point out a state program passed by the 81st Legislature called Healthy Texas. Healthy Texas is designed to relieve the burden on small business owners by helping to provide insurance to their employees. The Texas Department of Insurance is planning implementation of this program for summer 2010 enrollment, and it will be available for previously uninsured business owners who retain between 2 and 50 employees. Like reinsurance, Healthy Texas will protect insurers from unusually high claims by using a state-funded pool to pay for above average health care claims. Enrollees will choose from approved, private health plans and the program will operate like any private market plan. By reducing the insurer's exposure to high-cost claims, Healthy Texas will allow for reductions in premium costs for currently uninsured small businesses and their workers. Qualified employers should visit the Healthy Texas website for more details about this opportunity.
As chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, I have scheduled a committee hearing in El Paso on November 10 to address border and safety issues in the region. Details on some other upcoming committee hearings are below. Senate committee hearings that are conducted in the Capitol can be viewed live or on archived video via the Internet. House committee hearings can be viewed live as well.
- Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security
Tuesday, November 10th, 10:00 am
UTEP-EPNGCC, El Paso
- Senate Committee on Criminal Justice
Tuesday, November 10th, 10:00 am
E1.016, Capitol Extension, Austin
- House Committee on Transportation
Monday, November 16th, 10:00 am
E2.014, Capitol Extension, Austin
Texas has still not received its full allocation of the H1N1 vaccine; however, you can stay up-to-date on the latest information at www.texasflu.org. The Texas Education agency has also developed a website to address flu concerns in schools. In Dallas County a hotline has been set up for parents of uninsured children to schedule appointments for their children to get the H1N1 vaccine - 214-819-6001. Beginning November 4, a walk-in clinic for other uninsured high-risk groups who are residents of Dallas County will open at the Dallas County Health and Human Services building located at 2377 N. Stemmons Freeway.
In order to reduce wait times at local driver's license application and renewal offices, the Texas Department of Public Safety has announced they will no longer handle license reinstatement in person. Motorists needing to reinstate a suspended or revoked driver's license must either submit the required documentation online or by mail.
Also, the DPS Driver License office located in Dallas City Hall (1500 Marilla South) will no longer issue original driver licenses or identification cards, or process out-of-state transfers starting Monday, November 9, 2009. Customers needing to renew their driver license or identification card or to replace one can still visit the Dallas City Hall location. Customers needing a new driver license or identification card will need to visit another DPS office.
The Comptroller has announced that she will be recommending that the Texas Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board rescind its recent move to amend the refund policy on the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan (formerly the Texas Tomorrow Fund). Although the Comptroller remains concerned about the solvency of the plan, she is recommending that the Board postpone any changes in the refund policy until the Legislature meets next in 2011 to consider a funding solution.
FOCUS . . .
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is the oldest regulatory agency in Texas and one of the oldest in the United States. It was established in 1891 to regulate the rail industry with jurisdiction over rates and operations of railroads, terminals, wharves, and express companies. Its primary goal was to prevent discrimination in railroad charges and establish reasonable tariffs.
The RRC's oversight responsibility has changed and expanded over its 118-year history to include many different industries, particularly the oil, natural gas, and coal mining industries. Presently, the RRC is the state agency with primary regulatory jurisdiction over the oil and natural gas industry, pipeline transporters, the natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline industry, natural gas utilities, the LP-gas industry, alternative fuels, coal surface mining, and uranium exploration operations. In its regulatory role, the RRC has environmental and safety responsibilities related to oil and gas production. An overarching agency goal is to encourage the responsible development of natural resources while protecting the environment.
In its present usage, the term "Railroad Commission" is a bit of a misnomer, as the Commission no longer regulates the railroad industry. In fact, effective in late 2005, the functions of the Commission pertaining to rail services were transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation. However, despite legislative efforts to date to change its name, this historic agency retained its name even after the transfer of its last remaining railroad responsibility.
The Railroad Commission is a three-member body consisting of a chairman and two commissioners. These positions were originally appointed by the governor; however, shortly after the Commission was established, the state passed a constitutional amendment requiring the members to be elected to six-year, overlapping terms. The chairman of the Commission is elected among the members every two years after the general election. Currently, Victor Carrillo serves as chairman to the Railroad Commission and Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams serve as commissioners.
The Commission is separated into several divisions:
- Alternative Fuels Research and Education Division (AFRED) - this unit of the Commission is responsible for researching alternative fuels, specifically propane, and educating the public on these possibilities.
- Gas Services Division - created in 1995, this section of the Commission is committed to enhancing the natural gas energy sector in Texas, keeping prices competitive for Texas consumers, as well as helping the state capitalize on its abundance of this resource.
- Oil and Gas Division - this division regulates the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas in Texas. By law it is required to prevent waste of the state's natural resources, protect the rights of different interest owners, prevent pollution, and provide safety in matters related to this sector.
- Safety Division - authorized on both the state and federal level, this division of the Commission is responsible for maintaining the safety of intrastate natural gas pipelines and hazardous liquid pipelines in Texas. The Commission is certified to enforce the federal pipeline safety regulations under the federal Pipeline Safety Act.
- Surface Mining and Reclamation Division (SMRD) - this division regulates surface mining for coal, uranium, and iron ore gravel. SMRD also conducts a program for reclaiming lands that were mined and abandoned before 1975.
- Alternative Energy Division - this is a newly minted division of the Commission which will explore alternative forms of energy, such as compressed and liquefied natural gas. You can learn more about this new development by reading the Railroad Commission's press release.
You can learn more about the Railroad Commission of Texas at their website, www.rrc.state.tx.us. On the Public Awareness and Involvement page you will find information about the Commission's open meetings and hearings, webcasts, agendas, as well news releases, public notices, and other useful information. For more information on energy education, visit the Education and Training page where you will find listings for seminars, workshops, and other training classes. On this page, you will also find a link to the RRC Kids World webpage, where kids can learn about energy, the environment, and pipeline safety.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
Yesterday, November 3rd, the Father of Texas - Stephen F. Austin - turned 216! To celebrate, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) Archives invited the local news media to take a tour of the GLO's Stephen F. Austin collection. Of course the public is always welcome to view the historic and extensive records related to the original land grants that brought 300 families to the region in the early 1800's. "For a Texas history buff like me, being able to see his actual signature on the Registro - in which he kept his land records - is exciting stuff," says Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
The General Land Office is located in the Stephen F. Austin Building, 1700 N. Congress Avenue (at 17th Street) in Austin. You can visit and view the famous Registro in person or peruse the GLO's collection and map catalog online. These documents are maintained and protected though an innovative effort, Save Texas History.
IN CLOSING . . .
I hope you have a happy start to the holiday season and enjoy this Thanksgiving with family and friends around you.
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