From the Office of State Senator John Carona

Senator John Carona -- interim update

75th Texas Legislature Busy with Interim Studies
February 9, 1998

Every two years, legislators meet in Austin for 140 days (as prescribed by the Texas Constitution) to pass the two-year budget and hundreds of other bills. When the legislative session ends, senators and representatives head back to their districts, most returning to full-time careers. While no votes on legislation occur during the 19-month interim (except under rare instances when the Governor calls a special session), numerous issues are debated by committees appointed in the House and Senate.

During this interim, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock appointed more than 30 Senate interim committees. These committees have the responsibility of studying specific issues and reporting their findings, including any recommended proposals, to the Legislature. The various matters under scrutiny this year include reviewing cities' annexation powers, studying concerns related to the state's criminal justice system, assessing additional changes proposed to the civil justice system, evaluating the education system in Texas, determining any changes needed to create a competitive Texas electric market, evaluating the explosive growth in home health care agencies, and a host of other issues. I was pleased to be appointed to four Senate Interim Committees.

The House of Representatives issued its own interim charges to more than 30 House committees as well as the nine joint committees with the Senate. Many of the House committees have similar charges as their Senate counterparts, but one unique to the House is the appointment of the Select Committee on Revenue and Public Education. This Committee is continuing efforts begun this past session to draft a workable restructuring of the school finance system through fundamental changes in the state tax base. That effort stalled last year over disagreements between the House and Senate, but the Legislature still succeeded in returning $1 billion to homeowners in Texas.

One of the greatest benefits of these interim committees is the input and insight received from local citizens through their testimony at the hearings. Many people are unable to travel to Austin during the legislative sessions, so the interim allows us to take the Legislature "on the road" to you with hearings throughout the state. This provides everyone an opportunity to share ideas directly with legislators. Several hearings already have been held and several more are planned in the Metroplex area, which makes it convenient for District 16 residents to participate.

I encourage any who are interested to offer your insight on any issues facing the Texas Legislature. You can do this in person at the various committee hearings or through written testimony mailed to the committee at any time during the year.

Should you desire to attend a hearing or want information on an interim committee, my staff would be happy to assist you. You can call my Capitol office toll-free at 800/662-0334, or if you have Internet access, you can search the Texas Senate or House of Representatives web pages at the addresses listed in the box on the next page. Most of these sites also provide links to other sites within state government for a variety of useful information.

Sunset Advisory Commission

Reinventing government has been a catch phrase talked about in Washington for the past few years, but in Texas we have been accomplishing this for more than 20 years through the Sunset process. The Texas Sunset law was enacted in 1977 to provide for the periodic review of the efficiency and effectiveness of state agency operations and policies. Under this law, a state agency is abolished on a certain date unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue its operations.

The Sunset Advisory Commission has four members of the Senate and one public member appointed by the Lt. Governor, and four members of the House of Representatives and one public member appointed by the Speaker. About 150 state agencies and advisory committees are subject to review by the Commission, with most scheduled for review once every twelve years. They are reviewed on an alternating basis with approximately 20 to 30 agencies subjected to the process each biennium.

This exercise has proven useful in aiding government efficiency as well as strengthening accountability between the Legislature and state agencies. The Sunset Commission is required by law to review agencies scheduled for termination and then report to the Legislature its recommendation to abolish or continue the agency, including any changes to the agency's operations. To continue the agency, the Commission provides draft legislation, which the Legislature must pass and the Governor must sign. Absent this continuing legislation or based upon the recommendation of the Commission, an agency is abolished.

This next session (which convenes in January 1999) 25 agency and boards will be under review in the areas of general government, health and human services, and public safety and criminal justice. The Commission encourages the public to participate in the Sunset process by reviewing public documents, contacting the Commission staff to offer input, testifying at public hearings held by the Commission, and participating in the debate during the session on the legislation continuing a particular agency.

Helpful Numbers and Internet Sites

Numbers: Websites:
Attorney General--Child Support Enforcement 800-252-8014
Comptroller--Texas Performance Review 800-232-8927
Governor's Office 800-843-5789
Department of Human Services--Fraud Abuse Hotline 800-436-6184
Secretary of State--Voter Registration/Election Info. 800-252-8686
Sunset Advisory Commission 512-463-1300
Government Info. in Texas http://www.state.tx.us
Window on State Government http://www.window.state.tx.us
Texas Senate http://www.senate.state.tx.us
Texas House of Representatives http://www.house.state.tx.us
Legislative Reference Library http://www.lrl.state.tx.us

If I or my staff can provide you any more information about the interim committees including hearing scheduling, please to not hesitate to contact me at any of the addresses or numbers listed below. I look forward to serving you.

Sincerely,

John Carona

Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
(512)463-0116
800-662-0334
FAX: (512) 463-3135
TDD: 800-735-2989
District Office
1919 S. Shiloh Road
Suite 103, LB 15
Garland, Texas 75042
(972) 864-2255
FAX: (972) 864-0712
District Office
5622 Dyer Street
Dallas, Texas 75206
(214) 265-8963
FAX: (214) 696-8937

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