The Texas State Senate: John Carona Press Release
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.
- My first interim assignment is to the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services. Much of the Legislature's efforts during the past two sessions has focused on more efficiently funneling state resources to make health care accessible to needy Texans. This presents an enormous challenge as our limited resources are continually strained by an increasingly needy and aging state population. To aid efficiency and oversight, this Committee has been charged with developing a plan to monitor state agency efforts to detect and reduce fraud in the state's Medicaid and welfare programs. In addition, the Committee is continuing to monitor federal welfare reforms and will recommend any changes needed for Texas to remain compliant. Finally, the Committee is responsible for studying the progress of enforcement of the law passed by the Legislature this year to restrict access to tobacco products by minors. Through these efforts, the Legislature is attempting to remain responsive to the health care needs of all Texans and help protect our children from the health risks associated with tobacco use.
- As part of my work on health and human services issues, I was also appointed to the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Texas Integrated Enrollment Services (TIES). This Committee was created this session and consists of members from both the House and Senate. TIES is intended to integrate services and functions related to determining eligibility and delivering health and human services to eligible Texans. To help eliminate duplication of services, this Committee will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the program's implementation and recommend actions to be taken to ensure necessary services are being provided efficiently and effectively to qualified persons.
- My third interim committee assignment is the Senate Interim Committee on Public Information which is investigating specific issues related to public records. The first committee charge is to identify areas of concern associated with the Public Information Act (formerly the Open Records Act). This includes the critical debate over access and availability of information to the public, costs associated with obtaining the information, as well as delays in production of information. If necessary, the Committee will make recommendations for legislative action. The second charge is to study the impact of the Public Information Act on privacy interests and monitor any federal developments regulating public access to information. And third, the Committee is charged with reviewing the role of new technology as it relates to information access through the Internet and other means. This Committee is attempting to balance the right of public access to information with the need to maintain privacy for privileged information.
- The final appointment I received this interim is to the Senate Interim Committee on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This is an extension of my role as Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on International Relations, Trade, and Technology on which I served during the 75th Legislative Session. The Legislature, through this Committee, continues to evaluate the impact of the four-year-old trade agreement on the Texas economy. In addition to NAFTA's economic impact, the NAFTA Interim Committee is assessing the treaty's impact on the state's infrastructure, including transportation, education, housing, the environment, and health and human services. Based upon these findings, the Committee will make recommendations to the Legislature for developing a statewide strategic response plan to help Texas better direct resources at statewide and local levels.
- In addition to these interim assignments, I was also given the great honor this Fall of being appointed to the Texas Legislative Council (TLC). The TLC is a state agency within the legislative branch responsible for drafting bills and other legislative documents, conducting legal and public policy research, producing informational publications, and supporting a variety of operations with information technology services. The membership of TLC consists of the Lieutenant Governor who serves as Chair, the House Speaker who serves as Vice-Chair, the chairs of the Senate and House Committees on Administration, four other members of the Senate appointed by the Lt. Governor, and nine other members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker.
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
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.
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 463-3135
1919 S. Shiloh Road
Suite 103, LB 15
Garland, Texas 75042
FAX: (972) 864-0712
5622 Dyer Street
Dallas, Texas 75206
FAX: (214) 696-8937