APRIL CAPITOL UPDATE
News from the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser
Electric Cooperative Hearing
The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, which I chair, held a hearing on March 27th to discuss the current governance structure of electric cooperatives. At issue: whether there is a need for statutory changes to protect customers of electric cooperatives in Texas.
Late last spring, constituents began contacting my office to complain about the closed nature of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. Members raised concerns about the board's nominations and elections process, the lack of transparency by the board of directors and senior management, the failure of the cooperative to return excess profits by paying Capital Credits, and the level of compensation and benefits received by board members.
Since 1999, electric cooperatives have operated under no state oversight because they are self-governing entities. It has long been my contention that if the members are unhappy with the decisions of the board of directors, they can and should vote them out of office. But the PEC Board's ballot process effectively kept members from electing anyone except for the candidates handpicked by the board itself.
The purpose of the committee hearing was to begin the process of examining the regulatory structure of electric cooperatives. If the abuses happened at Pedernales Electric Cooperative, they could be happening at other cooperatives in the state.
Representatives from the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Electric Cooperative Association attended and provided testimony. Their testimony indicated that neither the state nor the voluntary association has the authority to regulate a cooperative board and prevent it from abusing its power. Under current law, the cooperatives are self-policing.
Directors from the PEC also participated in the hearing. The primary question asked of all of those who testified was why the state should not regulate electric cooperatives. This hearing was the first step in our review of electric cooperatives. The committee will spend the next several months working on a solution to ensure these abuses do not occur again.
In all my years in the Legislature, there are few issues that I've received more comments about than this one. People still stop me at H.E.B. to ask what's next, and they thank me for pushing for accountability and transparency at PEC. The push is paying off. Under new General Manager Juan Garza, the cooperative is moving toward a more open governance system. PEC has started paying capital credits to its member owners for the first time in its history. A record number of candidates are on the ballot for the June 21 board election and members will have the opportunity to hear from those candidates at a forum on May 1 in Johnson City.
Interim Committee Updates
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee met to consider ways to revamp the Medicaid system in Texas. At this meeting, members looked at incentive strategies and how they could improve the quality of health care. Many states already use these strategies, which pay awards to top-performing health care providers and penalize poor performers.
Texas currently has pilot programs in place to evaluate incentive strategies. Pam Coleman from the state's Health and Human Services Commission testified that Texas levied $1.8 million in penalties to underperforming providers in fiscal year 2007. Advocates of pay-for-performance plans told committee members that incentive strategies increase accountability and transparency for health care providers.
Prison Reform Progress
Officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice briefed the Senate Criminal Justice committee on the status of prison reform measures passed by the Legislature last session. SB 909 focused on new policies for parole and improved medical care. The General Appropriations Act from last session put more funds into offender substance abuse programs and local intervention programs and facilities.
TDCJ Executive Director Ron Livingston testified that the mandated reforms are proceeding according to schedule. Prison officials cut health care costs by using federal programs that provide money for prescriptions. Moving to electronic records has increased efficiency.
Parole reforms are also proceeding. Bed-ridden, comatose, or terminal inmates that pose no threat to society are considered for early parole. That allows TDCJ to move expensive treatment to a better facility that provides cheaper, more efficient care.
Trust Fund Strategies
The Senate Finance and State Affairs Committees met to take a closer look at the investment strategies behind the various state trust funds. It's part of their work on a joint interim charge to study whether it's a good idea to have just one investment policy for all of those funds - which include the trust funds of the Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System, and the Permanent School Fund.
The members heard testimony from the fund managers of nine state trust funds. The managers detailed each fund's investment strategy, risk management, and rate of return. Members will decide whether the current plan of having diverse investments is more profitable than a single investment and risk strategy.
The Texas Department of Transportation has created a Citizens Advisory Committee to provide input during the planning process for the portion of the corridor proposed to run parallel to Interstate 35. Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown is one of 18 people selected to serve. He is the only person from District 24 on the committee.
The committee will study and prepare reports on the impacts of corridor development. Based on their findings, the committees will make recommendations to TxDOT's Executive Director and the Texas Transportation Commission. The committees are expected to hold their first meetings this spring. Each committee is scheduled to serve through December 31, 2009.
Highway 71 Safety
State Highway 71 is one of the main routes that people in the Hill Country take to get to Austin and points east. If you've driven the stretch between Marble Falls and Austin, you've seen more development and a growing amount of traffic on the road. There have also been more wrecks. Since October 2006, auto accidents killed 11 people in the stretch near Bee Creek Road in Travis County.
Now, the Texas Department of Transportation is taking steps to improve the safety on SH 71. The ideas include lowering the speed limit and building a barrier between oncoming lanes of traffic. TxDOT is giving you the chance to share your ideas about the SH 71 plan. They're holding an open house on April 24th at the Bee Cave City Hall located at 4000 Galleria Parkway. The open house runs from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. You can review preliminary maps and other displays tied to the SH 71 plan. Project team members will also be available to answer questions.
If you can't attend the open house, you can submit written comments about the SH 71 plan. Statements may be submitted to the Austin District Environmental Coordinator, Texas Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 15426, Austin, Texas, 78761-5426. All comments received by Monday, May 5th will be included in the official record of the open house.
Honoring Texas Farmers and Ranchers
Farmers and ranchers from all over Texas came to the Capitol on April 4th for some much-deserved recognition. The Family Land Heritage Program honors farms and ranches that have been in continuous agricultural operation by the same family for 100 years or more.
Two ranches here in District 24 earned recognition for at least 150 years of operation. The Marshall Holland Ranch in Burnet County has been in operation since 1857. Fred Hays Holland and Billie Holland received the Land Heritage award. In Lampasas County, the Gibson Bros. G Bar Ranch has been operating since 1856. Land Commissioner Todd Staples honored Foy Gibson and Clovis Gibson with the award.
Here's a list of other farms and ranches in District 24 honored at the Family Land Heritage ceremony:
100-Year Farms and Ranches
Strange Family Farm (1905) - Clarence O. Ford, Billie Strange Ford
Fred Holland Ranch (1906) - Fred Hays Holland, Billie Holland
Warden's Rocking W. Ranch (1900) - A.W. Warden, Esther Warden
Double "S" Ranch (1899) - Stanley Paul Sauer, Virginia Sauer
Juenke Ranch (1907) - Steve Juenke, Glenn Juenke
Sauer- Brodbeck Ranch (1887) - Eileen Sauer Brodbeck
Ernst & Lola Peters Farm and Ranch (1906) - Ernst Gus Peters, Lola I. Peters
Rentz Family Farm (1904) - George Scott Rentz
Conradt Ranch (1905) - Verlon Neal Conradt, Doris Conradt
Drummond Farm (1907) - Colleen Richards, Kay Richards, Jack Drummond Richards, Jr.
Since the program started in 1974, the Texas Department of Agriculture has recognized more than 4,200 farms and ranches in 232 counties across Texas. My congratulations go to the men and women who work to continue the tradition of Texas agriculture.
Grants for the Arts
The Texas Commission on the Arts awarded nine grants in District 24. The TCA approved $15,190 in grants during its quarterly meeting. The Killeen ISD received two grants totaling more than eight thousand dollars. The money will help support arts programs in the school district. It also funded four performances by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in Killeen earlier this year.
Other grant winners in District 24 include:
- Abilene Cultural Affairs Council - funded performances by Storybook Theatre for Pre K - 3rd graders.
- The Grace Museum (Abilene) - for conference travel and registration.
- Cultural Activities Center (Temple) - funds performances by Sara Hickman and Salvage Vanguard Theater.
- North Ward Elementary (Brady ISD) - funds performance by Dan Gibson.
- Starkey Elementary (Kerrville ISD) - funds performance by Sheila Starks Phillips.
- Viva Les Arts Societe (Killeen) - grant for community development services.
TCA grants support programs across the state to enhance education and create social benefit. The grant program also aims to stimulate the economy and promote tourism in Texas. Grant recipients must make a minimum dollar for dollar match in order to receive state funding.
A Perfect Season
Many of you likely followed at least some of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. While the Longhorns, Aggies, and other teams from the Lone Star State fell short in their quest for a championship, one team from central Texas played March Madness to perfection. The Lady Jackets from Howard Payne University in Brownwood won the NCAA Division III Women's National Championship. The team's 68-54 victory over Messiah College capped a 33-0 undefeated season.
This was the Lady Jackets' first trip to the Final Four. Senior Forward Kimberly Hoffman led the team with 21 points. Senior Guard Meia Daniels earned the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. (Before the Final Four, Daniels was named the Division III Player of the Year.) My praise and best wishes go to Coach Chris Kielsmeier and all of the Lady Jackets on a job exceedingly well done. The "Perfect Swarm" will forever hold a place in the collegiate record books.
I thank all of you in District 24 for giving me the opportunity to serve you in the Texas Legislature.
|HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER|
|Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
|Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
|Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
|Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611