Senate Committees Address Issues During the 77th Interim
Two Senate Committees are at the Capitol, tackling issues important to all Texans. This morning, October 29, 2001, the Natural Resources Committee took up the long-standing questions of how to improve the state's air and how to get water to colonias, the poor subdivisions along the Rio Grande.
Charge #1 requires the committee to monitor efforts to improve air quality. Jeff Salinas of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) spoke on efforts to cut emissions and reduce smog. He said cleaning up the air in Houston and the Metroplex would require reducing Nitrogen Oxide emissions by up to 75 percent, something only the federal government could do, but up to this point has not.
Charge #2, requires the committee to guide the development of water projects in economically depressed areas. Craig Pedersen of the Texas Water Development Board, addressed Charge #2 by telling the committee that the agency is working with non-profit organizations to identify areas with the worst water and sewer service and to fund projects to bring poor areas up to standard. A self-help program allows local residents to do part of the work on selected projects, reducing costs and reducing the time needed for construction. Other water problems include ensuring that the state has enough reservoir capacity to handle expected growth and the problem of Mexico not releasing the amount of water into the Rio Grande that was agreed to under international treaty.
Charge #3 requires the committee to monitor the Joint Committee on Water Resources. The joint committee will be determining how the state can best increase and manage the water supply. Joe Walraven, Duncan Norton and Blas Coy of the TNRCC testified on the future of the Office of Public Interest Counsel at that agency.
Charge #4 deals with the need for effective disaster response in Texas. Tom Millwee, the State Coordinator of Emergency Management Services for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the state continues to face challenges from flash floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. Jeff Sadis from the TNRCC told the committee that as developers come in they will develop property in flood plains for construction use, raising the land out of the danger zone. This can cause flooding during heavy rains of land that formerly did not flood as the runoff changes its path. Ralph Rayburn from Sea Grant Texas and Martin Hubert from the Texas Department of Agriculture gave final testimony for the meeting.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee consists of Chairman J.E. "Buster" Brown and Senators Gonzalo Barrientos, David Bernsen, Teel Bivins and Eddie Lucio. Future hearings are scheduled for December 3, 2001, in Houston and December 13, 2001, in Austin. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.
In the afternoon, the State Affairs Committee held its first meeting of the 77th Interim. Three of the charges relate to transportation and one to Native American Affairs, which will have its own subcommittee. The transportation issues include traffic congestion, planning, levels of service and funding.
The committee today examined Charge #2, which centers on new finance techniques for transportation. Michael Behren and David Soileau, from the Texas Department of Transportation and John Johnson, Chairman of the Transportation Commission, were today's witnesses. Their testimony described how the federal government helps the states fund transportation projects and how Texas can better take advantage of them.
The State Affairs Committee is chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro of Collin County. Members include Senators John Carona of Dallas, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Mario Gallegos of Houston, Chris Harris of Fort Worth, Frank Madla of San Antonio and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. Future meetings will take place in El Paso, the Metroplex and Austin.
The Subcommittee on Native American Affairs convened immediately after the State Affairs Committee for organizational purposes. No testimony was taken. The subcommittee is charged with examining the need and feasibility for establishing a state agency or commission for Native American affairs. The committee will determine whether certain issues facing the Native American community are being adequately addressed by existing state agencies. The issues to be examined will include diabetes susceptibility, alcohol abuse prevention, educational opportunities, water rights, land ownership, burial ground disturbance, historical representation and tax administration. The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Frank Madla. Senators Armbrister and Carona are the members. The subcommittee adjourned, with future meetings scheduled for the Metroplex and Austin.