Senate Continues Committee Work
With lawmakers in Austin for the special session, Senate interim committees are taking the opportunity to hold meetings and progress on interim duties. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony today regarding state health care services, including the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid and Medicare. The committee is charged with reducing the cost of CHIP and Medicaid, while maintaining services, improving indigent care, and making recommendations to improve the quality and efficiency of health care facilities across the state. The Health and Human Services committee is chaired by Senator Jane Nelson and vice-chaired by Senator Kyle Janek. Other sitting members of the committee are Senators Bob Deuell, Kenneth Armbrister, Mario Gallegos, Kevin Eltife, Judith Zaffirini, Royce West, and Jon Lindsay.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee met today to continue work on Interim Charge #2, which asks the committee to find ways to reduce underage drinking in Texas. Officials from the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse briefed the committee on the findings of an underage drinking survey conducted earlier this year. The survey found that 71 percent of high school students drink alcohol, and that the average age for first alcohol consumption is about 12. Moreover, the study found that 23 percent of high-schoolers binge drink, which is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages at one sitting.
Vicki Spriggs, Executive Director of the Juvenile Probation Commission provided testimony on the rate of occurrences of juvenile crime in the state. While overall referrals for probation are down among juveniles, violent offenses are up since 2001. Spriggs believes that the national economic downturn, and the war in Iraq, are responsible for increased family stress, which leads to increases in violent crimes among juveniles.
In addition to reducing underage drinking, the Criminal Justice Committee is charged with improving the efficiency of the Texas criminal justice system and the prison system, and evaluating the effectiveness and need for specialized police agencies and officers. The committee is chaired by Senator John Whitmire and vice-chaired by Senator John Carona. The sitting members of the committee are Senators Juan Hinojosa, Steve Ogden, Kel Seliger, Rodney Ellis and Tommy Williams.