The previous column emphasized the importance of education and training for members of Commissioners Court, especially our new members. The education of legislators is equally important, and county officials are an essential part of that process.
Unfortunately, very few legislators have any experience in local government. This is the first opportunity for public service for most of them. Since 90 percent are elected from urban counties, some legislators represent a district that is less than the size of a Commissioner precinct. As the population of the state continues to increase, the connection between legislators and county officials has become diminished. To ensure a healthy partnership between counties and the state, county leaders must utilize every opportunity to inform legislators on the roles and responsibilities of each.
With redistricting, there will be considerable turnover in the legislature. Approximately 20 percent of the House of Representatives will be new members. This turnover will also result in leadership changes, especially committee chairmen. Every bill must be reviewed by a committee, and most legislative activity occurs at the committee stage. In addition to educating the returning and new members, special attention will be needed to the new committee chairs, including the House Committee on County Affairs.
We are fortunate that many current House leaders have a close, productive relationship with county officials. These legislators will be invaluable in the process of developing new policies toward county government.
With an expected surplus of $30 billion, this session will present an opportunity for financing previously underfunded state responsibilities. If the state cannot provide facilities and staff for its prison inmates, mental patients, and felony juvenile offenders, it should compensate counties for the cost of these state responsibilities. If every county will develop a report on the cost to local taxpayers for these state services, the likelihood of a positive response from the legislature will greatly increase. Please request that your auditor, sheriff, and other county officials develop this information, and forward it to your legislators and me.
The local decision-making authority of county officials will continue to be the subject of attacks by special interests. Legislation to impose silence upon county officials and their associations will be proposed. Please maintain close, positive communication with your legislators and your support of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas during this legislative session.