By Jim Allison, General Counsel
After each legislative session, the speaker of the house assigns issues to be studied by House committees. These charges are the subject of public hearings, and recommendations are submitted at the next legislative session.
Commissioners Court members should become familiar with these issues, present testimony at the public hearings, and determine their legislators’ positions on these charges. Below are listed interim charges directly related to the duties of Commissioners Courts. Additional Senate interim charges from the lieutenant governor are expected in the coming months.
House Committee on Appropriations
- Examine progress made during the 83rd Legislative Session on reducing the reliance on dedicated accounts for budget certification. Recommend additional methods to further reduce the reliance on dedicated accounts for budget certification purposes, and further examine ways to maximize the use of such accounts.
- Monitor the administration of new state funding to expand behavioral health services in Texas. Make recommendations to improve coordination and prevent duplication of effort, including the behavioral health projects funded through the Medicaid 1115 Waiver. Evaluate the methodology utilized by the state to fund the public mental health system in order to assess improvements in how mental health funds and associated performance targets are allocated throughout the state. Develop funding recommendations that emphasize equity in funding and performance expectations, improving outcomes, the attainment of performance targets, population needs, availability of local resources, and geographic diversity.
House Committee on Corrections
- Examine the association between co-occurring serious mental illness and substance use disorders and parole revocation among inmates from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Review current policies and procedures for incarcerating individuals with a dual mental health diagnosis in both state and county correctional facilities and examine potential remedies within the State’s criminal justice system to ensure that the public is protected and that individuals with a mental health diagnosis receive a continuum of mental health services. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence)
House Committee on County Affairs
- Examine population growth in Texas counties and the impact the growth has had on housing, available land resources, and businesses in Texas, as well as the impact of growth on the state’s economy. Evaluate Texas’s preparedness to respond to future growth and ensure economic stability.
- Continue oversight of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and issues jails currently face, including the mental health of those in jail, and make recommendations for refinement or improvement of processes and programs.
- Monitor the health advisory panel stemming from H.B. 3793 (83R).
- Determine which counties have implemented a cite-and-summons policy, whether the policy has been effective in lessening overcrowding in county jails, and whether those cited by peace officers comply with the policy.
- Study the implementation of S.B. 462 (83R). Examine which counties currently have veterans courts, as well as veterans courts in other states, and determine how those programs are working and whether these courts provide additional services or resources for veterans. Make appropriate recommendations. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs)
- Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:
– consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;
– identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy or eliminate;
– determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and
– identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.
House Committee on Elections
- Examine the use of Help America Vote Act funds and methods to ensure the efforts required by the Help America Vote Act continue.
- Evaluate the Move Act, specifically the implementation of H.B. 1129 (83R), relating to a program allowing certain military voters on active duty overseas to cast a ballot electronically.
- Examine online voter registration systems in other states. Study costs and security concerns, weigh the pros and cons of online voter registration, and make recommendations.
- Review the study by the Secretary of State required by H.B. 3103 (83R) regarding moving the date of the Texas presidential primary election, and make appropriate recommendations.
House Committee on Energy Resources
- Study the impact of the expanding oil and gas exploration and production occurring across the state. Included in the study should be both the positive impacts of the exploration and production as well as the new challenges they are presenting. The study should encompass a review of the following issues:
– The effect on the state budget and the Economic Stabilization Fund;
– The overall impact on the state economy;
– The impact on property values and local taxes;
– The effect on roads;
– The impact on local school districts;
– The complex relationship between land owners, royalty owners, and operators;
– The impact on the environment, including emissions and injection wells;
– Projected water needs and how those fit with our state water plan; and
– The housing issues created by the number of workers needed in areas of shale plays.
House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform
- Examine current restrictions on state and local governmental entities relating to the construction of critical infrastructure, including transportation and water projects, and make recommendations for expediting and creating more cost-effective and efficient methods for the construction of such projects.
- Review the application of the Public Information Act to requests for large amounts of electronic data. Examine whether the procedures and deadlines imposed by the Act give governmental bodies enough time to identify and protect confidential information in such requests.
House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety
- Assess the level of preparedness among critical infrastructure entities, state and local emergency planning organizations, first response efforts, and overall coordination of jurisdictions across the state. Include a review of the state’s role in preparing, resourcing, and coordinating with local emergency response, specifically in rural areas or areas that depend largely on volunteer response efforts.
- Review the Driver Responsibility Program and consider methods for overall improvement of the program.
House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence
- Review the methods used by state agencies and courts to prepare and publish electronic legal materials. Examine the processes used to ensure reliability and permanence of these materials and strategies used to harmonize those processes with national standards, including possible adoption of the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act.
- Examine the public policy implications of litigation related to environmental contamination brought by local governments, in particular whether such litigation supports effective remediation.
House Committee on Natural Resources
- Monitor the implementation of H.B. 4 (83R) and S.J.R. 1 (83R) and the progress of the Texas Water Development Board and other entities in implementing this legislation to provide a stable, long-term funding source for the State Water Plan.
- Evaluate the availability, management, and development of groundwater in the state. Consider the economic, environmental, and social impacts of groundwater usage and production in the agricultural, municipal, and energy sectors. In particular, examine methods to facilitate further development of brackish groundwater resources and to improve the consistency and certainty of permitting by groundwater districts without undercutting reasonable regional and local regulation of groundwater.
House Committee on Special Purpose Districts
- Conduct a comprehensive review of existing special purpose districts in the state. Study how special districts interact with other local governments and local taxpayers during and after their creation. Examine circumstances under which special districts are accountable to local taxpayers and make recommendations on ways to increase spending transparency among districts.
House Committee on Transportation
- Monitor the usage of state funds by the Texas Department of Transportation for improving road quality in areas impacted by Energy Sector activities.
- Review the state of our current transportation infrastructure outside of the five most populous areas. Explore future needs of our infrastructure and make recommendations to ensure long-range sufficiency.
- Monitor the implementation of the “Turn-Back Program” by the Texas Department of Transportation, specifically its fiscal impact to municipalities and taxpayers.
- Examine county authority to utilize tax increment financing and transportation reinvestment zones to fund transportation projects.
House Committee on Ways and Means
- Monitor the implementation of recent amendments to the property tax. Examine whether the frequency of reappraisals strikes the proper balance between stability and predictability in values for taxpayers and taxation at market value.
- Evaluate the actions of the comptroller’s office to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency. Examine ways to increase efficiency in the administration of taxes through the use of technology. Identify and make recommendations to implement these goals.
Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee
- Study and make recommendations to increase transparency in the authorization, issuance, and appropriation of debt at the local level. Make recommendations that will increase citizen awareness and understanding of a local government’s fiscal state. Analyze reforms such as requiring local governments to move bond elections to a uniform date coinciding with state general elections, and requiring local governments to publicly post their annual budgets, annual financial reports, and check registers online. Survey other states’ initiatives to increase transparency in the process of local governments incurring new debt obligations.
- Examine the immediate and long-term fiscal impact that bonds and other types of obligations issued by local governments have on current and future generations of taxpayers. Specifically analyze whether local governments should be required to use ballot language that includes their current outstanding debt, existing per capita debt, current debt service, and any increase the ballot measure would have on property taxes. Make recommendations on additional ballot language that will better inform voters of their local governments’ current and future fiscal states.