Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has released Senate Interim Committee Charges. These issues will be analyzed by Senate committees with recommendations reported to the legislative session in January. Speaker Craddick has previously released the House Interim Committee Charges. The Senate issues that specifically impact Texas counties follow. Future columns will discuss committee hearings and reports on these issues.
Business & Commerce
3. Study current industry practice and regulation associated with the siting of wind turbines. Compare the wind turbine siting process to processes associated with other forms of electric generation and the siting of facilities in other industries. Determine the advantages and disadvantages of additional siting regulation for wind turbines.
4. Study the advantages and disadvantages of developing a building code specific to coastal properties in order to mitigate hurricane damage. Focus on avoiding catastrophic losses of property during a major storm. Specifically, consider Florida’s building code, which applies to the designation of Enhanced Hurricane Protection Areas (EHPAs) that meet specific criteria to provide shelter and protection for up to eight hours following a catastrophic event.
8. Study and make recommendations on improving the implementation of HB 1196, 80th Legislature, to ensure that public funds are not used to encourage illegal immigration into the state by prohibiting any taxpayer-subsidized job creation grant or tax abatement given to any business entity in Texas that knowingly hires illegal immigrants.
5. Study and make recommendations for reducing the number of law enforcement officer deaths in the line of duty. This study should include:
an assessment of the types of calls and assignments that put law enforcement officers most at risk;
the geographic regions of the state that suffer the most deaths;
the agencies experiencing the highest rate of deaths in the line of duty;
the time in an officer’s career, and the officer’s age that he or she is most susceptible to death in the line of duty; and
the times of year, month, and day that are most dangerous.
6. Study the issue of criminal asset seizure and the use of seized and forfeiture funds by district attorneys and law enforcement agencies. Review the oversight of these matters by the Texas Attorney General and provide recommendations to improve the dissemination of information concerning these funds. Ensure that these funds have the appropriate accountability and fiscal controls required for public funds.
7. Study the system of deferred adjudication in Texas courts and make recommendations for resolving any problems and reducing the potential for release of dangerous criminals.
11. Study the relationship between the public mental health system and the criminal justice and civil courts systems, including the identification and sharing of information regarding mentally ill offenders, including minors, among criminal justice and mental health agencies, the courts, state hospitals, and the Veterans Administration. Study how current confidentiality laws impact the exchange of information among groups described above. Study the sentencing of mentally ill offenders compared to non-mentally ill offenders, including minors, and the affect that has on statewide prison capacity and on the health care provided to mentally ill offenders. (Joint Charge with Senate State Affairs Committee)
6. Study the funding of county public hospitals and the role neighboring counties without a county hospital should play.
14. Study and review state and local options for expanding transportation funding and explore options to reduce diversions of Fund 6 revenue. (Joint charge with Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security)
Subcommittee on Property Appraisal and Revenue Caps:
1. Review the property tax appraisal system, including the following:
the duties and responsibilities of chief appraisers and appraisal districts;
any abuses that occur in the appraisal process;
the process of appointing the members of boards of directors of appraisal districts;
the impact of adding members to the boards of directors of appraisal districts who are not appointed by the taxing jurisdictions of the district and methods for appointing these additional directors;
the usefulness of information provided in a notice of appraised value;
the impact of HB 1010, 80th Legislature, Regular Session, relating to appraisal districts crossing county lines;
any benefit from requiring more uniformity in appraisal standards used by appraisal districts;
any revisions to the property valuation appeal system that could reduce the cost of dispute resolution;
the likelihood of, and any associated benefit from, increased compliance with the existing business personal property rendition law if chief appraisers are given limited audit authority.
2. Study the benefits and limitations of property tax appraisal caps compared to a limit on revenue a local jurisdiction can receive without the approval of the voters in the locality. Consider alternative sources of funding to replace property tax revenues.
3. Study the provision of fire and emergency medical services through Emergency Service Districts (ESDs) and make recommendations concerning the provision of those services, and for reconciling potential conflicts due to overlapping taxing jurisdictions in the areas of the state served by ESDs.
4. Review the process for the creation of Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) and other special districts, and investigate whether the creation of a standard municipal utility district statute is feasible, and whether it would enable the legislature to more efficiently evaluate proposed districts during the legislative session.
International Relations and Trade
1. Review state and local policies relating to development and growth in rural and unincorporated regions of the state. Work with housing advocates, county organizations and appropriate officials to assess the proliferation of substandard housing in rural and unincorporated areas.
2. Determine the appropriateness of and make recommendations on the existing extraterritorial jurisdiction authority currently granted under colonia prevention measures along the border region.
3. Develop recommendations to better provide border and rural communities access to state and federal resources. Review the programs established by different states and recommend initiatives that Texas can enact to increase the competitiveness of these communities, engender critical development, provide affordable housing, identify community assets, retain/create wealth and create regional jobs. Study and make recommendations to expand business opportunities in international markets for businesses located in economically distressed areas, including rural and Border areas.
6. Study and make recommendations relating to the jurisdiction, authority, power and discretion of probate judges in Texas, including the authority of a probate judge to intervene in a non-probate case.
7. Study administrative and legal procedures used by municipalities to exert regulatory authority beyond city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction. Determine whether conflicts exist with agencies’ regulatory authority and regulatory authority delegated to home-rule municipalities, and make recommendations for appropriate delegation and clarification of respective authorities.
2. Study and make recommendations for reducing the number of uninsured Texans, focusing on the following:
Options to increase access to private health insurance, including 3 Share programs, employer sponsored plans and portable, individual insurance;
Incentives for encouraging counties and local governments to participate in private health insurance cost sharing for their respective residents;
Options to reduce health care premiums, including creation of special plans with increased deductibles and catastrophic coverage;
Implementation and possible expansion of health services districts;
Other state programs for increasing market-based coverage of the uninsured, including costs and effectiveness;
Options that will increase consumer choice and personal responsibility; and
Analysis of state and federal regulations that contribute to higher premium costs.
4. Study the issue of security and accuracy in Texas elections. The study should include the benefits and risks of electronic voting technology, including the necessity of maintaining a paper record of each electronic vote. The study should also include an analysis of fraud in Texas elections, including prosecution rates for voter fraud, the processes for purging ineligible voters from voter lists, and the integrity of the mail-in and provisional ballot systems. Study the effectiveness of electronic voting technology and voter ID laws in other states. Monitor the implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, including the implementation of the Texas Election Administration Management system. Recommend statutory and regulatory changes designed to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote in Texas elections and that each vote is accurately counted.
14. Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the State Affairs Committee, 80th Legislature, Regular Session, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. In particular, monitor and report on the effect of HB 2365, which allows public entities to report “other post employment benefits” (OPEBs) on a statutory modified accrual basis, including any effect on auditor opinions, bond ratings, or other fiscal issues. Monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 1731, relating to transparency of health information, and Senate Bill 1846, relating to TRS.
Transportation & Homeland Security
1. Evaluate the state’s homeland security efforts and the state’s recent $140 million investment in law enforcement to help secure the border and study and make recommendations to deter transnational and drug-related gang violence and crime, including the use of injunctions and any possible improvements to Chapter 125 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code, relating to membership in street gangs.
3. Examine the roles and best practices among individuals, state and local governments, hospitals and other health care providers, and the insurance industry for disaster planning and first response efforts. Explore what changes are needed to better prepare for natural disasters to mitigate claims and losses. Include an assessment of the state’s implementation of recent recommendations for evacuations, including movement of medically fragile populations. Study the level of preparedness among critical infrastructure entities in both the public and private sector, the effectiveness of state disaster relief policies relating to this infrastructure and the sufficiency of personnel needed to restore this infrastructure. Assess the state’s preparedness to handle a public health emergency. Examine the challenges of interoperability of communications technologies to improve coordination of different plans across jurisdictions.
4. Study and make recommendations regarding state and local regulation of billboards. Produce a graphical analysis of current billboards, evaluate objective criteria for locations where billboards can be permitted or prohibited, including but not limited to geographical (corridor or urban/rural), land usage (e.g. industrial), or cultural/historical criteria, and include consideration of the impact on any federal funding.
5. Study and make recommendations for improving management and oversight of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). Include a review of populations served, MPO governance, oversight, roles, variation among MPOs, and MPO decision-making ability in relation to TxDOT or other agencies.
7. Review the status of structurally deficient bridges and provide increased oversight of TxDOT’s bridge repair activities to ensure that any unsafe bridges are identified and repaired as soon as possible.
Study and make recommendations relating to the status of current and planned toll road projects in Texas, the use of public-private partnerships to build new roads and/or transit services, and the market valuation process. Analyze the impact of lengthening the number of years a toll road authority may issue bonds.
Study the effectiveness of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) and make recommendations for its future role in providing additional roads in Texas. Provide specific recommendations relating to public input in the development of the TTC.
11. Study and review state and local options for expanding transportation funding and explore options to reduce diversions of Fund 6 revenue. (Joint charge with Senate Finance Committee)
14. Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Transportation & Homeland Security Committee, 80th Legislature, Regular Session, and make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, and/or complete implementation. Specifically, report on implementation of SB 792 and SB 1723, 80th Legislature, Regular Session, to improve the overall collection rate and compliance rate with the Driver Responsibility Program.
Senate Select Committee on Economic Development
1. Inventory economic development programs and incentives, including tax abatements, offered by state and local governments. Review the costs and benefits of Texas’ economic development tools, including the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technologies Fund, and make recommendations for improvements. Review similar incentive programs in other states and the potential impact on Texas’ competitive advantage in attracting and keeping strong businesses. Analyze regional economic development trends and opportunities and identify option for maximizing economic development with region-specific incentives.
2. Review the costs and benefits of using the Texas Enterprise Zone Program as an economic development tool for local communities to partner with the State of Texas to promote job creation and capital investment in economically distressed areas of the state.
4. Examine the costs and the effectiveness of policy options, including state incentives, available to cities and counties to preserve and redevelop historic downtown properties.
5. Study the merits of developing a comprehensive state policy of offering incentives to local governments for activities relating to recruiting and hosting special events.
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Jim Allison, General Counsel CJCAT