Featured: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, addresses fellow state lawmakers and other area leaders during a welcome home reception, sponsored by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Division of Governmental & Community Relations, held on Thursday, July 16, 2019 at the UTRGV Center for Innovation and Commercialization in Weslaco.
Photograph By PAUL CHOUY
Valley state senators to review wide range of major issues, such as abortion restrictions, border security, lobbying by local governments, veterans health care, and disaster response and recovery
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
The Rio Grande Valley’s three state senators will be reviewing a wide range of major issues, including abortion restrictions, border security, lobbying by local governments, veterans health care, and disaster response and recovery, according to a list of interim charges released on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Interim charges are topics that are determined by the Lt. Governor in the Texas Senate and the Speaker of the House in the Texas House of Representatives for legislative committees, which hold public hearings throughout the state. Their work, which includes recommendations for proposed new legislation, winds up being considered, debated, and voted upon by the Texas Legislature every two years.
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo (whose district includes Starr County), are the Valley’s three state senators.
No dates or locations for the public hearings have been announced for the Senate committee hearings.
Patrick, a Houston Republican, in his Wednesday, October 30, 2019 announcement stated that he has asked committees of the Texas Senate to study 116 charges during the interim before the 2021 legislative session, which begins in mid-January 2021.
The interim is the period between the 140-day regular legislative sessions.
The 86th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature took place from Tuesday, January 11, 2019, through Monday, May 27, 2019.
These charges include seven that were issued to the Senate Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety in September.
“The charges I am releasing today not only reflect my priorities but also include the priorities of the members of the Texas Senate,” said Patrick. “Senators will study these issues over the next year and hold hearings to get input from the people of Texas. Upon completion of the hearings they will determine whether additional legislation or policy changes are needed to address these critical issues.”
Among Hinojosa’s current committee appointments, which were determined in January 2019, include serving as Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, as a member of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, as a member of the Senate Committee on Transportation, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Property Tax.
Among Lucio’s committee appointments, which were determined in January 2019, including serving as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, a member of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security.
Among Zaffirini’s committee appointments, which were determined in January 2019, including serving as Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety, and as member of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.
“I am confident that the recommendations I receive from the committees following this process will help move us forward to create sound, conservative public policy to ensure the Texas economy remains strong and our state continues to be the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family,” Patrick said. “I want to thank every senator in advance for the countless hours that will be required to address these charges. I appreciate their leadership and commitment to our great state and I look forward to their recommendations.”
The Senate committees which were assigned the interim charges, of which Hinojosa, Lucio and Zaffirini are members, respectively, follow:
SENATE COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.
Agency Technology: Review current and prospective technology related purchases and upgrades in state agencies. Identify areas of overlap and make recommendations to eliminate duplication, improve efficiency, save costs, and improve performance.
Performance Based-Contracting: Review and determine best practices for executing performance-based contracting across all health and human service agencies, and other selected agencies, as applicable. Identify which services utilize performance-based contracting, as well as their outcomes. Recommend specific strategies for improving and expanding performance- based contracting across all health and human service agencies, and other selected agencies, as applicable.
Spending Limit: Examine options and make recommendations for strengthening restrictions on appropriations established in Article VIII, Section 22, of the Texas Constitution, including related procedures defined in statute. Consider options for ensuring available revenues above spending limit are reserved for tax relief.
Higher Education Research Programs: Create a comprehensive list of research projects conducted by higher education institutions that are funded by state expenditures, including an inventory of funding streams and programs supporting identified research projects. Identify best practice methods to improve efficiency and coordination of research among university systems, eliminate duplication, and align research projects with the goals of the state.
Business Personal Property Tax: Study the economic dynamics of the current business personal property tax. Consider the economic and fiscal effects of increased exemptions to the business personal property tax, versus its elimination. Following such study, make recommended changes to law.
Natural Disaster Funding: Review federal, state, and local eligibility and receipt of disaster funds from Community Development Block Grants – Disaster Relief and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Identify any barriers to the effective utilization of those funds and recommend any changes to statute, rule, or practice to promote the efficient deployment of those funds and expedite recovery by affected citizens, businesses, and communities.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System;
• House Bill 1525, relating to the administration and collection of sales and use taxes applicable to sales involving marketplace providers;
• House Bill 3384, relating to the authority of the comptroller to conduct a limited-scope review of an appraisal district located in an area declared by the governor to be a disaster area;
• House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund;
• House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the Available School Fund;
• Appropriations for behavioral health services, including funding for state hospital construction, the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (Senate Bill 11), mental health waitlist reduction, and substance abuse and opioid addiction;
• Contingent upon voter approval, study the implementation of House Bill 492 and House Joint Resolution 34, relating to a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster;
• District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and
• Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION
Safety: Study the primary causes for traffic-related accidents and fatalities, including fatality rates as a result of intoxicated driving. Make recommendations for effective strategies to improve roadway safety.
Project Delivery: Evaluate major roadway construction projects that have begun since voters approved new funding sources in 2014 and 2015. Make recommendations to ensure on-time project completion and improve cost efficiencies.
Texas Department of Transportation Flight Services: Evaluate the current funding, maintenance procedures, and staffing levels at Texas Department of Transportation’s Flight Services. Make recommendations to ensure the safest fleet and most efficient service.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Transportation passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• The Legislature’s new funding for the driver’s license program as funded in the General Appropriations Act;
• The Legislature’s funding for grants to counties to be used for repair of county roads as funded in the General Appropriations Act;
• Senate Bill 198, relating to payment for the use of a highway toll project;
• Senate Bill 616, as it relates to the analysis of the opportunities and challenges of transferring the driver license program to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles;
• Senate Bill 1915, relating to the board of pilot commissioners for Harris County ports; and
• Senate Bill 2223, as it relates to two-way directional routes.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON PROPERTY TAX
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of the following legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Property Tax passed by the 86th Legislature. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bill 2, relating to ad valorem taxation.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS
Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program: Review existing regulations governing the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program and the Qualified Allocation Plan to determine whether regulations exist that unnecessarily increase the cost of developing and maintaining affordable housing. Make recommendations to provide regulatory relief and provide greater development of affordable housing in Texas.
Federal Housing Review: Study all federal housing programs accessible to Texas. Make recommendations that ensure the state maximizes the use of those programs.
Infrastructure Resiliency: Examine the authority special purpose districts have to generate natural disaster resilient infrastructure. Determine ways state government can work with special purpose districts to mitigate future flooding and promote more resilient infrastructure. Make recommendations on how special purpose districts may use their statutory authority to assist in mitigating damage from future natural disasters.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bill 1303, relating to landowner rights in a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction;
• Senate Bill 1474, relating to private activity bonds; and
• House Bill 2330, relating to simplifying disaster assistance.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.
Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.
Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.
Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.
Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.
Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium;
• House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and
• House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON STATE AFFAIRS
Human Trafficking: Examine opportunities and make recommendations to reduce the profitability of and demand for human trafficking in Texas. Determine ways to increase public awareness on the proliferation of human trafficking, as well as resources for victims and survivors. Review the interaction between local, state, and federal agencies in responding to and prosecuting human trafficking and sex trafficking offenses in Texas’ five most populous counties. Make recommendations to ensure law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have the tools necessary to promptly and thoroughly respond to these crimes.
Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to:
• Ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration;
• Improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees;
• Ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling;
• Allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and
• Ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.
Conscience Protections for Professionals: Assess current legal protections in Texas law for professionals and students studying to pursue a professional license that has a conscience-based objection that could interfere with a professional service. Evaluate any discrimination by state agencies against an applicant for or holder of an occupational license based on a sincerely held religious belief. Make recommendations to protect Texas professionals with conscience objections.
Private Personal Data: Study how state agencies sell or otherwise distribute the personal data of Texas residents and recommend whether additional measures are needed to prevent the unwanted disclosure of personal information.
Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.
Protecting the Unborn: Study and recommend ways Texas can further protect the lives of the unborn, including fetal heartbeat legislation and any other law or regulation that protects life.
Second Amendment: Examine Second Amendment legislation passed since the 84th Legislative Session including open carry, campus carry, and lowering the license to carry fee. Determine the impact these laws have made on furthering and protecting Second Amendment rights. Make recommendations that may further protect and enhance Texans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Personal Property Protection: Examine prosecution rates for thefts involving property valued under $1,000. Make recommendations to ensure law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have the tools necessary to thoroughly protect Texans’ personal property from theft.
Lobbying Loopholes: Review current lobby laws and examine exceptions that allow certain individuals to avoid registration as lobbyists. Consider whether the exceptions are fair, transparent, and promote the public’s trust in their elected officials and governmental institutions. Propose whether these exceptions should be limited or removed so that all people engaging in lobbying must report their lobbying activities.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on State Affairs passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bill 22, relating to prohibiting certain transactions between a governmental entity and an abortion provider; and
• Senate Bill 39, relating to the imposition of fines, fees, and court costs in criminal courts.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (JOINTLY WITH SENATE COMMITTEE ON WATER AND RURAL AFFAIRS)
Local Economic Development Incentives: Study the use of local tax abatements allowed under Chapter 313 of the Texas Tax Code. Make recommendations to promote transparency and enhance the effectiveness of tax abatements, capital investment incentives, and similar programs.
Eminent Domain: Examine current law regarding the balance of private property rights and continued improvement in oil and gas infrastructure. Make recommendations to ensure stability between private property owner protections and emergent oil and gas infrastructure.
Future Water Supply: Examine current laws, processes, and water storage options and availability. Make recommendations promoting the state’s water supply, storage, availability, valuation, movement, and development of new sources.
River Authority Infrastructure: Examine the roles and responsibilities of river authorities in maintaining their managed assets including, but not limited to, dams. Evaluate the impact on the economy, water supply, and flood control due to deferred maintenance. Make recommendations to promote infrastructure stability and maintain the usability of these bodies of water.
Groundwater Regulatory Framework: Study the state’s groundwater regulatory framework and make recommendations to improve groundwater regulation, management, and permitting.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under each committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• Senate Bills 6, 7, 8, and 500, relating to disaster response and recovery, disaster funds, state-wide flood planning, and dam maintenance;
• Senate Bill 698, related to expedited permitting;
• Senate Bill 700, relating to water utility rate-making reform; Senate Bill 2272, relating to certain amendment and revocation procedures; House Bill 1325, relating to the production and regulation of hemp; and
• House Bill 3557, relating to civil and criminal liability for engaging in certain conduct involving a critical infrastructure facility.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERAN AFFAIRS AND BORDER SECURITY
Veteran Treatment Courts: Review the effectiveness of diverting veterans from the traditional criminal justice system to veteran treatment courts. Make recommendations to strengthen veteran treatment court outcomes and expand access to locations not currently served by the courts.
Veteran Health Care: Examine the adequacy of long-term health care services and support options for veterans in Texas. Identify under-served areas and barriers to accessing quality care for both institutional as well as home and community-based settings. Discuss the potential impact of federal reforms, such as the implementation of the Veterans Affairs MISSION Act on care delivery. Make recommendations to best leverage federal assistance and create greater efficiencies in veteran health care delivery.
Veteran Mental Health: Review suicide prevention strategies and programs identified by the federal Defense Suicide Prevention Office and make recommendations to connect at-risk individuals with available resources as they transition into veteran status.
Border Security Transnational Crime: Review the different platforms used by fusion centers, Joint Operations Intelligence Centers, and the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center to share transnational crime intelligence. Study the ability of law enforcement to share information through existing communications networks and identify ways to promote collaboration and improve the flow of information.
Border Security Technology: Study the Department of Public Safety camera detection program “Operation Drawbridge.” Review the program and assess its performance, benefits, and challenges. Consider what role new technologies could play in preventing the northbound smuggling of drugs and people into Texas and the southbound smuggling into Mexico over the international bridges. Consider the cost and efficiencies of these technologies. Determine if any changes are needed and make recommendations on any additional technologies that could increase the level of border security.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
• House Bill 11 (84th Legislature). Review the ten-hour workday implemented from this legislation and consider its impact on
• Public safety along the Texas-Mexico border and throughout the state, by increasing the statewide patrol and investigative capacity of the Department of Public Safety without the addition of new officers;
• The recruitment and retention of officers, and
• The overall impact on the morale of officers having to work the extended hours.
A complete list of Patrick’s 2019 interim charges are posted here.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).