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The Official Publication of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas

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Issue No. 92
April 2012

Senate Interim Studies on County Issues

March 2010

            Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has assigned interim charges to the Senate Standing Committees. Several issues will directly concern county government and commissioners courts. Hearings will be conducted on these issues and recommendations made for the next legislative session. We will monitor these studies and will provide notice of scheduled hearings. Some important issues and the assigned committees include:
 
4. Study and make recommendations on the impact of feral hogs and other predators that hamper development of Texas agriculture.
 
3. Review the performance of the Fair Defense Act and the Task Force on Indigent Defense. Study key outcomes of the law, including: appointment rates in felony and misdemeanor cases; state and county indigent defense expenditures; attorney caseloads; attorney compensation; access to investigators and experts; and overall quality of counsel for the indigent. Examine the Task Force on Indigent Defense's effectiveness in monitoring and enforcing standards and design strategies to improve the delivery of services for indigent defense, including timing of the appointment of counsel, the use of the appointment wheel, and the monitoring of workloads and performance of attorneys.
 
5. Review the detention of juvenile offenders in local jails, state jails, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison units by examining conditions of confinement, including quality of education, mental health treatment and medical services, rehabilitative treatment, and equality of access to services for young female inmates. Review access to administrative and inspector general grievances in TDCJ facilities. Make recommendations for improving the system and reducing recidivism of juvenile offenders.
 
7. Assess how the Commission on Jail Standards, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Criminal Justice, and Department of State Health Services are working together to identify defendants with mental health issues, notify magistrates when defendants have been identified and, where appropriate, provide crisis stabilization services to defendants. Monitor legislation passed by the 81st Legislature for mental illness and make recommendations for any needed improvements to improve mental health services and reduce recidivism.

8. Study and evaluate the success of juvenile probation pilot programs aimed at community-based diversion of youth from Texas Youth Commission facilities. Make recommendations for needed legislative action and additional programs to increase the number of delinquent youth successfully rehabilitated in their home communities.
 
1. Review and make recommendations regarding existing and future public debt at all levels of government in Texas, including independent school districts, cities, other local governments and the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Plan.

2. Study the impact of recent hurricanes for which a federal disaster declaration was issued on local economies. Examine the basis for the distribution of federal dollars for hurricane cleanup across the state. Review past methods of distribution, including those involving the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the Texas Department of Rural Affairs, formerly known as the Office of Rural Community Affairs. Develop policy and statutory recommendations to ensure that the system of distribution is effective to address needs of the various regions of the state in the event of future disasters. Provide effective budget oversight of state agencies that received appropriations as a result of hurricane damage. Examine the rebuilding of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the collection and proper deposit of federal reimbursements.

4. Identify and evaluate potential improvements to the property tax system. Consider and make recommendations relating to the following:
 Methods to increase public participation in the tax rate-setting process and ensure fairness in appraisal protests and appeals;
 Requirement that property appraisal values may not increase by more than inflation and/or population growth, or another amount to be determined by local taxing authorities, with a maximum cap of 10 percent;
 Exemptions provided to community housing development organizations to determine if changes are needed to ensure that the public benefits outweigh the revenue loss;
 Methods and procedures for determining a real property interest in oil or gas in place, as contained in Texas Tax Code Sec. 23.175, including how market-based data and market-based methodology could possibly be used to ensure fair, reliable, and equitable price forecasts of oil and gas interests. Analyze the need for the creation of an Oil and Gas Valuation Advisory Committee to assist in forecasting current calendar year statewide average prices for oil and gas; and
 the constitutional constraints and fiscal implications of exempting real property, leased to a school, as defined by Section 11.21 of the Tax Code, from ad valorem taxation.
 
6. Study the impact of changing the constitutional and statutory spending limit based on the sum of the rate of population growth and the rate of inflation. Examine what past biennial spending limits would have been, and what the next biennium's limit might be, under a new definition. Consider the impact of exempting growth from federally mandated programs.
 
8. Review the capacity of rural hospitals, rural hospital infrastructure, and the statewide impact of services provided by rural hospitals. Make recommendations for funding options to help communities that do not have adequate resources to replace aging infrastructure and consider the creation of a rural hospital infrastructure support program similar to the courthouse preservation fund.

9. Examine transportation funding concepts contained in legislation considered during the 81st Legislature, Regular and Special Sessions. Analyze options and make recommendations relating to historical funding strategies, including prioritization of existing revenues, as well as alternative state and local transportation funding concepts.
(Joint charge with Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee)
 
3. Review opportunities for increasing the transparency of government operations and make recommendations for enhancing public access to government.
1. Upon passage of federal legislation relating to reform of the health care industry and health insurance industry that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates will costs the State of Texas $2 billion to $2.5 billion per year in general revenue beginning as early as 2013, study the implications of such legislation on Texas, the health care industry, and public and private insurance. Study and monitor the implementation of the insurance regulatory changes, changes to high risk pool, and any other insurance mandates. Study the health care policy changes and the impact to the Medicaid and CHIP programs and the state budget. Assess the impact to all state uninsured and uncompensated care programs and county programs for the uninsured, including county property tax programs to pay for the uninsured. Make recommendations for the efficient implementation of programs. (Joint charge with Senate State Affairs Committee)

2. Study the benefits, efficiencies and costs, and effectiveness of the social services related prevention and early intervention programs at the health and human services agencies, the juvenile and adult criminal justice agencies, and other government agencies that have programs that address mental illness, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, single-parent families, absentee fathers, early pregnancy and unemployment. Study other states' prevention programs and efforts to administer these programs through a merged prevention department. Make recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these programs.
2. Monitor the proliferation of municipal utility districts (MUDs) outside the corporate limits or extraterritorial jurisdiction of municipalities and whether increased oversight of these districts by other political subdivisions is needed. Review the process for the creation of municipal utility districts (MUDs) through the template developed during the 81st Legislative Session, including any changes needed to increase the efficiency and oversight over the creation of proposed districts. Review the process for creating special districts, including whether the creation of a template, similar to the one created for municipal utility districts (MUDs), is feasible and would enable the Texas Legislature to more effectively evaluate other proposed special districts during future legislative sessions.

3. Review the process and costs for local governments to make government information available online. Consider ways to encourage local governments to provide more transparency, including the Comptroller's experience with transparency and her offer to assist local governments, and consider penalties for entities that fail to comply with the online requirement.

4. Assess ways to facilitate property ownership registration to better enable individuals to participate in federal programs and make recommendations to improve processing times to provide improved access to funds.

5. Study the reasons for and the impacts of hospitals directly hiring physicians. Examine practices in other states. Make recommendations, if needed, to permit hospitals to directly hire physicians.

6. Review state and local policies related to development and growth in rural and unincorporated regions of the state with regard to annexation and zoning authority. Focus on impacts to private property rights. Determine the appropriateness of existing extraterritorial jurisdiction authority. Make recommendations regarding possible changes to this authority.

7. Review the types of support state government can provide to assist local government consolidations with county governments. Evaluate budget implications for city and county government consolidations. Research the appropriateness and cost savings of eliminating duplicity between city and county governments in different regions of the state.

8. Review the statutory authority granted to municipal management districts (MMDs) and to emergency service districts (ESDs), and the authority of municipalities and counties to create public improvement districts (PIDs). Determine whether the authority granted for each entity is adequate to accomplish the goals of local governments. Assess whether the consolidation of ESDs under one statute would improve uniformity and provision of fire and emergency services through these districts.
1. Review the effectiveness of the Coordination of Colonia Initiatives and related measures addressed by the Committee and develop recommendations to better address substandard communities across the state where no potable water or sewage services are provided. Review state and local laws and policies relating to development and growth in unincorporated regions of the state and develop recommendations aimed at providing local units of government the necessary local control tools to curtail the spread of colonia-like developments in their jurisdictions.
5. Review the state's efforts aimed at helping distressed areas, coastal regions and rural communities to compete in the international marketplace. Work with the appropriate state and federal agencies to develop recommendations to create initiatives that will build regional development and capacity with the goal of better facilitating trade and commerce, as well as tourism, in these communities.
 
2. Study the guardianship program implemented by the Department of Aging and Disabilities and the Department of Adult Protective Services, including the efficiency and effectiveness of the program, the relationship between the two agencies, the appropriate rights for parents, and whether clients and their assets are adequately protected.

3. Study and make recommendations to promote and enable confidential information sharing among state agencies and courts serving at-risk children and youth to ensure that comprehensive and appropriate services are being provided. The study should focus on the technological, legal, and fiscal barriers that prevent information sharing among these entities regarding affected children and youth.
2. Review the joint planning process for management of groundwater resources and monitor the progress of groundwater conservation districts' efforts to establish, before the statutory deadline, desired future conditions for aquifers. Identify any additional resources or statutory changes necessary to promote sound groundwater management, including promotion of desalination of brackish groundwater, elimination of any exemptions, and coordination between groundwater conservation districts and activities regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the state and regional water planning processes administered by the Texas Water Development Board.

3. Monitor and review the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on carbon dioxide and federal legislation on greenhouse gases. Review the participation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Railroad Commission of Texas, the Department of Agriculture, and the Public Utility Commission in working collaboratively to comply with the federal mandates and in meeting federal clean air standards.

5. Determine whether the TCEQ should identify and evaluate cumulative effects on public health and the environment due to air toxics and ozone precursor emissions proposed in applications for new air permits, air permit amendments, and air permit renewals. Make recommendations, if needed.
 
1. Upon passage of federal legislation relating to reform of the health care industry and health insurance industry, study the implications of such legislation on Texas, the health care industry, and public and private insurance. Study and monitor the implementation of the insurance regulatory changes, changes to high risk pool, and any other insurance mandates. Study the health care policy changes and the impact to the Medicaid and CHIP programs and the state budget. Assess the impact to all state uninsured and uncompensated care programs and county programs for the uninsured, including county property tax programs to pay for the uninsured. Make recommendations for the efficient implementation of programs. (Joint charge with Senate Health and Human Services Committee)
6. Study ways to improve the efficiency and accuracy of voter registration rolls, including the feasibility and security of online registration and automatic registration and the accuracy of verification and purging of voters. Recommend ways to ensure that deceased or otherwise ineligible voters are not included on rolls while also ensuring that all eligible applicants are efficiently registered.
 
12. Study and make recommendations regarding access to voting by members of the military serving in the United States and abroad, including the feasibility of electronic delivery of ballots.

13. Study the Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act to ensure that government continues to operate in a way that is open and transparent. The study should consider how advances in technology and the emergence of various forms of social media (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter) have affected communications by and within governmental bodies.
 
1. Recommend ways to maximize the contribution of alternative transportation modes and evaluate what impacts they have on congestion and air quality. Identify statutory barriers to reducing transportation's impact on air quality and preventing any restrictions on or loss of federal funds due to air quality. Study the incidence of fraudulent automotive emissions certifications in the state and recommend changes in enforcement which will increase the effectiveness of state emissions regulation and assist in attainment of federal air quality standards.

2. Review and make recommendations relating to the Texas Department of Transportation's organizational structure and working relationship with local governments, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Regional Tolling Authorities and Regional Mobility Authorities.

3. Recommend improvements to homeland security, including the state's infrastructure and housing recovery operations. Make recommendations for incorporating best practices and addressing any gaps in existing procedures and disaster preparation and response, including volunteer involvement, evacuation and sheltering and trauma care, and communications interoperability.

4. Examine the public policy implications of Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) and recommend whether they should be reauthorized to construct specific roadways.

5. Explore the policy implications of transportation reinvestment zones funded by state sales and use taxes as an alternative to public financing of transportation projects.

6. Examine transportation funding concepts contained in legislation considered during the 81st Legislature, Regular and Special Sessions. Analyze options and make recommendations relating to historical funding strategies including prioritization of existing revenues, as well as alternative state and local transportation funding concepts.
(Joint charge with Senate Finance Committee)

7. Study and make recommendations to expedite the environmental review process for transportation projects.

8. Evaluate the Texas Department of Transportation's policy for permitting overweight vehicles and recommend ways to ensure overweight vehicles do not cause significant damage to the State's roadways and bridges. Examine the limited operation hours and staffing of highway weigh stations across the state and consider whether expanded operations or other alternatives would improve compliance with weight restrictions.
11. Review the possible increase in number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers resulting from license suspensions or indigence resulting drivers' inability to pay driver responsibility surcharges in light of new Department of Public Safety rules.

12. Study and make recommendations for legislation to inform Texans about best practices for hurricane preparation, response and recovery, including information about basic state operations and pre-designated locations for PODs (Points of Distribution) across the state. Establish procedures and penalties for noncompliance by local jurisdictions that hinder response and recovery efforts.
 
2. Examine the potential risk factors for returning service members, which may contribute to an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases. Additionally, determine best practices, including funding options, to ensure that specific counseling related to these risk factors is available to and provided for returning service members and their family members during the initial reunion phase.

5. Study the value of enhancing training requirements for Veterans County Service Officers (VCSOs) to improve veterans service at the local level, especially in rural areas. Make recommendations on how to best use technology for training purposes and expanding accreditation of VCSOs.
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