Monday, March 1, 2010

House Interim Committee Meetings

Thanks for those of you who have become followers. Be sure to let your friends know that Frank's column is still alive in the cyber-world. It was a big disappointment to me when I learned the local newspapers were not going to be publishing my column during the race. However, they have their reasons and it all deals with equal time for opponents in a contested race. I do plan on being back in print the first or second week of November and at this point plan on continuing this blog.

That being said there is something else that will be back in 2011. It is the Texas Legislature. The 82nd session will be convening in January of 2011. While many folks might believe that the only time our representatives in Austin work is when the legislature is in session they are wrong. A great deal goes on between the sessions at the capital. Right now a number of issues are being studied by interim committees.

Currently there are more than two dozen interim committee charges that are of interest to counties. House committees will organize hearings on these charges and make recommendations for the 82nd session. The House Committee on County affairs will be hearing two charges of interest to counties.

Charge number one is to study the current practices and tools available to counties to manage growth and development. Unlike cities, counties are limited by statute as to what authority they have over controlling growth and development. This issue has been before the legislature before, but little has been accomplished.

Charge number two is related to indigent health care within counties. The committee is charged to study the delivery methods for indigent health care services that emphasize community based care to improve the continuity and quality of care. This charge could include a review of the indigent health care program and look for ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.

Number two is one that counties will really have to watch out for. In past sessions the state has tried to mandate payment of county tax dollars that go to support indigent health care locally be paid to the state. Then the state would reallocate those dollars to the counties when health costs were incurred. Not a good plan. Bottom line in my opinion we need to watch out for one of those good ideas from Austin that winds up costing us more local tax dollars.

One interim issue that we should all be interested in is one being studied by the Interim House Committee on Public Safety. They will be taking a look at the driver responsibility program and looking for ways to improve the program. This program was established by the 78th Legislative Session. It is a program that assigns points and surcharges to drivers for offenses of certain traffic laws.

Drivers that are not in compliance with the program may have their driver licenses suspended. The suspension of a driver's license has consequences for the criminal justice system. The program has been under scrutiny since its beginnings primarily because of its extremely low compliance rate. The surcharges that are assessed are simply not being collected at the rate predicted.

As a result of non-payment of surcharges the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been required to establish an indigency program for the Driver Responsibility Program by September 1, 2011. Under this new program DPS will be required to waive all surcharges assessed for a person who is deemed indigent.

There are some 180 issues out there for study by the various interim committees. One especially interesting to me is one before the General Investigating and Ethics Committee. They are charged with the review of the definition of "political advertising" and to determine whether the definition should be expanded to include content contained in blogs and other types of Internet communications. Who knows, depending on the outcome of their study next time I might not be able to blog during the campaign.

Make it a point to let your representatives know what you think. It is never too early to begin lobbying for or against a particular issue. Study up on the interim issues and watch for the results from the committee studies. You can find a listing of all of the issues before interim committees at - 2009-11-19

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