SENATE INTERIM COMMITTEES WILL STUDY CITY-RELATED TOPICS
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has instructed the committees of the Texas Senate to conduct dozens of studies prior to the 2011 legislative session. Many of those studies can impact cities. Descriptions of the major city-related studies are reprinted in their entirety below. TML will monitor the progress of each study.
Business and Commerce Committee
- Study the generation costs of municipally-owned electric utilities’ planned generation portfolios. Consider the impact of planned generation costs on electric rates for residential and commercial customers. Solicit input on the impact of future electric rates on charitable and non-profit organizations, and the impact on such organizations’ cash assistance programs to indigent customers. Consider the merits of a justifiable planned generation cost standard, and whether a deviation above the standard should be subject to approval by a vote of all customers of a municipally-owned utility’s service area.
- Study the efficiency and fairness of the current sexual offender registry system and make recommendations to improve the system, if necessary. Study the issue of compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, focusing on the associated costs to the state and the punishment of juveniles. Examine the risk assessment tools used to measure the likelihood of recidivism of sexual predators.
- Review statistics regarding the crime of driving while intoxicated, including accident statistics, alcohol-related deaths and injury, and other impacts on the community. Examine enforcement options used nationwide to deter driving under the influence and make recommendations to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents in Texas.
- Study and make recommendations related to municipal jails and other detention facilities that operate without state agency oversight. Identify the number of such facilities and the population detained, as well as best practices for municipal jails. Make recommendations to improve services and consider options for oversight of facilities by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
- Review the detention of juvenile offenders in local jails, state jails, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice 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 for juvenile offenders.
- Study and make recommendations to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of testing done in Texas forensic laboratories, including DNA and blood/alcohol testing. Assess and make recommendations for improving the capacity of Texas criminal laboratories to process evidence, identify ways to reduce the backlog of DNA evidence processing, identify ways to encourage qualified applicants for crime lab jobs, ensure adequate training for new crime lab technicians, ensure the availability of efficient crime lab processing to all regions of the state, and determine the impact of additional collection requirements on the capacity of Texas crime labs to process evidence. Consider the costs and benefits of creating a statewide crime lab.
- Assess the effectiveness of major economic development programs in Texas. The review should include, but not be limited to, such programs as the Enterprise Fund, Emerging Technology Fund, Skills Development, and Enterprise Zones. Review major tax policy issues that encourage or hinder business development, including options for reinstating a margins tax research and development tax credit. Examine economic development programs in other states that have been successful and recommend changes to existing state programs, new programs, or changes in tax policy incentives that could increase job creation in Texas.
- 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.
- 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; and
- Exemptions provided to community housing development organizations to determine if changes are needed to ensure that the public benefits outweigh the revenue loss.
- 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)
- Review opportunities for increasing the transparency of government operations and make recommendations for enhancing public access to government.
- 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 legislature to more effectively evaluate other proposed special districts during future Sessions.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Intergovernmental Subcommittee on Flooding and Evacuations
- Study the benefit of legislation that would require coastal regions, when making routine improvements to drainage systems and other infrastructure, to take into account probability of future flooding and any upgrades necessary to prevent future flooding.
- Study and make recommendations on methods of emergency notification during a natural disaster. Look into alternative systems and new technologies for rerouting 911-type calls to become more efficient and effective. Study and make recommendations to streamline the process of informing citizens impacted by an emergency or disaster prior to the event about re-entry and aid.
- Study and make recommendations relating to cost effective options to either retrofit or require new building structures to be built as shelters for use during future evacuations.
- Study the adequacy of workers’ compensation benefits in the following categories: lifetime income benefits, wage benefits for the high wage earner, and workers whose wage benefits stop before Social Security benefits begin. In order to determine the impact of increased benefits in one or more of these categories, work with the Texas Department of Insurance to develop a publicly accessible model to predict the costs related to those enhanced benefits, the effect of those costs on workers’ compensation premiums, and whether enrollment in the workers’ compensation system will be adversely impacted by increasing the benefits in one or more of the stated categories.
- 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.
Transportation and Homeland Security
- 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.
- Explore the policy implications of transportation reinvestment zones funded by state sales and use taxes as an alternative to public financing of transportation projects.