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House Interim Charges Focus on Jobs, Education, Transparency

Speaker Straus releases full list of interim study topics.

Speaker Joe Straus assigned interim charges to Texas House committees Wednesday, formally launching preparations for the legislative session that will begin in January 2017. 

“The next legislative session is more than a year away, but the work of that session starts now,” said Speaker Straus, R-San Antonio. “While these assignments cover a wide variety of issues, they focus on three core priorities: supporting private-sector growth, creating opportunity through education, and continuing to make government more transparent and accountable.”

Many of the charges announced Wednesday were requested by Members of the House.

“I take my colleagues’ input very seriously,” Speaker Straus said. “It was important that these charges reflect not only issues that matter to me, but also those that matter to House Members. I expect some very good ideas to emerge from the robust discussions that I hope committees will have over the next year.”

Among the issues highlighted in the House’s interim charges are:

Economic Growth: The Committee on Economic and Small Business Development will study regulatory and tax hurdles that prevent the growth of small businesses and consider ways to incentivize small business development. The committee will also evaluate the state’s competitiveness with other states in recruiting and cultivating high-growth, high-tech industries. The Committee on Energy Resources will study the impact of declining oil prices on the Texas economy and, along with the Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs, review how the Mexican energy transformation has affected the energy economy in Texas. The Committee on Investments and Financial Services will analyze whether current investment tools are bringing new businesses and jobs to Texas.

Education: The Committee on Public Education will continue to look at key elements of the state’s school finance system. The committee will also focus on improving middle schools, encouraging educators to take advantage of sound research and best practices, and look at the benefits and costs of expanding parental choice in education. The Committee on Higher Education will look at community college funding and governance. It will also recommend ways to prevent sexual assault at institutions of higher education. The Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs will analyze whether unnecessary or punitive barriers exist for Texas Veterans pursuing educational and career opportunities.

Government Transparency: One of the House’s top priorities over the last three years has been increasing transparency in the state budget, specifically by reducing the amount of money sitting in General Revenue-Dedicated accounts for the purpose of budget certification. The Committee on Appropriations will recommend ways to further reduce the amount of money sitting in those accounts. The committee will also develop recommendations to codify the Strategic Fiscal Review process that Speaker Straus launched in 2014 in order to take a fundamental look at the mission and effectiveness of state agencies. The Committee on General Investigating and Ethics will study contracting practices at major state agencies.

Water: In 2013, the House acted to provide a funding source for the State Water Plan through the passage of House Bill 4. Now that House Bill 4 is being implemented, the House will continue to focus on moving Texas water policy forward for the benefit of our economy and our quality of life. The charges assigned to the Committee on Natural Resources take a broad look at state and regional water planning processes since the adoption of HB 4, the advantages and disadvantages of the use of water markets to better share resources, and the state’s progress in encouraging regional management of groundwater. The charges also include further examination of desalination and other innovative supply options.

Emergency Preparedness: A number of committees will ask whether the state is adequately prepared for natural, economic, and health emergencies and disasters. For example, the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety will review the state’s disaster preparedness planning efforts to determine their effectiveness at addressing a growing range of threats. The Committee on Investments and Financial Institutions will study the cybersecurity of financial institutions, while the Committee on Public Health will assess the state’s preparedness for emergencies such as highly infectious diseases and natural disasters. The Committee on Culture, Recreation, and Tourism will monitor the repair of state parks from damage caused by flooding and wildfires, and review the use of federal relief funds.

House committees will hold hearings in the months ahead and report their findings shortly before the start of the 85th Legislature in January 2017. 

“These charges address the opportunities and challenges that come with rapid growth in our population,” Speaker Straus said. “Texas is a dynamic state with a diverse economy, and we need to be prepared to act on a range of key issues when we meet again. These charges will prepare the House for another productive session in 2017, and I want to thank all the Members of the House for the work that they will do over the course of the next year.”