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Straus' interim charges strike a needed tone

Below are excerpts from an article by the Austin American-Statesman's Tara Doolittle about the interim charges that Speaker Straus assigned to Texas House committees.

November 6, 2015
By: Tara Trower Doolittle
Austin American-Statesman

When House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, released his instructions to his chamber, the method was decidedly more understated. The message of the 65-page document with more than 150 charges was directed more to his members than to voters, and that message was “Get to work.”

School choice? Check — “Study ways to increase parental choice in education….”

Immigration? Check — “Examine state and local laws applicable to undocumented immigrants throughout the State of Texas and analyze the effects of those laws in conjunction with federal immigration laws….”

Abortion? Yes, that’s in there. “Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction…” The wording has the interesting effect of turning the battle over abortion into a question of whether state rules and laws are being followed.

And for emphasis, the day after issuing his raft of charges, Straus created a new subcommittees to speak directly to his tea party constituents: Texas House Committee on Federal Environmental Regulation (Read: Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency).

In a battle to have a government that functions and represents the people of Texas, I’ll take Straus’ approach any day.

And it’s not just a matter of the tea party versus the rest of the state, the approach is broader than that and gives Austin, in particular, some legislative issues to watch closely in the interim. Here are just a few, in Straus’ own words.

  • Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Cost of Education Index (CEI). Determine if other mechanisms or methodologies could better achieve the intended purpose of this public school finance driver. Make recommendations for improvements or elimination of the CEI. (That’s the education formula, folks. The one that hasn’t been updated since 1991 and has the Austin school district sending $272 million this year to the state.)

  • Investigate the operation and regulation, including a review of standards, monitoring, and enforcement, of boarding homes in municipalities and unincorporated areas of counties. Identify communities that have adopted local standards, and review procedures for investigating and closing unlicensed facilities that are providing services which require state licensure. (This is a joint charge to two committees, Human Services and Urban Affairs, which recognizes the impact regulation could have on urban homeless populations. The Statesman’s editorial board has urged that the Legislature fix the relative lack of oversight for these types of facilities)

  • Review aspects of the property tax system that contribute to rising property tax levies and taxpayer dissatisfaction. Examine whether the current system allows taxpayers meaningful participation in determining local property tax rates. Explore changes to the appraisal process that could improve the accuracy of appraisals. (Rather than cuts for the sake of cuts, ask the question, “Is the system working?)

  • Review the artistic, social, and historical intent and significance of the statuary on the Capitol grounds, with particular focus on the historical context represented, and provide recommendations to the State Preservation Board. (Yes, there’s more to talk about when it comes to Confederate statues.)

Also, heartening — although not necessarily headline worthy — are Straus’ charges to monitor major initiatives passed last session and those approved by voters this week, including Propositions 1 and 7. The wording on all of them makes it clear that he wants members to be on the look out for unintended consequences good or ill.

At least on paper, Straus does not presume to propose the answer to the issues he raises, rather he asks his members to study, consider and propose. That, friends, is the hard work of governing.

“I take my colleagues’ input very seriously,” Straus said in a statement. “It was important that these charges reflect not only issues that matter to me, but also those that matter to House members.”

Click here to read the full article: http://viewpoints.blog.statesman.com/2015/11/06/straus-interim-charges-strike-a-needed-tone/