Texas Government Insider
News And People

Volume 14, Issue 40 - Friday, October 21, 2016
Patrick announces legislative priorities
Dan Patrick
Lt. Gov. names school choice a top priority

DALLAS - Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced in Dallas yesterday that the very controversial school choice issue will be one of the Texas Senate's top educational priorities. Patrick was speaking to the Dallas Regional Chamber. He also spoke passionately about his aversion to transgender bathrooms and told the crowd that the 'bathroom issue' is just another reason to advocate for school choice.

Patrick had asked the Education Committee to study school choice programs in other states during the legislative interim. He referred to school choice as the civil rights issues of our time and said he would push for legislation "session after session." 

Patrick sent a letter this week to state institutions of higher education denying any requests to add full time employees for fiscal year 2017. Instead, Patrick said requests should be presented through the legislative budget process. 

"Previously, institutions of higher education have been allowed to add employees during the interim between legislative sessions," said Patrick in a press release. "This has resulted in thousands of employees added to the state budget without legislative scrutiny." 

Other education priorities included college and workforce readiness and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's 60x30 program. The 60X30 program seeks to ensure 60 percent of the workforce completes post secondary education programs by 2030. It also limits student loan debt to 60 percent of first-year wages for graduates. 

Patrick launches foster care initiative

Patrick also launched an initiative this week to organize faith-based communities to help find homes for children in the foster care system. The effort is in conjunction with National Adoption Month in November and follows news reports that many foster children are forced to live in state offices because of a lack of foster homes. 

"With more than 28,000 children in foster care, we are in need of more foster and forever homes," said Patrick. "Faith-based communities are in a unique position to know, understand and appreciate how important it is that we support the needs of children in our communities." 

Leaders from faith-based communities have been invited to meet at the Texas Capitol Nov. 2 to discuss ways the faith-based community can help children, including ways to help recruit and retain foster and adoptive families. For more information, visit www.ltgov.state.tx.us/adoptions.
Zika experts stress prevention, control
Zika experts are spreading the word across Texas about the dangerous virus carried by mosquitos. Department of State Health Services (DSHS) officials have presented educational sessions in Arlington and Eagle Pass; and more sessions are planned in Corpus Christi, Cameron County, Beaumont and El Paso. The agency is also running a media campaign to increase awareness.

"We are trying to amplify the prevention and protection messaging at the local level," said DSHS Communications Specialist Lauren Jones-McClain. 

Texas has had 232 reported cases of illness due to the Zika virus, including 14 pregnant women, two infants infected before birth and two people who had sexual contact with travelers. So far, none of the reported cases of Zika in Texas have been associated with local transmission. However, many experts agree the disease will likely become local in the near future.


Texas registers a record-breaking 15 million voters
The Texas Secretary of State announced that the state now has more than 15 million registered voters, the highest number recorded for the state. The last day for Texans to register to vote in the November general election was Oct. 11. 

The 15,015,700 who registered to vote represent 78 percent of the state's estimated voting age population. In 2012, Texas had 13,646,226 registered voters, or about 75 percent of those eligible to vote. During the primaries in March, the state reported 74 percent of 14,238,436 eligible voters were registered. 

Eligible voters can request a mail-in ballot until Oct. 28. Early voting begins on Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 4. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Economist predicts next great metropolis is Austin-San Antonio 
Joel Kotkin, a well-known economist and urban studies expert, recently published an article in Forbes magazine predicting that the next great metropolis could be a city stretching from Austin through San Marcos and San Antonio. 

"If you were to look for the next great American metropolis, there's probably no better bet than the emerging San Antonio-Austin corridor," said Kotkin.

With the Austin area expected to almost double its population from the current 2 million residents to almost 4 million by 2040 and with Buda and San Marcos setting record growth levels, Kotkin believes the Austin and San Antonio area could become one of the country's great cities. 

He pointed to several new businesses that are moving into the area and are providing jobs and spurring economic growth, such as a new San Marcos distribution center planning to hire 1,000 workers. Kotkin said the main obstacle to that growth is the lack of transportation infrastructure. He encouraged city officials to build more highways to handle the rapid growth.
TWDB approves $54M flood mitigation grants
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved more than $54 million in flood mitigation assistance for nine projects. The grants are funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will be used to mitigate flood damages and prevent future losses.

 Brazoria Drainage District No. 4 received about $5.1 million for a drainage project. The city of Bevil Oaks received $821,000 for acquisition and demolition projects. The city of Cedar Park received $411,000 for acquisition and demolition projects. The city of Houston received $12.4 million for structure elevation projects. The city of Nassau Bay received $5 million for structure elevation projects. The city of New Braunfels received $1 million for acquisition and demolition projects. The city of Port Aransas received $174,00 for a structure elevation project. The Harris County Flood Control District received $15.7 million for acquisition and demolition projects. Montgomery County received $8.8 million for acquisition and demolition projects
El Paso selects site for new $180 million arena
El Paso city officials selected a two-block area south of the city's convention center as the location for a proposed $180 million arena to host athletic, entertainment, recreational and cultural events in the downtown area. 

The council also authorized city staff to begin buying properties for the site and to use eminent domain if necessary to acquire the needed properties for the site in the Union Plaza District.

The goal is to complete construction on the new Multipurpose Cultural and Performing Arts Facility in late 2019 or early 2020. City officials plan to select a private company to operate the new arena facility by January of 2017, said City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.
Padre Island group to donate $4M for Corpus Christi bridge project
A group of residents and business owners in Padre Island agreed to donate $4 million to complete a long-awaited bridge project to allow water to flow under Park Road 22. Voters in 2004 approved a $1.4 million proposal to build a bridge on Park Road 22, but over the years the estimate grew to $7.5 million and then $11 million after new features were added to the project. 

To complete the project, the Island Strategic Action Committee offered to donate an additional $4 million to the revised bridge project. Part of the increase in cost for the proposed bridge is from a plan submitted by a private developer to build a river walk connecting a new water park with a bridge large enough to allow boats, pedestrians and golf carts to pass underneath. 

City officials plan to consider a new bridge design and vote on the proposal by the end of December.
Lake Travis ISD considers new schools
Lake Travis Independent School District Superintendent Brad Lancaster proposed options for building new schools to keep up with district growth at his annual State of the District presentation. Lancaster asked board members to consider placing a $220 million bond issue and a tax ratification measure on the November 2017 ballot.  

Projects that could be included in a bond election include building a third middle school and up to two more elementary schools. Lancaster said funds are also needed to pay for upgrades to existing facilities, purchase new buses and improve technology throughout the district.
Lamar CISD eyeing 2017 bond
Board members for Lamar Consolidated Independent School District are making plans to ask voters to approve bond proposal next year to build new schools to meet an estimated 61 percent increase in student enrollment in the next decade. 

Officials expect the district will need up to six new campuses to handle the additional student enrollment as demographers estimate enrollment will grow from about 31,000 to almost 50,000 students by 2025. The district plans to spend about $100 million in funds from a 2014 bond proposal to build three new elementary schools and three practice swimming pools during the coming year. 

Trustees also plan to appoint about 50 community members to serve on a citizens bond committee to help plan a bond election in 2017.
Humble to use tax increase to fund $19M in projects
Humble City Council members plan to use additional funding from a 1-cent tax increase to pay for $19 million in capital improvement projects, including a $4.3 million project to expand Townsen Boulevard and a $6.2 million project to improve concrete pavement throughout the city.  

City officials also plan to spend $1.2 million for a new senior activity center and $275,000 to construct a building for the parks department adjacent to the senior activity center. Current plans are to select an architect to design the new senior center soon and complete the project by the end of 2017.

Bastrop County to build $2.5M emergency shelter
Bastrop city council members agreed to lease 1.5 acres of land at Mayfest Park, a city-owned park located near Loop 150, to Bastrop county to build an emergency shelter expected to cost $2.5 million. 

County officials plan to use the facility to house the AgriLife Extension office and meeting space for 4H clubs to promote the rural lifestyle of the area. The new emergency shelter also will house the Bastrop County Long-Term Recovery Team that leads disaster recovery and clean-up efforts following emergencies such as wildfires and floods. 

Current plans are to build the 12,500-square-foot shelter near the rodeo arena. The facility will have restrooms, office space, activity space, kitchens and will provide 158 parking spaces.
Waco considers riverfront project
Waco city officials set a goal to complete negotiations on a proposed public-private riverfront project, the Brazos Promenade, in time for the city council to vote on the final proposal in December. 

 Before the vote, however, officials of the Tax Increment Financing Zone (TIFZ) and city council members must receive more detailed information on project costs, infrastructure needs and a timeline for the proposed multi-use development. 

 TIFZ officials are scheduled to vote on the proposal in early November and then forward that recommendation to city council members in December. Council members also will need to vote on the development agreement and lease agreement before construction begins on the Brazos Promenade. Plans call for work on the riverfront project to begin in 2017.
Austin agrees to use publicly-owned land for teacher housing
Austin city council members agreed to use publicly-owned land to build affordable housing for teachers and other public employees. The effort is a partnership between city, Travis County and Austin Independent School District officials to respond to concerns that many public employees do not earn enough to afford rising housing costs in Austin. 

While teachers are considered a priority for the affordable housing, other employees of the city, county and school district also would be eligible for the program. The next step is to identify public-owned land that would be suitable for housing. Council members hope to begin considering a recommendation for property by the end of the year.
Waco considering new master plan for airport
Waco city officials are gathering public input and plan to vote on a revised master plan being for the Waco Regional Airport in January or February. The airport master plan was last updated in 2002.  

Preliminary proposals in the master plan include lengthening the main runway and generating more revenue by charging $4 a day to use covered parking at the airport. The proposed master plan also discusses the option of moving the regional airport to the Texas State Technical College-Waco airport that already features a runway that is 8,600-feet long that can accommodate larger aircraft.  
Williamson County considers road projects
Williamson County commissioners are considering constructing three new roads east of Interstate 35 and widening another. County officials earlier approved $8 million for transportation projects for this fiscal year and plan to use a large part of that funding for construction. 

The three new roadways are segments of future routes in the county's transportation plan. The proposal includes building a new road from Texas Toll Road 130 to Farm-to-Market Road 1431, a connection from the new road to Chandler Road and a new road from Sam Houston Avenue west of Texas 130 to State Highway 29. 

Commissioners also plan to widen Sam Bass Road, west of I-35 from FM1431 south to the city limits. Once approved, engineers can begin planning routes and acquiring right-of-way for the road projects, county officials said.
TxDOT releases plans for $100M project to ease Dallas congestion
Texas Department of Transportation officials released more detailed plans for a $100 million project to ease congestion on a two-mile stretch of Interstate 35E in downtown Dallas. 

The plan, which could be completed as early as 2019, calls for building two parallel lanes on both sides of I-35E in the downtown area where in a short distance the freeway connects to the Dallas North Tollway and the Woodall Rodgers exit on I-35N. The additional lanes are longer than entrance or exit ramps and will permit motorists to more easily maneuver in order to enter another highway or return to I-35 lanes. Unlike exiting or entering using frontage roads with traffic signals, the new lanes will act as collector and distributor lanes and avoid intersections with city streets.
Alamo MPO seeking TA projects
Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) officials issued a call for Transportation Alternatives (TA) projects that will be eligible for up to $15 million in federal funding. Transportation Alternative projects are reimbursed using federal funds, according to Alamo Area MPO officials. More information on the program can be found at www.alamoareampo.org/TAP.
Improvements planned for US 277 in South Texas
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials plan to begin seeking bids during the summer of 2017 for a project to widen and improve U.S. Highway 277 through Maverick, Kinney and Val Verde counties. 

The transportation agency plans to use funding through the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) federal program to pay for the upgrades to U.S. 277, said Bill Hale, chief engineer for TxDOT. Current plans are to upgrade the highway to five lanes in eastern Eagle Pass, from Farm-to-Market Road 3442 to State Loop 480 and add two passing lanes through Maverick, Kinney and Val Verde counties.
Jeff Branick, County Judge, Jefferson County
Jeff Branick
Career Highlights and Education: I was educated in the Port Arthur public schools before attending Lamar University, the University of Texas School of Law and Baylor University School of law where I received my Juris Doctorate in 1984. I was an associate and then partner in the Provost Umphrey Law Firm until 1998 when I left to open a neighborhood law office doing primarily pro bono legal work. In 2007, I was asked to serve as legal counsel and associate judge of the mental health court by the newly elected Jefferson County judge where I served until I was elected county judge in 2011.  

What I like best about my job is: What I like best about my job is meeting people and helping them navigate the probate and guardianship system and I also enjoy working on economic development projects for our county.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: The best advice I've received for my current job is to remember that I am here to serve and not to be served.
Advice you would give to a new hire in your office: That is the same advice I would give a new hire in my office. We make ourselves available for hearings when it is convenient for the parties and attorneys to assure that we're meeting the needs of the public. Fundamentally, I want our office to understand that those we serve are not an imposition, but the entire reason for our existence.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: If I left early I would probably be found at my deer camp cutting wood, repairing fences or spraying cactus.

People would be surprised to know that I: People would be surprised to know that I love the wilderness, especially in Alaska.

One thing I wish more people knew about county government: That county government, unlike home rule municipalities, is one of limited power, having the authority to do only those things that the Texas Constitution and the legislature allows.
Calendar of Events

Jan. 23-25, 2017

The Water for Texas 2017 Conference in Austin, Texas, will showcase innovative scientific, planning and financial solutions to water challenges; interactive data and technology; and compelling conversations on water issues that affect all Texans. Panel discussions, workshops, and exhibits will offer the opportunity to network and engage with industry leaders, elected officials and TWDB Board members and staff. A conference agenda is available. Register here.

By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

One of the biggest challenges in university classrooms today is keeping up with technology that is moving at warp speed. First, there were computers and laptops. They were quickly augmented with mobile devices - smartphones and tablets. Distance learning crept in as students took classes remotely. And now, 3D printing is in high demand on nearly every college campus. 

So what's the next big thing? There is only one answer to that question - virtual reality! 

Virtual reality (VR) creates a computer-generated environment that is three-dimensional. Users of VR are able to interact with all kinds of things in that environment. Objects in the VR environment can be manipulated through electronics and the experience is amazingly real. VR is changing many segments of everyday life. The most recognized piece of equipment may be a helmet like those used in PlayStation systems or glasses that are worn by users.

Houston tollway could cost $4.7B
State representatives from Houston and Katy recently discussed the Texas Department of Transportation's plan to relieve congestion on U.S. Highway 290 by building a parallel toll road to connect Loop 610 to the Grand Parkway. Officials estimate the U.S. 290 corridor redevelopment project that includes the tollway will cost $4.7 billion. 

The tollway has not yet been funded and representatives said it could take 20 years before the project begins construction.

San Angelo authorizes master plan for botanical garden
The San Angelo City Council approved preliminary plans for a proposed botanical garden at Civic League Park. The council also authorized city staff to negotiate a contract with a design firm to create a master plan. 

The preliminary plan focuses on desert landscapes, xeriscapes and will include a learning center and an area featuring several varieties of grasses.

Georgetown ISD accepts donation of land for new school
Board members for Georgetown Independent School District accepted the donation of land near Santa Rita Ranch to build a new school. 

The agreement with the developer includes a provision that the school district will return the land if trustees decide against building a new school at that location, district officials said. Board members have not yet approved funding to build a school on the property.

Houston allots $14M for trails and parks
Houston City Council members allotted $14 million to pay for building parks along Sims and Halls bayous in the northeast and southern area of the city. Plans also include building additional hike and bike trails connecting neighborhoods to the parks.

Harlingen approves new playgrounds at three parks
Harlingen commissioners approved an agreement to build new playgrounds at three parks at a cost of about $800,000. City commissioners approved design plans for all-inclusive playgrounds and authorized staff to purchase the equipment for the parks. The all-inclusive playgrounds are designed to help children with special needs to learn outside of the classroom. 

Under the agreement, city officials agreed to work with Harlingen Independent School District officials to build the playgrounds at Pendleton and Victor parks. District officials also agreed to split the $800,000 cost of building the playgrounds at the two parks. A third all-inclusive playground will be built at Lon C. Hill Park with funds the city received from a $425,000 foundation grant.
Tyler reviews upcoming road projects
At a public meeting to unveil changes to its transportation plan, Tyler Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) officials revealed that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) estimates $311.2 million will be available through 2040 for road projects in the Tyler area. 

New projects included in the short-term list on the updated transportation plan are a $25.4 million project to widen Farm-to-Market Road 756 near Whitehouse to four lanes and a $15.2 million project to widen Farm-to-Market Road 2964 to four lanes to accommodate a new school being built by Whitehouse ISD.

Waco planning group to unveil $25M plan for business corridor
Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) officials plan to unveil in November the final draft of a proposed $25 million project to upgrade the U.S. Business 77 corridor from the Brazos River to Elm Mott. 

The plan calls for creating a four- to six-lane boulevard with the road to remain at ground level. The plan includes no entrance or exit ramps, frontage roads or overpasses on the expanded highway. The estimated $25 million price tag could be a fourth of the cost of rebuilding the entire corridor, said officials.
Dallas County adopts formal purchasing rules
Dallas County commissioners adopted a new purchasing procedures manual to help ensure the county's contracting and purchasing systems are ethical. The new purchasing rules followed allegations of too much interference in the county's purchasing and contracting process, the appointment of Daniel Garza as the new director of purchasing and the adoption of a new ethics policy in the past year. 

The new rules require that the Purchasing Department oversee all purchases and contracts using a system of transparency. The department will publish more information online and make contact with a more diverse number of businesses to seek proposals. 

Research Analysts Emeneger, Haney join SPI team
Veteran researchers Joshua Emeneger and Andrew Haney have joined Strategic Partnerships, Inc. as research analysts, expanding the company's capabilities for providing customized research products and information-gathering services. Emeneger and Haney will help find, analyze and synthesize information for SPI's customized research service clients. 

"The addition of Joshua and Andrew, two experienced research analysts with proven capabilities and successes, simply adds to SPI's growing reputation as having one of the nation's premier research teams in our industry," said SPI President and CEO Mary Scott Nabers. "Their experience spans local, state and federal government and they are experienced in research for both the public and private sectors." 

Joshua Emeneger
Emeneger was previously affiliated with a consulting firm that provides research, evaluation and analysis to public-sector agencies at all levels of state, federal and local government. He also worked for a major government relations and advocacy firm that worked closely with state public policymakers. He was responsible for research related to a variety of political functions, provided legislative bill analysis and summarized legislative committee hearings. 

Andrew Haney
Haney, a former analyst for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Charleston, W. Va., was involved in research on various studies, analyses and projects that can also be applied to state and local government research. He led a team of policy development employees responsible for researching statistical and economic data for the agency to present to members of the U.S. Senate. Haney is also experienced in E-commerce sales and marketing and will be a part of SPI's business development team.
Dozens of public-sector jobs are available. New jobs added this week:  
Click here to view more. Send postings to editor@spartnerships.com.
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:  
  • Ben Gatzke, Fort Worth, Department of Information Resources Governing Board;

  • Jason Boatright, Dallas, Department of Information Resources Governing Board;

  • Linda Shaunessy, Austin, Department of Information Resources Governing Board.
Click here to view more. Send postings to editor@spartnerships.com.

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Feds grant $65M for technologically advanced transportation

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Texas Government Insider is a free weekly newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.   
Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers
Editor: Priscilla Loebenberg 
TGI is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1995 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.   
To learn more about SPI services, click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900. 
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