Texas Government Insider
News And People

Volume 15, Issue 1 - Friday, January 6, 2017
Lawmakers say discouraging dialogue between contractors, agency officials was never objective of SB 20
 Thousands of bills go through each session of the Texas Legislature. Some are subject to interpretation. Unfortunately, some are also subject to misinterpretation.

Part of Senate Bill 20 from the 84th Texas Legislature falls on the side of misinterpretation. The objective of the legislation, as outlined in the statement of intent in the bill analysis accompanying the bill, was a noble one - "reform state agency contracting by clarifying accountability, increasing transparency and ensuring a fair competitive process."

Jane Nelson
Four Price
This bill from the 84th session sought to emphasize the need for agencies' focus on their contracting processes following an isolated contracting incident within a state agency by seeking more transparency in the contracting process and proposing other steps that would result in impartial competitive contracting practices at all state agencies.

School districts pan new rating system
Mike Morath
Some Texas school districts received surprisingly low grades under a preview of the state's new accountability system. The new A-F rating systems was passed by the state legislature in 2015. Up to 75 percent of schools would get a C or worse grade under the new rating system. More than 150 school districts passed resolutions opposing the new rating system.

"It is important to note that the Met Standard/Improvement Required ratings issued in August 2016 and updated in November 2016 are the official academic accountability ratings for the 2015-16 school year. A similar process will be used for the 2016-17 school year." said Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath in a statement.

"The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A-F ratings become effective in August 2018. No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings."

Click here for further details on the rating system. 

Texas Bathroom Bill announced by Patrick and Kilkhorst
Dan Patrick
Lois Kolkhorst
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst on Thursday unveiled Senate Bill 6, the Women's Privacy and Business Protection Act. The bill, also referred to as the bathroom bill, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on biological sex. 

Months ago, the, Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state's largest business organization alerted lawmakers that it would oppose such a bill.  The statewide group warned lawmakers of severe losses to the state's economy if the proposed legislation became law. TAB presented a report that estimated the state could lose between $964 million and $8.5 billion and up to 185,000 jobs if such legislation is passed. Other Texas groups, including some new ones that have formed simply to oppose such a law, are also opposing the bill.  Many point to what resulted in North Carolina after such legislation passed.

North Carolina has lost hundreds of millions in revenue after passing a similar law. The state lost approximately $91 million rather quickly when the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference announced they would move 15 college championship events from the state.  Shortly after that, the NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans.  Other sports organizations - the Southern Conference and Division ll's Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association have announced that both are likely to move upcoming events.  In a Special Session of the legislature a move was made to rescind the law, but the group adjourned with no action on the law.
Comptroller to live stream Biennial Revenue Estimate 
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar will issue the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) to the 85th Legislature on Jan. 9. The BRE shows the state's financial condition and estimates the revenue for the Legislature to spend in the Fiscal 2018 and 2019. 

Hegar will host a press conference on the BRE at 10 a.m. in the Texas State Capital Extension Auditorium, Room E1.004, 110 Congress Ave. 

Live video streaming of the comptroller's prepared remarks will be accessible on the agency's Facebook page, and on the Texas House of Representatives' website at 9:50 a.m. You can also follow on Twitter using the hashtag #BRE2017. 
Mental health committee releases report, urges action
The Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health released a report on Thursday that urged lawmakers to address critical issues and warned that failure to do so would result in extremely high societal, medical and criminal justice costs.

"In short, the problems will not simply go away on their own. In fact, they will only increase as Texas continues to grow and so will the costs - loss in human potential; detrimental social impact on families, communities and businesses; and financially. Because mental health affects so many segments of our daily lives (i.e. education, medical care, health insurance, criminal justice, homelessness, etc.), it is absolutely one of the most critical areas of concern facing Texas today," concluded the report.

The report outlines challenges and opportunities for the state in tackling issues troubling the system such as patient access to mental and behavioral health services; increasing the number of beds available in state hospitals; early intervention for schoolchildren with behavioral health issues; investing in jail diversion programs; and beefing up the state's mental health workforce.

"The opportunity to improve our mental health system this year is real and it's important," said House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement. "A smarter approach to mental health will improve treatment and care while saving taxpayers money."
December sales tax revenue totals $2.4B
State sales tax revenue totaled $2.44 billion in December, 4.9 percent more than in December 2015. 

In December 2016, Texas collected $228.5 million in revenue from taxes on oil and natural gas production, $289.5 million in motor fuel and $357 million in taxes on motor vehicle sales and rentalsSales tax revenue accounts for 58 percent of tax collections for the state. For details on all monthly collections, visit the  Comptroller's Monthly State Revenue Watch.
Dallas may delay $800M bond election 
Dallas City Council members reviewed a draft proposal for an $800 million bond election planned in May, but the issue is likely to get delayed. Council members took an unofficial vote after failing to come to an agreement on how much should be allocated to streets and other projects.

The bond package reviewed by council members set aside $143 million for streets, almost $133 million for parks and recreation and more than $95 million for flood control in addition to $288 million to be divided evenly among the 14 districts to spend on capital improvement projects.
Texas A&M AgriLife receives $10M to study vector-borne diseases
Texas A&M AgriLife won a $10 million federal grant to study vector-borne diseases. The Center for Disease Control grant will help establish the Western Gulf Coast Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases, a virtual center to bring together experts from several universities, public health agencies and other research organizations to collaborate.

The goal of the research is to create new vector and disease control methods, facilitate collaboration among experts, translate research results for public benefit and train more public health personnel with knowledge in entomology.
Texas Public Information Act loophole challenged
Kirk Watson
Giovanni Capriglione
Some legislators are looking to replace a decision made by the Texas Supreme Court in 2015 that allows private companies doing business with the state 
government to shield documents related to business.

State Rep. and state Sen. Kirk Watson, introduced two pieces of identical legislation on Tuesday that represented four individual bills, in an attempt to close a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act.

The loophole was opened when the Texas Supreme Court allowed the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, to keep secret elements of its lease agreement with Kelly Air Force Base, which is now owned by the publicly-run San Antonio Port Authority. Boeing was concerned that releasing information to the public would provide sensitive information to its competitors.

Following the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued legal opinions saying other companies doing business with local government could also withhold details of their financial agreements.
DART seeks comments on underground rail service
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officials are holding two public meetings on Jan. 19 to gather comments on a proposal to build a new subway line to augment the largest light-rail system operating in the southwest portion of the country.

DART currently operates four light rail lines at the surface level along downtown streets and officials now are considering expanding rail service to the underground. Other improvements proposed by the public-transportation service also will be discussed at the public hearings at DART headquarters in Dallas.
Odessa moving forward with $90M in capital projects
Odessa city officials plan to begin construction in March on a $77 million downtown redevelopment project and a $13.5 million project to widen and straighten University Boulevard.

The downtown redevelopment project is a public-private partnership (P3/PPP) to upgrade the conference center with the city planning to spend $30.8 million to upgrade a 78,000-square-foot convention center, add an open air plaza and a parking garage, in addition to remodeling the Ector Theatre. Private investors are spending $47 million to build a 150,000-square-foot, 200-room Marriott hotel adjacent to the convention center located at Texas Avenue and East Fifth Street. The project should take about two years to complete.

Work on the $13.5 million project to widen and realign University Boulevard is expected to begin in late spring. The plan calls for widening the boulevard into five lanes, straightening a curve near the YMCA and adding a traffic light and turn lanes.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
John W. Crain, Vice Chair Texas Historical Commission 

John W. Crain
Career highlights and education: My educational background includes a degree from The University of Texas at Austin and a master's degree from Texas State University. I also have a certificate in arts management from Harvard University and a certificate in museum administration from the University of California at Berkeley. In recent years, I completed study at the Endowment Institute at Yale University. Over the years, I have taken advantage of programs from the Wharton School and other organizations. As an undergraduate student at the University of Texas in the 1960s, I had the opportunity to work at the Humanities Research Center as a manuscript clerk. This experience, combined with my history major and a brief stint as curator of the Chisholm Trail Centennial Museum, steered me to a career in museum administration. I served as director of the Star of the Republic Museum and Dallas Historical Society before joining the Summerlee Foundation in 1990. The mission of the foundation is to support programs in animal protection and Texas history. In 2004, I was elected president of the foundation and continue to serve in this capacity. In my career, I have had the pleasure of serving as president of the Texas State Historical Association, the Texas Map Society and Friends of the Governor's Mansion. I presently serve as a life member of the Texas State Historical Association, the executive committee of the Friends of the Governor's Mansion, an advisory director of the Texas State History Museum, an ex-officio member of the Sixth Floor Museum and a member of the SMU Clements Center board of directors. Several years ago, I was honored with membership in the Philosophical Society of Texas. In 2007, I was appointed by Gov. Perry to the Texas Historical Commission as a commissioner. In 2013, Gov. Perry reappointed me for a second term on the commission. 

What I like best about my job: My job permits me to provide advice and counsel to non-profit organizations in governance, investments and development. Our board of directors has enacted policies to encourage foundation employees to be active participants in non-profit organizations and governmental entities. Without this strong support, I would be unable to devote adequate time and energy to the Texas Historical Commission. 

The best advice I have received about my current job: My parents taught me the value of work. Besides work, my mentors emphasized integrity first, then attention to detail, the value of listening and the need to focus attention on major rather than minor concerns. In my view, life is a continuing education class, meeting every day and providing exceptional learning experiences. 

Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Do not be afraid of risk. As a grant maker, the Summerlee Foundation receives scores of proposals for funding and it would require little or no effort to settle for the norm. New ideas with innovative approaches deserve study and evaluation. When justified, the foundation should assume the risk to explore new proposals that may provide for greater efficiency and productivity. 

If I ever left early, I could be found: At any bookstore, anywhere. I am an avid reader of biographies, mysteries and histories. Unfortunately, this addiction leads to far too many books in my home library. But books, in many ways, are good friends and I hate the idea of disposing of them. My wife, however, has a different point of view. 

People would be surprised to know that I: Worked part-time for a roofing company in Austin and learned the ropes of residential and commercial roofing. I also spent considerable time shoveling gravel and heating asphalt. This experience taught me the value of teamwork, trust and humor. 

One thing I wish people knew about my agency: I wish that people understood that our staff is comprised of professional historians, architects, archaeologists and planners. The next time you visit one of our many beautifully restored courthouses, historic sites or historical markers, keep in mind that these objects tell the wonderful stories of our great state. When time permits, visit thc@thc.texas.gov for more information about this great agency.
New Braunfels ISD eyeing four options for bond election
Trustees for New Braunfels Independent School District are studying four options for a bond election to pay for facilities to meet rising enrollment. The options range from $15 million to fund maintenance projects and new buses to $333 million to build two new high schools, two new elementary schools and to pay for buses, maintenance projects and land purchases.

Other options being reviewed by board members are a $124 million option to build a new high school, renovate an existing middle school into a 9th grade center and pay for design work for a new elementary school and maintenance projects and a $262 million option that would pay for two new high schools, design work for new elementary schools, maintenance projects and new buses.

Board members are expected to vote on which of the bond options to pursue before their meeting on Feb. 9.
Wichita Falls approves funding for airport upgrades
Wichita Falls city councilors approved $467,000 to match a $4.2 million Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) grant to pay for improvements at the Kickapoo Downtown Airport. 

Upgrades to the airport include expanding the existing parking apron for aircraft, improving drainage and rebuilding all concrete pavement in front of a row of hangars. The two-phase project will include the parking apron and drainage upgrades in the first phase. 

TxDOT will manage the project and will begin seeking bids for the first phase of the upgrades this spring. The project should take about 18 months to fully complete.
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.

When the digital device world exploded and it became the norm for individuals of every age to have at least a couple of personal devices, most public schools required students to check them at the door. The devices were seen as classroom distractions. Not anymore!

Today, according to a 2016 survey from the Consortium for School Networking organization, only 11 percent of K-12 school districts nationwide ban the use of personal devices by students. In fact, most now encourage their use.

A lot of things have changed in public schools over the past several years, but no change is more significant than shifts related to technology. Today, the problem is that schools throughout the U.S. are long on needs and short on funding.

Sunset Commission will meet Jan. 11 
The Sunset Commission will hold a meeting at 12 p.m. on Jan. 11 to report decisions on the following Texas agencies: Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors,  Health Licensing Consolidation Project, Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Texas Medical Board, Texas Optometry Board, Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners and Texas Department of Transportation. 

An agenda of the meeting is available online.

Eagle Pass names Rodriguez as city manager
Arturo Rodriguez
Eagle Pass City Council members named Arturo Rodriguez as the new city manager to replace Hector Chavez, the former city manager who left that post almost a year ago after charges were filed against him in federal court.

Rodriguez, who was chosen from a field of three finalists, previously served as an assistant city manager and interim city manager in San Benito.

Roberto Gonzales served as interim city manager during the search for a new city manager.
Rose retires as Texline city manager
City Manager Jon Rose of Texline has retired as city manager after three and a half years in that post. His retirement was effective on Dec. 30.  

Marcia French, the city secretary, will serve as interim city manager until a new city manager is selected.

Waco accepting bids for $23M in water projects
Waco city officials are seeking contractors for a $10.2 million project to replace a ground storage reservoir and a $12.9 million project to replace water and wastewater lines along China Spring Road. 

City council members previously approved $90 million in certificates of obligation to pay for $131 million in water projects and $139 million in wastewater projects as part of a 10-year capital improvement plan. The council also approved an increase in water and sewer rates to fund the upgrades.
Austin task force considers HOT fund projects
A Visitor Impact Task Force in Austin is studying how to best use increased revenue from the hotel occupancy tax. City council members created the task force to review current use of the hotel occupancy tax and the impact of tourism on the city. Task force members are charged with reviewing the allowable use of the tax, looking at the best practices of other state and national tourism programs, identify the events, venues and facilities that are most visited by tourists and looking at expanding the convention center as well as design options and ways to pay for the expansion.

Task force members are scheduled to make recommendations to city council members by April 1.

Public events center may come to Erath County
Leaders from Erath County set a public meeting for Jan. 10 to discuss the feasibility of building a public events center to serve that area. Expected to attend the meeting on the campus of Tarleton State University are representatives from the city of Stephenville, Erath County, the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, the Stephenville Economic Development Authority, the Stephenville Economic Development Foundation and Tarleton State University.

Among the topics to be discussed at the public meeting are the current state of available facilities for public events, growth opportunities and both short-term and long-term facility needs.
Emergency repairs planned for Arlington bridge
Texas Department of Transportation officials are planning to begin repairs to the Bardin Road bridge over SH360 in Arlington this month once an emergency contract for the $500,000 project is awarded. The bridge was closed in November after a fire from a trailer load of propane tanks caused severe damage to beams and the deck of the highway.

Pecos plans $8.3M sports complex
Pecos City Council members plan to seek bids within two months from contractors to build a sports complex expected to cost as much as $8.3 million. 

Current plans are for a three-story sports complex. The project will feature four baseball and softball fields, a clubhouse with concession stands, lockers and a bar and grill on the third floor. City officials plan for the sports complex to be completed within a year after the contract is awarded.
Arlington plans $37.7M bond vote
Arlington City Council members agreed to vote in February on whether to schedule a $37.7 million bond election in May to fund construction of a new senior center. City officials are studying two options for the new facility. 

One option is a 65,000-square foot active adult center that would serve residents throughout the city with such features as a gymnasium, aquatic center, indoor track, kitchen, theater and indoor and outdoor lounge areas. Another option under study is to build a larger multi-generational center to provide services for all ages, but with a wing with separate features to be used exclusively by older residents.

Bastrop County approves new transportation plan
Bastrop County commissioners approved a new master transportation plan listing 29 priority projects to improve roadways and infrastructure in the county. The plan includes $90 million for infrastructure improvements. 

Three new bridges spanning the Colorado River are planned as well as realigning a 10-mile stretch of Upper Elgin River Road connecting Webberville to Elgin. A new hike-and-bike trail in Paige and a new road to connect two subdivisions, Pine Canyon and Reata, also are included in the new transportation plan.
Mineral Wells considering $25M bond proposal
Mineral Wells city officials are considering scheduling a $25 million bond election later this year to pay for upgrades to streets, roads and other capital improvement projects. 

Council members may consider a bond proposal featuring two tiers. One suggestion put forth was that the first tier include $16 million in identified projects and the second tier include $9 million or more in proposed projects.
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:
  • Rolando Pablos, Secretary of State.

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Construction spending highest in decade

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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 
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