SENATE COMMITTEE ON NOMINATIONS
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
11:00 a.m. or upon adjournment
Pursuant to a notice posted in accordance with Senate Rule 11.18, a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Nominations was held on Wednesday, February 21, 2007, in the Senate Chamber at Austin, Texas.
Senator Kevin Eltife
Senator Glenn Hegar
Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Robert Nichols
Senator Eliot Shapleigh
Senator Kirk Watson
Senator Mike Jackson
Senator Kevin Eltife, the acting chair, called the meeting to order at 1:24 p.m. There being a quorum present, the following business was transacted:
The following member arrived after the roll was called: Senator Nichols.
Senator Shapleigh moved adoption of the minutes from the previous hearing held on February 14, 2007; without objection, it was so ordered.
Chairman Eltife welcomed the members and announced that 49 nominees were on the agenda for the meeting.
Chairman Eltife called Ned Holmes and Fred Underwood, appointees to the Texas Transportation Commission, to the table. Senator Ellis introduced Ned Holmes to the committee. Senator Duncan introduced Fred Underwood to the committee. Holmes and Underwood had no opening comments for the committee. The chair opened up the meeting for questions from the Senators.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh for questioning. Senator Shapleigh thanked the commissioners for their public service and then asked about CDAs and the way in which they work. Holmes briefly explained that he is not against privatization, but that he is cautious about it. He believes that it is very important to put as many decisions as close to the people as they can be.
Senator Shapleigh questioned Holmes about who will control the rates for tolls and what role he sees for officials in that process. Holmes responded that somewhere around 34 elected officials make those decisions. Shapleigh asked if the legislative body should be somewhere in that process to regulate toll increases. Holmes said that it is most important to push those decisions closer to the people that are effected by them rather than the legislative body. Senator Shapleigh questioned Holmes about concession agreements and franchises in TXDOT and what should be included in that. In response, Holmes briefly explained certain areas which should not be included in a concession agreement.
Senator Shapleigh asked the commissioners about the role of TXDOT with respect to rail. Holmes responded that the majority of that authority has been transferred from the railroad commission over to TXDOT. Shapleigh asked if TXDOT will play a role in rail relocation and the conversion from commercial to commuter rail. Holmes said that he views progress with railroads as difficult and extremely expensive.
Senator Shapleigh asked about the role of TXDOT with regards to international borders. Holmes explained his experiences with customs and clearance points in Mexico. Shapleigh asked that the commissioners commit to and take a strong leadership role in international borders instead of leaving decisions up to customs. Holmes made a commitment to the issue, but also commented that TXDOT would need help from Washington on the matter.
Senator Shapleigh questioned Holmes on his commitment to the concept of military routes. Holmes said that appropriate transit routes for troup movement is a big priority.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Hegar. Senator Hegar expressed to the commissioners the importance of having a consumer-friendly, customer-oriented approach in their positions. Hegar also explained the vitality of community involvement when making decisions. Hegar asked if concessions up front mean that consumers are going to have to pay more in the future. Underwood replied that he has not had the time to study the numbers and figure that issue out. Underwood explained that TXDOT is not stuck on one way of doing things and that the commission is open to new ideas and ways to solve problems. Underwood and Hegar discussed the issue of confidentiality within the business.
Holmes addressed several of Senator Hegar's questions. He explained that community involvement is important, but it must be addressed correctly and in the right context. Holmes said that a concession agreement probably does mean the tolls will be higher, but that this might actually be a good thing.
Senator Hegar asked about the allocation of money to rural areas and how to divide money locally outside of the metropolitan area. He explained the vitality of access in rural areas.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Watson. Senator Watson talked about the recent controversy with regards to transportation and tolls. He asked the commissioners about the controversy and how they plan to get rid of it. Holmes explained that whenever a major public entity attempts new methods, it attracts controversy. Holmes said that communication and involvement of the people who are affected is critical to solving controversial issues.
Senator Watson asked about the placement of on and off ramps on toll ways and the local community's involvement in those decisions. Holmes explained that transportation decisions should be made based on the best engineering information available. If a local community comes forward with a project that they are willing to help fund, this project will move up the list. People who are willing to help pay for a project should be listened to. Holmes explained that one model does not fit every community.
Senator Watson asked if the commissioners have seen tolling in some other state that has worked well. Holmes replied that TXDOT has reviewed some other states but that he has not seen that information.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Nichols. Senator Nichols thanked the commissioners for their time and expressed that they are very qualified business men. Nichols explained that the legislature and TXDOT should work together and rely on each other. Senator Nichols encouraged the commissioners to visit mayors, county commissioners, etc. to understand how they feel about the issues and to include them in decisions.
Nichols said that he has concerns about concession agreements and asked the commissioners to comment about that. Holmes said that he wants to be very careful about all of the elements that go along with the concession agreements. He explained that there is a learning curve that goes along with new business techniques. In ten years, he explained, the CDA agreement will look very different than it does now because the commission will have learned and changed some elements.
Senator Nichols told the commissioners that they will be facing dangers in the future and that they both will need to protect the state.
Senator Watson invited Holmes and Underwood to attend one of the CAMPO meetings.
Chairman Eltife expressed his concern with regards to TXDOT. He said that the commission has become a monster and that it has been severely under-funded. Eltife explained that TXDOT is going in the wrong direction and the legislature is to blame for this. He asked that the commissioners take a fresh look at the situation.
Underwood explained that a huge population is moving to Texas and that new roads have not been built in 10 or 15 years. Eltife wanted to know that Underwood is an independent thinker.
Holmes explained that unless the commission gets help from the legislature, they will be working with a very impaired system. Eltife agreed that TXDOT has not been given adequate funds from the legislature. Holmes said that he is very concerned about the funding sources. Eltife replied that TXDOT and the legislature need to work together to serve the people. He is hoping that Underwood and Holmes will bring a fresh approach to the problems.
Eltife explained that customers should not be put at the end of the agenda at TXDOT meetings.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh. Senator Shapleigh expressed his concerns about the match and the ability of rural counties and border counties to receive adequate funding for transportation. Shapleigh asked the commissioners how they propose to help these counties who do not receive as much money as larger, metropolitan areas. Underwood explained that the current structure allocates 2/3 funding to major cities and 1/3 funding to other cities.
Senator Shapleigh asked about CDAs and the way that they work. He asked if the commissioners were willing to slow down a bit until they get adequate information on the return on investment with regard to these agreements. Senator Shapleigh asked what an appropriate period of time is for franchising for CDA. Holmes responded that the period of time is within the 50 year range. Holmes said he would have to be convinced to go over that 50 years.
Senator Shapleigh asked how the commissioners would propose the disclosure of numbers when writing legislation. Holmes and Underwood said they had not seen the numbers yet.
Senator Hegar moved that the committee vote to approve the nominations of Ned Holmes and Fred Underwood. At 2:42 p.m., by a vote of 6 ayes, 0 nays, and 1 absent, the committee voted to recommend Ned Holmes and Fred Underwood to the full Senate for confirmation.
Chairman Eltife called Rene Ordonez and The Honorable E. Ray West, appointees to the Juvenile Probation Commission, to the table. The chair explained that Lea Wright was unable to come and would be filed as non-appearing.
Chairman Eltife read an introduction for Judge Ray West written by Senator Fraser. Senator Shapleigh introduced Rene Ordonez to the committee. The Senators did not have any questions for Ordonez or West.
The confirmation of E. Ray West and Rene Ordonez was left pending until a quorum was present.
Chairman Eltife called Allan Cain and Charlie Hall, appointees to the Law Enforcement Commission on Officer Standards and Education, to the table. Chairman Eltife introduced Allan Cain to the committee.
Chairman Eltife recognized Senator Shapleigh. The Senator asked Cain about his feelings on profiling a person based on the color of skin. Cain responded that he does not approve of the questioning of people on the basis of color. Senator Shapleigh detailed his concerns about racial profiling and immigration. Cain explained that there should be a proactive rule on profiling immigrants, but that it should not be strictly on the basis of color.
Charlie Hall explained that the immigration officers need to decide whether they are working under state law or federal law. Senator Shapleigh again explained his concerns about stopping, interrogating, and harassing based on the color of skin. Hall agreed that type of profiling should not be happening.
Senator Seliger introduced Charlie Hall to the committee.
Senator Shapleigh moved that the nominations of Rene Ordonez, E. Ray West, and Lea Wright be confirmed by the committee. At 2:58 p.m., by a vote of 5 ayes, 0 nays, and 2 absent, the committee voted to recommend Rene Ordonez, E. Ray West, and Lea Wright to the full Senate for confirmation.
Senator Watson moved that the nominations of Allan Cain and Charles Hall be confirmed by the committee. At 2:58 p.m., by a vote of 5 ayes, 0 nays, and 2 absent, the committee voted to recommend Allan Cain and Charles Hall to the full Senate for confirmation.
Senator Watson moved that the committee vote on the non-appearing nominees to the following entities: Governing Board of the Texas School for the Deaf, State Board of Dental Examiners, Texas Economic Development Corporation, State Board for Educator Certification, Texas Board of Professional Engineers, Texas Commission on Fire Protection, Judge of the 434th Judicial District Court, Fort Bend County, State Committee of Examiners in the Fitting and Dispensing of Hearing Instruments, On-Site Wastewater Treatment Research Council, and School Land Board. At 2:59 p.m., by a vote of 5 ayes, 0 nays, and 2 absent, the nominees were sent to the full Senate for confirmation.
There being no further business, at 3:01 p.m. Senator Hegar moved that the Committee stand recessed subject to the call of the chair. Without objection, it was so ordered.
Senator Mike Jackson, Chair
Katherine Chapman, Clerk