SENATE COMMITTEE ON NOMINATIONS
Wednesday, April 25, 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, April 25, 2007, in the Senate Chamber at Austin, Texas.
Senator Mike Jackson
Senator Kevin Eltife
Senator Glenn Hegar
Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Robert Nichols
Senator Eliot Shapleigh
Senator Kirk Watson
The chair called the meeting to order at 4:19 p.m. There being a quorum present, the following business was transacted:
The following members arrived after the roll was called: Senator Nelson and Senator Nichols.
Senator Shapleigh moved adoption of the minutes from the previous hearing held on April 4, 2007; without objection, it was so ordered.
Chairman Jackson announced that 53 nominees and one pending nominee were on the agenda for the hearing.
The chair called Dr. Michael Arambula, Julie Attebury, Dr. Jose Benavides, Dr. Melinda McMichael, Dr. Margaret McNeese, Dr. Charles Oswalt, Paulette Southard, Timothy Webb, and Dr. Irvin Zeitler, nominees to the Texas Medical Board, to the table.
The chair announced that Dr. Lawrence Anderson, Patricia Blackwell, and Dr. Manuel Guajardo were unable to appear before the committee.
Senator Seliger introduced Julie Attebury to the committee. Senator Duncan introduced Dr. Irvin Zeitler to the committee. Senator Watson introduced Dr. Melinda McMichael to the committee. Chairman Jackson read an introduction for Dr. Michael Arambula written by Senator Wentworth. Senator Shapleigh introduced Paulette Southard to the committee. The following nominees made self introductions: Dr. Jose Benavides, Dr. Margaret McNeese, Dr. Charles Oswalt, and Timothy Webb.
The chair recognized Senator Eltife. Senator Eltife expressed his concern regarding the time that it takes to get physician applications approved. Southard responded that, due to the flood of new applicants, the board is having trouble keeping up with the applications. Therefore, the board is asking for 6 additional employees. Currently, the wait time for application approval ranges from 6 months to 1 year. The board members are hopeful that the addition of 6 new FTEs will reduce this time period to 30 days.
Chairman Jackson and the nominees discussed the number of applications which are processed each year. The board members explained that 4,000 applications are processed annually; this number has doubled in recent years. Dr. McNeese explained that 133 FTEs are currently employed.
In response to several questions from Senator Jackson, Dr. Oswalt explained that the number of annual applications has doubled due to legislation that was passed in the previous session. However, the board has not received any new FTEs since that session to help with the flood of applicants.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Hegar. Senator Hegar asked about the regulatory side of the board's responsibilities. Senator Hegar wanted to make sure that the board members have the necessary tools to regulate the industry and provide quality care throughout the process, not just at the front end. Dr. Arambula explained that the initial licensing of doctors is the primary concern of the board currently.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson questioned the nominees about online applications and the renewal of licenses. Board members explained that all renewals are currently electronic, and that all applications will eventually come in electronically as well. Attebury explained that the board would like for physicians to be able to check the status of applications online. Senator Nelson asked how the umbrella system is working with the physician assistant and acupuncture boards. Board members explained that the new system is working well.
Chairman Jackson questioned the nominees about the frequency and number of complaints each year. Dr. Benavides responded that approximately 2,000 complaints come in each year. Chairman Jackson and board members discussed the way in which these disputes are resolved. Dr. Benavides said that 12 physicians have lost their licenses within the last 18 months. Jackson explained that members of the legislature need to be able to tell their constituents that the state has a good quality Medical Board. In response, Dr. Arambula said that the board is proactive and that they look ahead to the future instead of working in a reactive mode.
Senator Nelson asked the nominees about health-related workforce needs. The board members responded that the biggest holes can be found in neurosurgery, radiology, psychiatry, and pediatrics. Dr. McNeese said that there is a need for physicians who are actively willing to practice.
Senator Shapleigh moved that the nominations of Dr. Lawrence Anderson, Dr. Michael Arambula, Julie Attebury, Dr. Jose Benavides, Patricia Blackwell, Dr. Manuel Guajardo, Dr. Melinda McMichael, Dr. Margaret McNeese, Dr. Charles Oswalt, Paulette Southard, Timothy Webb, and Dr. Irvin Zeitler to the Texas Medical Board be confirmed by the committee. At 5:02 p.m., by a vote of 6 ayes and 0 nays, the committee voted to recommend the nominees to the full Senate for confirmation.
Chairman Jackson called Commissioner Michael Scott Geeslin to the table. The chair read an introduction for Geeslin written by Senator Wentworth. Chairman Jackson recognized Commissioner Geeslin for opening comments.
Chairman Jackson asked Geeslin to evaluate homeowners insurance rates in the state of Texas. Geeslin said that rates have come down. He explained his thoughts regarding rate regulation over the next few years.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh. Senator Shapleigh questioned Geeslin about the best policy for building risk around Gulf Coast loses due to hurricanes. Geeslin explained that ultimately that decision is a policy call, but that those costs are currently allocated by region. Geeslin explained the Windstorm Insurance legislation that is currently pending. Senator Shapleigh and Commissioner Geeslin discussed the shift of risk nationally rather than just throughout the state of Texas.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson asked about the transition of Workers Comp. over to the Insurance Commission. Geeslin explained that the organizational transfer has been a challenge and that there is much work to be done. Geeslin explained his plans for the future in order to make that transition happen effectively.
Senator Eltife moved that the nomination of Michael Scott Geeslin as the Commissioner of Insurance be confirmed by the committee. At 5:21 p.m., by a vote of 6 ayes and 0 nays, the committee voted to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for confirmation.
Chairman Jackson called Albert Hawkins, nominee as the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission, to the table. The chair recognized Albert Hawkins for opening comments.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh. Senator Shapleigh explained several of his concerns regarding events that have occurred since Hawkins first appeared before the committee. Senator Shapleigh read from the OIG report and specifically the seven critical events which led to the suspension of the IEES project. Senator Shapleigh and Hawkins discussed the reasons for and the problems associated with the transition to TIERS.
Senator Shapleigh and Hawkins discussed the failed contract with Accenture. The contract had an estimated value of $899 million over 5 years and it is currently in the process of being terminated. Hawkins distributed a handout to the members to explain the allocation of the money in the contract. Hawkins and Senator Shapleigh discussed what the commission hopes to recover after the termination of the contract.
In response to a question from Senator Shapleigh, Hawkins explained that the IEES pilot had also been cancelled. Hawkins took responsibility for the failure of both contracts. Senator Shapleigh read a story from the clips about a young boy who died due to health insurance problems. Hawkins expressed his regret and said that he would also take overall responsibility for the issue.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson expressed her concern regarding the lack of communication between Albert Hawkins and the legislature. Hawkins explained his plans to inform the legislature sooner of problems and issues as they occur. Hawkins also expressed his desire to submit reports in a timely fashion.
Senator Nelson expressed her concern that the legislature is working in a reactive mode rather than working proactively. Senator Nelson inquired about how the legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission can stay focused on their missions instead of putting out fires. In response, Hawkins said that the key area to focus on in that respect is Medicaid reform.
Chairman Jackson recognized Representative Chisum, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Representative Chisum expressed his support for Albert Hawkins.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Eltife. Senator Eltife made a statement explaining why he would vote against the confirmation of Albert Hawkins.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Hegar. Hegar and Hawkins discussed the large number of employees and bosses at the Health and Human Services Commission. Senator Hegar expressed his confidence in Hawkins and the reasons that he would support his confirmation.
The chair recognized Senator Watson. Senator Watson said that he would support the confirmation of Albert Hawkins. Senator Watson said that the legislature needs to believe that Hawkins is committed to his job. It is also important, Watson explained, that Hawkins is candid and open with the legislative body about what is going on at his commission.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Nichols. Senator Nichols said that he was in full support of the confirmation of Albert Hawkins.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Shapleigh. Senator Shapleigh read a letter written to Hawkins in May of 2006. Senator Shapleigh explained that the agency's incompetence represented in the letter was the reason that he would vote against the confirmation of Hawkins.
Senator Nelson moved that the nomination of Albert Hawkins be confirmed by the committee. At 6:11 p.m., by a vote of 5 ayes and 2 nays, the committee voted to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for confirmation.
Chairman Jackson called Conrith Davis, nominee to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, to the table. The chair recognized Davis for opening comments.
The chair recognized Senator Hegar. Senator Hegar thanked Davis for his willingness to serve in such a difficult and important position.
Senator Hegar moved that the nomination of Conrith Davis to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles be confirmed by the committee. At 6:18 p.m., by a vote of 7 ayes and 0 nays, the committee voted to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for confirmation.
Senator Shapleigh moved that the committee vote on the non-appearing nominees to the following entities: Criminal District Attorney for Comal County, Department of Information Resources, Family and Protective Services Council, Grayson County Regional Mobility Authority, State Health Services Council, Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority, Texas Municipal Retirement System Board of Trustees, North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Polygraph Examiners Board, Presiding Officer of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board, Texas County and District Retirement System, Texas State University System Board of Regents, Texas Veterans' Commission, Texas Woman's University Board of Regents, Veterans' Land Board. At 6:19 p.m., by a vote of 7 ayes and 0 nays, the committee voted to recommend the nominees to the full Senate for confirmation.
There being no further business, at 6:20 p.m. Senator Jackson 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