SENATE COMMITTEE ON NOMINATIONS
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
1:00 p.m. or thirty minutes 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 8, 2009, in the Senate Chamber.
Senator Mike Jackson
Senator Kevin Eltife
Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Glenn Hegar
Senator Robert Nichols
Senator Eliot Shapleigh
Senator Kirk Watson
The chair called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. The following business was transacted:
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Deuell to introduce Thomas Latham, nominated to the Texas Racing Commission. Senator Deuell briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Latham, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson invited Robert Scott, nominated as the Commissioner of Education, to address the committee.
Scott gave a synopsis of his career and described his plans for improving the education system in Texas. Scott emphasized that the state has made gains on education but there remains plenty of work to do.
Chairman Jackson asked Scott to comment on Senate Bill 3, which would deemphasize the importance of the TAKS test in measuring student and school performance.
Scott responded that there are improvements that need to be made to the TAKS system. Scott continued to say that the tests are important in ensuring that schools are held accountable for student performance.
Chairman Jackson inquired about the status of the funding difficulties currently facing some of the schools in his district.
Scott responded that the federal stimulus dollars will help districts stay afloat during the next biennium.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for questions.
Senator Nelson commended Scott for his service and responsiveness to the Legislature. Senator Nelson asked Scott how the state can attract and retain good educators.
Scott emphasized the importance of quality teachers. Scott mentioned changes to the current incentive plans that could help retain the state's best teachers and encourage them to teach at disadvantaged schools. Scott continued to say that there needs to be an emphasis on recruiting the next generation of teachers.
Senator Nelson asked Scott to name the greatest challenge in Texas classrooms.
Scott named the high dropout rate among disadvantaged youth as the most important problem facing the Texas education system. Scott also mentioned lowered expectations of student performance as an issue of concern.
Senator Nelson asked if there are better ways to incorporate skills-education into the current curriculum.
Scott detailed the different options the agency is examining to include more skills-education in the current curriculum.
Senator Nelson inquired about the best way to address the state's dropout problem.
Scott discussed the various reasons why students dropout of school. Scott mentioned online learning as one of the best ways to allow students with difficult schedules to remain engaged and in school.
Senator Nelson asked Scott to comment on physical education and other non-academic endeavors for students.
Scott emphasized the need for a well-rounded education for all students. Scott also spoke on the importance of health in ensuring good student performance in all aspects of education.
Chairman Jackson called to the table Jim Lyde representing himself, and Lonnie Hollingsworth representing the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. Both individuals submitted forms to testify regarding the nomination of Scott.
The chair recognized Lyde to address the committee. Lyde detailed his experience working in the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and stated his intention to testify on Scott's nomination.
Lyde spoke about his concerns with the management structure of the TEA. Lyde also mentioned the structural and investigative problems that he has observed at the agency.
Chairman Jackson requested that Lyde submit his written testimony to the committee office.
Lyde responded that he would do so.
The chair recognized Hollingsworth to address the committee. Hollingsworth briefly detailed his career and stated his intention to testify for the nomination of Scott.
Hollingsworth stated that he believes the laws concerning the TEA's investigative authority are confusing. Hollingsworth opined that the Legislature should clarify that issue.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a question. Senator Nelson asked Hollingsworth to further clarify the legal confusion surrounding investigative authority given to the TEA.
The nomination of Robert Scott as the Commissioner of Education was left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Jackson called to the table General Jose Mayorga, nominated as the Adjutant General of Texas.
General Mayorga briefly detailed his career and expressed his appreciation for the appointment.
Mayorga outlined his vision for the future of the Texas military.
Chairman Jackson asked Mayorga to speak on the various responsibilities of the Adjutant General.
Mayorga responded that he is responsible to both the Governor of Texas and the President. Mayorga continued to detail the wide variety of functions and responsibilities of the Texas military.
Chairman Jackson asked Mayorga to detail the number of soldiers currently enlisted in the Texas military.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a question. Senator Nelson asked Mayorga to explain the biggest challenge facing the military leadership in Texas.
Mayorga responded that balancing resources and soldiers to fulfill the dual obligations of the Texas military to the state and the nation is the most challenging part of the job.
The nomination of General Mayorga as the Adjutant General of Texas was left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Jackson called to the table J. Winston Krause, David Schenck, and Mary Ann Williamson, nominated to the Texas Lottery Commission.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson to introduce Schenck on behalf of Senator Carona. Senator Nelson briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Schenck and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson introduced Krause on behalf of Senator Watson. Chairman Jackson briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Krause and recommended him to the committee.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson to introduce Mary Ann Williamson. Senator Nelson briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Williamson and highly recommended her to the committee.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to comment on the decline in lottery sales over the past year.
Williamson responded that the decline can be attributed to the downturn in the economy and the affects of Hurricane Ike.
Schenck responded that there has been a nationwide downturn in lottery sales. The nominees expressed confidence that the sales numbers will get better as the year progresses.
Chairman Jackson commented on some of the past issues concerning lottery prizes.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to detail the current status of bingo gaming in the state.
Schenck commented on the complexity of statutory law related to bingo gaming and stressed the need for improvement in those laws. Schenck continued to say that bingo is threatened by extra-legal forms of gaming. Schenck mentioned the example of eight-liner machines.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for questions.
Senator Nelson stated her opposition to expanding gaming in the state. Senator Nelson asked the nominees to speak on the differentiation between legal forms of gaming and extra-legal forms of gaming that attempt to pass as legal.
Schenck emphasized the need to clarify the current legal grey area and establish a clear enforcement mechanism to crack down on illegal gaming. Schenck continued to say that as of now it is up to local district attorneys to pursue illegal gaming activities.
Senator Nelson requested that the nominees continue to monitor the evolving industry of illegal gaming in the state.
The nominees to the Texas Lottery Commission were left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Jackson called to the table The Honorable Thomas Latham and Rolando Pablos, nominated to the Texas Racing Commission. Ronald Ederer, Gloria Hicks, Robert Schmidt and Vicki Weinberg were unable to appear due to scheduling conflicts. Their appearances were waived by the committee.
Chairman Jackson invited Pablos to address the committee. Pablos briefly detailed his career and experience on the commission.
Chairman Jackson confirmed that the Racing Commission asked the Governor's office for a $250,000 grant to help the commission remain functional.
Pablos listed un-cashed tickets as a primary reason for the shortfall of funds coming in to the commission. Pablos described the steps that are being taken to minimize un-cashed tickets.
Chairman Jackson asked the commission to list their largest expense.
Pablos responded that the commission's biggest expense is licensing and supervising the sport.
Chairman Jackson asked Latham to speak briefly on his background.
Chairman Jackson emphasized the importance of the commission to effectively administer any changes in the law that would have an affect on the racing industry.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for questions.
Senator Nelson asked the nominees to comment on the current status of the racing industry in Texas.
Pablos responded that Texas appears to be losing customers to other states where race tracks have other forms of gaming available. Pablos continued to say that alternate forms of gaming at tracks allow for higher purses, which bring better horses and better races.
Senator Nelson asked how the race tracks in states with alternative gaming options are performing in the current economy.
Pablos responded that it is his belief that race tracks in those states have not seen any significant decline in their revenues.
Lacking a quorum, the nominees to the Texas Racing Commission were left pending.
There being no further business, at 9:02 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
Brian Carey, Clerk