SENATE COMMITTEE ON NOMINATIONS
Wednesday, May 13, 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, May 13, 2009, in the Senate Chamber.
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 3:53 p.m. There being a quorum present, the following business was transacted:
The following members arrived after the roll was called: Senator Hegar, Senator Nichols and Senator Eltife.
Senator Nelson moved adoption of the minutes from the previous hearings held on May 6, 2009, and May 7, 2009; without objection, it was so ordered.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Zaffirini to introduce Dr. Antonio Falcon, nominated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Senator Zaffirini detailed the career and accomplishments of Falcon, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Duncan to introduce Fred Underwood, nominated to the Texas Transportation Commission. Senator Duncan briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Underwood, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Van de Putte to introduce Karen Hixon, nominated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Senator Van de Putte briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Hixon, and highly recommended her to the committee.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Ellis to introduce S. Reed Morian, nominated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Senator Ellis briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Morian, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson called to the table Ralph Duggins, Dr. Antonio Falcon, Karen Hixon, Margaret Martin and S. Reed Morian, nominated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Nelson to introduce Ralph Duggins. Senator Nelson briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Duggins, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson described the destruction of some commercial oyster beds caused by silt deposits from Hurricane Ike. Chairman Jackson mentioned that massive amounts of oysters died due to the inability of the Parks and Wildlife Commission to issue an emergency order that would allow the oyster farmers to remove the excess silt. Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to change their rules to allow the executive director of the commission to have emergency powers to issue directives in extraordinary circumstances such as a hurricane.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to comment on the issue of raising the fees for fishing and hunting licenses.
Duggins responded that licenses have not been increased in five years and the increase is reasonable in light of the agency's funding needs.
Hixon answered that the original proposed increase was larger than what is currently being approved. Hixon also said that seventy two percent of Texas citizens polled are in favor of the raise.
Falcon responded to Chairman Jackson's previous question regarding oyster beds on the coast. Falcon mentioned that he is in favor of giving the executive director emergency powers during a crisis to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
Falcon commented that there have been only minimal complaints regarding the proposed increases in license fees.
Chairman Jackson invited Margaret Martin to address the committee.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees if they have seen a decline in the number of people who are buying hunting and fishing licenses.
Duggins responded that there has been a decline in hunting license sales, though fishing license sales have remained more or less consistent.
Chairman Jackson asked how much money the Legislature has appropriated for the Parks and Wildlife Agency from the sporting goods tax.
Senator Watson commented that about $40 million of the $116 million in the sporting goods tax dollars went to the Parks and Wildlife Agency. Senator Watson mentioned that this is an appropriations issue that allows for the money intended for Parks and Wildlife to be spent in other areas.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a comment. Senator Nelson voiced her frustration that those tax dollars are not being used for their intended purpose.
Chairman Jackson confirmed with the nominees that they meet five times during the year.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a question. Senator Nelson asked what the greatest cost-driver is that is causing the commission to raise license fees.
Falcon responded that remaining competitive with employees' salaries is an important consideration in the fee raise. Falcon also mentioned the agency's new task related to Homeland Security that has added to their costs.
Senator Nelson confirmed with Falcon that the Homeland Security consideration was included in the agency's appropriation request.
The chair recognized Senator Hegar for a comment.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees the best way to contact the commission. Chairman Jackson mentioned that his staff was rebuffed when they attempted to contact the commissioners regarding the oyster bed issue.
Falcon responded that the commissioners will do their best to ensure the best communication possible with members of the Legislature.
Senator Hegar commented on the Sunset Review process with the Parks and Wildlife Agency. Senator Hegar mentioned that there is an amendment to the legislation that will give the executive director the power to issue emergency orders.
Senator Nelson moved that the committee vote to approve the nominations of Ralph Duggins, Dr. Antonio Falcon, Karen Hixon, Margaret Martin and S. Reed Morian to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. At 4:44 p.m., by a vote of 5 ayes and 0 nays, the nominees were recommended to the full Senate for confirmation.
Chairman Jackson called to the table Ross Benline, Jerry Garcia, Don Illingworth, Steven Leipsner, and Glenda Mariott, nominated to the Texas Residential Construction Commission. Mickey Redwine was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, his appearance was waived by Senator Deuell.
Chairman Jackson invited the nominees to address the committee.
Chairman Jackson asked Mariott if the Texas Residential Construction Commission is functioning properly.
Mariott responded that she believes the agency is effective, though there are certain areas that need to be improved such as better cease-and-desist orders and more effective regulation.
Chairman Jackson asked what number of the complaints that come before the commission end up requiring outside means to settle them.
Mariott answered that ninety-one percent of complaints are found to be in favor of the consumer.
Chairman Jackson confirmed that the timeframe to resolve a claim with the commission is one hundred and twenty-eight days.
Chairman Jackson confirmed that there are eighty employees in the agency.
Chairman Jackson asked if there is fair representation of the home buyer on the board.
Mariott answered that the legislation currently being considered would add an architect and a public member to the board, and would formalize the ombudsman process.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh for questions.
Senator Shapleigh commented on the Sunset Commission's recommendation that the Residential Construction Commission be abolished.
Senator Shapleigh asked Leipsner to name the three things the agency needs to do to ensure that it serves its intended purpose.
Leipsner responded that the consumer needs to be assured that their problems are dealt with in a timely manner. Leipsner mentioned that communication needs to be improved to ensure that consumers are aware of the services offered by the TRCC.
Senator Shapleigh asked Leipsner to respond to the Sunset report that cases involving fundamental construction faults do not receive priority treatment, and some have been pending as long as twenty months.
Leipsner responded that if homebuilders are erecting faulty houses they will be put out of business in the state by the commission. Leipsner continued to say that the timeframe for resolution needs to be shortened drastically in the coming months.
Senator Shapleigh asked Leipsner to comment on the fact that of the twenty-eight thousand builders who have registered with the commission, half have yet to register a single home they have built.
Leipsner answered that they need to more effectively enforce these rules with builders, and keep them out of the state if they do not consistently register their homes.
Senator Shapleigh asked Leipsner to comment on the report that nearly ninety percent of complaints that go to the TRCC eventually go to the courts to seek resolution because of dissatisfaction with the agency result.
Leipsner responded that he is not aware of those specific statistics. Leipsner continued to say that their numbers show that forty percent of their cases have been resolved. Leipsner mentioned that even so the number is still poor, and the agency needs to be more effective at holding builders accountable.
Senator Shapleigh asked how many cease-and-desist orders the agency has issued since its inception in 2004.
Mariott answered that until 2007 the agency did not have the enforcement authority it needed to be effective. Mariott continued to say that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike the agency issued about two hundred and fifty cease-and-desist orders. Mariott continued to describe some of the recent actions the agency has taken against builders.
Senator Shapleigh asked if the agency has taken any enforcement action against builders that have not registered with the commission.
Mariott answered that the agency issues orders against non-registered builders as they become aware of them.
Senator Shapleigh asked Leipsner to comment on the statistics showing that sixty nine percent of people who have gone through the process at TRCC said that it did not help them at all.
Leipsner answered that the statistic does not reflect well on the agency. Leipsner mentioned that the agency needs to be better about responding to consumer complaints directed at the agency in order to better determine how to improve it.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a comment. Senator Nelson mentioned that many of her constituents have communicated their problems with the agency to her. Senator Nelson asked that the commission bring any and all recommendations to the Legislature that would make the agency function more effectively.
The nominees were left pending awaiting the arrival of a quorum.
Chairman Jackson called to the table Deirdre Delisi, Edward Houghton, Bill Meadows and Fred Underwood, nominated to the Texas Transportation Commission.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson to introduce Bill Meadows. Senator Nelson briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Meadows, and recommended him to the committee.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh to introduce Edward Houghton. Senator Shapleigh briefly detailed the career and accomplishments of Houghton, and recommended him to the committee.
Chairman Jackson invited Deirdre Delisi to address the committee.
Chairman Jackson commented on the Sunset legislation for the agency and asked Delisi to address potential solutions to the state's transportation shortcomings.
Delisi answered that there are numerous challenges to simply maintaining the current highways, with no accounting for future growth in the state. Delisi continued to say that she has been a constant advocate for keeping all of the options on the table including toll roads and public-private partnerships.
Chairman Jackson asked Delisi to comment on the option of raising the motor fuels tax and indexing it to inflation in order to raise more revenue.
Delisi responded that she has seen a certain amount of hesitancy on the part of lawmakers to go that route given that there are still a significant number of diversions from that tax.
Chairman Jackson commented on the transportation bill that would allow larger cities to impose their own taxes to fund transportation projects. Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to share their opinions on the legislation.
Delisi answered that their preference is that there needs to be a statewide solution to the problem.
Meadows responded that losing the consistency that comes with statewide development leads to potential inequities among different parts of the state in terms of service level.
Houghton spoke about the importance of pass-through financing that enabled El Paso to build the infrastructure necessary to lure a military base to relocate there.
The chair recognized Senator Eltife for comments and questions.
Senator Eltife commented on the lack of funding given to the Texas Department of Transportation. Senator Eltife mentioned that the diversions from the gas tax need to stop, but stated that the gas tax needs to be raised and indexed to inflation to solve the state's transportation problems.
Senator Eltife mentioned that rural areas will be most affected by the ability of large cities to raise local taxes to fund their own transportation projects.
Senator Eltife asked the nominees to provide leadership and communicate with the citizens of the state exactly what needs to be done to address the problem.
Meadows answered that communication with citizens needs to improve and commented on the ways the commission is trying to improve it.
The chair recognized Senator Nichols for questions. Senator Nichols commented on the Sunset review process for the agency.
Senator Nichols asked the nominees to comment on the issue of local participation in TxDOT.
Delisi answered that there needs to be a strong local presence in the decision-making process, though TxDOT should have the ultimate say on projects after hearing local recommendations.
Meadows responded that TxDOT needs to coordinate with local planning organizations to determine the best projects, but needs to retain ultimate authority.
Houghton reiterated the stance that TxDOT should have final say on projects.
Senator Nichols commented on pass-through financing methods and the problem of it being off the books.
Senator Nichols commented on the various financing tools the Legislature has given the agency and expressed concern that there is not better uniformity in the way in which the tools are employed.
Senator Nichols asked the nominees to comment on Senate Bill 17.
Senator Nichols commented on the issue of market valuation that the Legislature has worked on with TxDOT.
The chair recognized Senator Nelson for a comment.
Senator Nelson reiterated Senator Eltife's earlier comment, and mentioned that the state needs to be honest with the public about where it is with transportation issues. Senator Nelson thanked the nominees for the improved communication from the agency with the Legislature, but stressed the need for the public to be better informed.
The chair recognized Senator Shapleigh for comments.
Senator Shapleigh thanked the nominees for their willingness to communicate with the Legislature. Senator Shapleigh stressed the need for the government to adequately fund the agency in order to provide for the future transportation needs of the state. Senator Shapleigh noted that if there are no new sources of funding the state will have no money to fund new projects after 2012.
Senator Shapleigh commented on the Sunset Review of the agency. Senator Shapleigh asked Delisi to comment on the legality of transferring authority away from TxDOT and onto local transportation authorities.
Delisi responded that there is concern that federal statute only allows for the state to have final authority on transportation issues. Delisi continued to say that there is some concern that if the House legislation gives authority to local entities over TxDOT, that the state could be in violation of federal law.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to detail the funds that were allocated to the agency through the federal stimulus plan.
Senator Shapleigh asked if there are any scenarios that could exhaust the funds prior to the current approximation of 2012.
Houghton responded that there are variables taken into consideration in that estimate.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Nichols.
Senator Nichols asked the nominees to provide a breakdown of the amount of funding that has been removed from TxDOT in recent years.
Chairman Jackson recognized Senator Watson for a comment.
Senator Watson thanked Delisi for working with him during the appointment process, and commended her on the job she has done during her time as chairwoman of TxDOT.
Chairman Jackson asked Houghton about Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. Chairman Jackson asked if Houghton is aware that the group has engaged in a public campaign to convince Texans that the state needs toll roads.
Houghton responded that he has not kept up with the organization in a long while.
Chairman Jackson asked Houghton if he has any current or past affiliation with the group.
Houghton responded that he has been a speaker at some of their events.
Chairman Jackson asked Houghton if he was involved in the creation of the organization.
Houghton answered that he was not formally involved in the establishment of the group.
Chairman Jackson confirmed with Houghton that he was active in some of the initial fundraising efforts of the organization.
Chairman Jackson asked if Houghton has had a dramatic change in position concerning TxDOT's involvement with toll roads.
Houghton confirmed that he has changed his mind when it comes to that issue, currently he does not believe TxDOT should be involved in toll roads.
Chairman Jackson asked the nominees to provide him with information on the number of engineers currently employed by the agency.
Senator Hegar commented on the unreliable numbers currently available concerning the costs of keeping engineers in-house as opposed to contracting the jobs to consultants. Senator Hegar mentioned that the Sunset bill will have measures to assess that information.
Chairman Jackson called to the table Terri Hall representing Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. Hall submitted a form showing her to be testifying against the nominations of the individuals appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission.
The nominees were left pending before the committee.
At 7:00 p.m. Senator Jackson moved that the committee stand recessed until subject to the call of the chair; without objection, it was so ordered.
Senator Mike Jackson, Chair
Brian Carey, Clerk