"Drivers (Legislators): Start Your Engines"
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
January 23, 2003
Just like the drivers at the Indy 500, the members of the current legislature are fixated on the biennial race to the 140th day, which ends the race through the legislative session. As is always the case, "No person's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature's in session." Hence, anyone with a stake in the process must tune-in or pay the price of not paying attention to the important work that is currently taking place at a very fast pace in Austin.
Hence, your County will be tracking a host of proposals coming before the legislative session. Around 5,000 bills are considered by 181 members, 150 from the House of Representatives and 31 from the Senate. The Governor will weigh-in too, on the legislative process. In any event, you can see from the above numbers, there is plenty of opportunity for both good and bad to occur so long as the legislature is in session.
Your County has a number of items in which we have a special interest. Although I will enumerate many of them, there is always the challenge of "playing defense" so as to not have some damaging piece of legislation or some unfunded State mandate crammed down our throats. An "unfunded mandate" is a function of government, which the State wants performed and is usually charged with performing, but does not want to pay the price. It therefore mandates that a local unit of government absorbs the cost without sending the money to the respective governmental entity.
In any event, I have quite a heightened concern with and Bexar County is especially interested in advancing the following proposals, among others:
- Funding of a Jail Diversion Pilot Project---This calls for adding $1.5 million in funding for the development and implementation of a Bexar County jail diversion pilot project to the Texas Commission on Offenders with Mental Impairments in the Appropriations Bill. It is estimated that between 15-20 percent of people in Texas jails and prisons have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness and/or substance abuse. In Bexar County alone, more than 500 individuals with a non-violent psychiatric disorder are incarcerated solely because of the untreated symptoms of their illness.
- To reduce the number of days that a parole violator stays in a county detention facility (our jail) before being transferred back to state prison.
- Allow government entities within Bexar County to apply changes in their regulations and permit requirements retroactively in order to protect the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
- Improve the distribution of state mental health dollars to Bexar County. The waiting list for Home and Community-based services on a per-capita basis in Bexar County is longer than every other urban MHMR. Furthermore, our major mental health care provider, the Center for Health Care Services, is ranked 38th of 40 MHMR providers when it comes to funding. What's galling is that many of the 40 providers have far less population than Bexar County!
- Stop the injustice involved in Bexar County taxpayers paying for out-of-county trauma care patients. Either the State, if the State wants to assume this serious responsibility or the counties whose residents are being served must pay!
- County powers to deal properly with unincorporated Bexar County.
There are other measures on our list of priorities but for now, I thought I would share with you those with which I am especially concerned. As the Session grows toward May, I will share others with you. In the meantime, although I'm certainly not a member of the Legislature, please feel free to express your opinion as to just what you believe the appropriate pathway for Bexar County is in this Legislative Session.