Straus Releases Interim Charges for House Committees

House Speaker Joe Straus talks to members prior to a debate on HB15 the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011
House Speaker Joe Straus talks to members prior to a debate on HB15 the sonogram bill on March 2, 2011

House Speaker Joe Straus has released the interim charges that will direct the work of the lower chamber's legislative committees for the next 11 months — and lawmakers will be busy. 

In addition to each committee's individual directives, Straus asked each committee to consider ways to improve the state's manufacturing capability and increase the "transparency, accountability, and efficiency" in state government. 

Among the charges: 

Straus calls on the Higher Education committee, which spent much of the regular session distracted by a controversy about the productivity of the state's universities and the value of academic research, to examine the impact of university research on the economy and identify ways to further capitalize on it through commercialization. He also asks that the effectiveness of the programs the state uses to fund research be reviewed.

For Public Education, the charges notably don't include a study of the school finance system, which is currently the subject of litigation. However lawmakers are directed to monitor the state’s new student assessment system, evaluate charter schools, and determine ways to boost parent and community involvement.

The Appropriations committee will analyze ways to reduce the state's debt, study the financing and delivery of long-term Medicaid services, examine the infrastructure and funding for mental health services and review campus construction processes. The Redistricting committee will take a close look at the State Board of Education districts and determine if the size of the board needs to change.

The Ways & Means committee will check out the tax structure, including a a review of the franchise tax. Additionally, members will find ways to maximize revenue on tobacco taxes and make sure that appraisal district operations are uniform across the state.

Voter ID legislation that passed last session is still pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime, the Elections committee will take a look at the benefits and risks of using mobile voting stations and attempt to come up with clearer definitions of residency, especially for college students. The Homeland Security committee will go over the security on college and public school campuses while they also look into the extent of interstate coordination of intelligence sharing and the implementation of the state's driver's license improvement plan.

Additionally, lawmakers in other committees are asked to monitor the implementation of federal health reforms, review the status of the state’s strip club fee and its collections to date, evaluate state and federal efforts to protect the border and study the potential benefits of purchasing health insurance across state lines.

Unsurprisingly, lawmakers will also be looking at the statewide response to the drought, which some experts say could still be around by the time legislators return to the Capitol.

Here is the complete list of interim charges:

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