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The Brief: Jan. 13, 2011

The Legislature quieted down Wednesday, but changes to state government were afoot.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

The Legislature quieted down Wednesday, but changes to state government were afoot.

The Sunset Advisory Commission, which looks to eliminate waste in state agencies, issued final recommendations yesterday, suggesting major restructuring for a number of Texas agencies. Bills containing the changes will now have to pass through the Legislature.

Sunset commissioners, in their most drastic recommendation, called for the elimination of the Texas Transportation Commission and recommended replacing the entity with one appointed commissioner. The Sunset panel also recommended merging the troubled Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission into one youth justice department.

As expected, the panel also signed off on a name change for the Railroad Commission — to the Oil and Gas Commission, which some consider more appropriate, given that railroad oversight no longer falls under the commission's purview — and suggested downsizing the department from three elected commissioners to one. The recommendation elicited mixed reaction from sitting commissioners.

The Sunset panel, though, backed away from changes to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's environmental agency. An earlier proposal called for replacing its current appointees with an elected chief, but the recommendation failed. As one Sunset member said, "I think we need the expertise instead of somebody running in a popularity contest."

CULLED:

  • Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday took issue with the claim that his support for possibly revising the state's business tax to raise more revenue amounted to a tax increase. "Getting bogged down in the semantics – 'Oh, that is a new tax; oh, that isn't a new tax' – is not particularly constructive," he said.
  • An unprecedented death penalty hearing came to an end Wednesday, with the Court of Criminal Appeals permanently halting proceedings in a Harris County case in which a judge appeared poised to declare the death penalty unconstitutional.

"There have been the proponents of Armageddon speaking for a long time. Every legislative session, there is some group somewhere that says the sky is falling. The good news is the sky hasn't fallen yet." — Gov. Rick Perry, who appeared with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday to address the looming budget shortfall

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