The Senate approved a bill today that would change the name of the Railroad Commission to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and reduce the size of the commission from three elected members to one elected commissioner.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who authored the bill, said the new name would more aptly describe the functions of the commission, which include regulating the oil and gas industry and have nothing to do with railroads. The measure, he said, would also save $1.2 million this budget cycle. Gov. Rick Perry would appoint the first new commissioner as soon as possible. But if Perry didn't appoint someone before the 2012 general election, the last elected commissioner, David Porter, would serve until voters chose a new commissioner. The Sunset Advisory Commission made similar recommendations for the agency in early January.
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, offered an amendment that would have restored the number of commissioners to three. One commissioner "may be very efficient, but it may be very arbitrary, because there is only one viewpoint and one way to do things," he said.
But Hegar argued keeping three would maintain a broken system. "They are three big fish in a small pond, and that small pond — oil and gas — is very vital to the state of Texas," Hegar said.
The amendment failed.
The bill, which passed 29-2, would also require the commissioner to stop accepting campaign contributions a year before the general election, to make the State Office of Adminstrative Hearing more accessible to the public and it would allow the commission to include surcharges on licenses.
Seliger and Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, voted against the bill.