Update, Nov. 20, 2013, 3:30 p.m.:
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is in a pitched re-election battle, on Wednesday announced another set of interim charges for state lawmakers to study before the 2015 legislative session, this time on issues of emergency preparedness and accident response.
The charges are “focused on helping Texas and her citizens deal better with the natural disasters and accidents that threaten life, the Texas economy and our overall quality of life,” Dewhurst said in a statement.
Referring to the April fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Dewhurst ordered the Senate's Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security Committee to examine “the current regulatory and insurance requirements for the storage of ammonium nitrate” and to dissect "the role of state and local governments regarding recovery operations across the state in the event of a disaster.” The fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people and damaged about 300 homes. State agencies have begun to implement oversight recommendations, including the creation of a list from the State Fire Marshal of all facilities that store 10,000 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate.
Calling for a review of the “administrative and financial state” of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, Dewhurst also stressed disaster preparedness. He told the Business and Commerce Committee to “determine alternative financial methods to fund a probable maximum loss of a 1-in-75 or 1-in-100 year event.” He also asked the committee to review the Texas FAIR Plan, the state’s insurer of last resort for residential homeowners.
Dewhurst charged the Health and Human Services Committee with reviewing the Department of Family and Protective Services’ efforts to reduce child fatalities. “Ensure that DFPS effectively uses data to strategically improve caseworker performance, identify and improve upon deficiencies within the system, and improve overall outcomes for children,” he said in the statement.
“While we have a sunny economic story to tell, it is our responsibility as leaders to ensure state government is helping our citizens prepare for and deal with the storms that occasionally blow through life,” Dewhurst said in the statement.
Before the 2015 legislative session, state lawmakers should study regulatory barriers to economic growth, the costs of implementing federal health care reform and frivolous litigation related to "patent trolling," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday.
Dewhurst, a Republican who is facing three primary challengers in March, announced the three business-focused interim charges as he spoke to an Austin gathering of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.
"Some people try to cut their way to success; Washington tries to tax its way to success. Neither model works," he said. "The only model that works is to grow you way to success."
Dewhurst said Texas was leading the country "in virtually every economic category worth reporting." But to continue that success, he said, the state needed to address the economic challenges created by regulatory and legislative burdens. Dewhurst also cited the need to examine the penalties and costs imposed on small businesses by federal health care reform, which he called "very dangerous."
His third charge related to what he called the expanding practice of "patent trolling," in which entities bring lawsuits against businesses claiming patent infringement.
"Allegedly, these folks prey on businesses across the state, and it appears they've turned their attention to small companies who lack the resources to defend themselves," he said.
Dewhurst said he would be announcing a series of additional charges over the next month, including one related to requirements in the state's public schools to ensure that students are prepared for the "jobs of tomorrow."
"We need to make sure that our education system provides truly skilled, skilled workers and people with the abilities to be able to attract companies," he said.
During his speech, Dewhurst also called for a statutory cap on state spending based on inflation and population growth.
While he said he's "never actually broken an arm in the Ramsey Room" — referring to a chamber behind the Senate floor where private meetings between lawmakers often take place — he said he might have to get that cap in state law before he leaves office.
"I am running for re-election, but believe it or not, I'm not going to be here forever," he said.