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Spring 2003 Table of Contents
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No Crystal Ball Available Into Legislative Session Results

Terrell I. Murphy, Executive Director

Writing deadlines aren't usually problematic for me. It's common for state agencies to write information well in advance of publication dates; so keeping in touch with See/Hear readers each quarter with timely news is normally uncomplicated. Every two years, however, I know that what I write today about the outlook for Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) services may be accurate today and nowhere in the ballpark one day later, much less three months from now when this issue of See/Hear will be published. That's the nature of state government when the Texas Legislature convenes. This session is proving to be the most complicated of my 30 years with the state.

Last issue I shared with you information about the Commission's legislative appropriations request and plans for the 2004-2005 biennium. I wrote the article shortly before every state agency's original LAR became extinct after revenue forecasts came out in January. Because of the limited availability of general revenue funds for the upcoming biennium, agencies were subsequently instructed to present new budgets in terms of core functions and essential agency services, how the services can be provided more efficiently, and what the services cost. The legislature will examine essential services in relation to each other, and budgets will need to be "built" up, in priority order, to the estimated $54.1 billion available for the 2004-05 biennium, beginning with the most essential service "blocks." This new process promises to be extremely complicated for agencies and decision-makers. Every program in Texas is vulnerable at this point.

Five days before we received new budget instructions, Gov. Rick Perry, joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, directed state agencies to immediately cut this year's general revenue spending. The agency responded by cutting 5.4% of its general revenue budget. This will mean cutting back planned travel, delaying needed capital purchases, freezing hiring, and reducing some service contracts immediately.

To make planning even more challenging, Comptroller Strayhorn issued her e-Texas report, Limited Government, Unlimited Opportunity, in the same month. The Comptroller recommended the consolidation of all health and human service programs into five large agencies:

The deadline for providing articles for See/Hear is this week, which coincided with the deadline for filing bills. So far, three bills have been introduced that follow along the lines of the Comptroller's recommendations. In each of the bills, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) is abolished as a state agency. All of the current policy and rule-making boards would be eliminated. The authority to adopt all rules and policies governing the delivery of services to persons who are served by each department and the rights and duties of persons who are served or regulated by each department is moved from citizen boards appointed by the Governor to the HHSC Commissioner.

H.B. 1814, filed by Representative Jim Pitts of Waxahachie and its companion bill, S.B. 1421, by Senator Kyle Janek of Houston, consolidate all human service programs into four departments under HHSC:

The Department for Persons with Disabilities would be formed from the mental retardation portion of MHMR services and services of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Council on Early Childhood Intervention Services, and the DHS Office of Services to Persons with Disabilities.

H.B. 2850, filed by Representative Wohlgemuth of Burleson, consolidates all service programs into three new agencies under HHSC:

The Department of Rehabilitation Services would be comprised of the former rehabilitation programs of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, and the Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. TCB's independent living program and part of TRC's services would be transferred into the Department of Community and Long-Term Care Services.

H.B. 3006, filed by Representative Swinford, abolishes all the current health and human service agencies and transfers their programs to HHSC. The HHSC Commissioner is then authorized to organize the operations of HHSC so that health and human services are provided in this state through divisions created within the commission, as determined by the commissioner.

As you can see, at the time I'm writing this, there is no way to predict the reaction of legislators to these particular bills. We can expect lots of discussion on the issue of consolidation in the media and among advocacy groups throughout the health and human services arena. What the future holds will have taken greater shape by the time this article is published. If you want to keep abreast of legislative actions that affect you and your children, stay informed through the news, your local and state advocacy groups, and your local representatives. Visit Texas Legislature Online to look up a bill by author, subject, or committee. The address is www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo/legislation/bill-status.htm.

I've told our staff that the last thing we want to happen is for us to be distracted from our mission during the ensuing debate over service models and budgets. TCB will keep on doing the best we can with what we have to provide quality services to Texans who are blind. The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) already knows how to do this better than any agency in the country, and we plan to stay the course as long as we exist.

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Last Revision: August 21, 2003