University Leaders Testify before Senate Higher Ed Subcommittees

(AUSTIN) — Texas needs more research funding and additional research universities, according to higher education leaders who testified at the State Capitol today (Wednesday). They addressed a joint hearing of the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee that focused on interim charges issued by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chairs the two subcommittees that heard testimony from representatives of academia and industry, health-related and general academic institutions, and the campus and system levels.

Witnesses discussed research productivity and funding in Texas, including undergraduate research and research commercialization, and their impact on economic development and revenue streams for universities.

“It is important that grant research criteria include opportunities for undergraduates as well as graduate students,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Commercialization of research will become more important not only because of the real world benefits, but also because it can provide much needed additional revenue sources for higher education institutions, especially research emerging institutions.”

Chancellors and university presidents who testified included Bill Powers, president, University of Texas at Austin; Dr. Elsa Murano, president, Texas A&M University; Dr. Renu Khator, chancellor, University of Houston System; KentHance, chancellor, Texas Tech University System; Dr. Gretchen Bataille, president, University of North Texas; Dr. David Daniel, president, University of Texas at Dallas; Dr. Diane Natalicio, president, University of Texas at El Paso; James Spaniolo, president, University of Texas at Arlington; and Dr. Ricardo Romo, president, University of Texas at San Antonio.

Each subcommittee will make recommendations to the 81st Texas Legislature that convenes on Jan.13.

The legislature appropriated $16.5 billion for higher education during the current biennium.

Senator Judith Zaffirini Questions Proposed Expansion of Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, senior member of the Texas Legislature’s Eligibility System Legislative Oversight Committee, today (Monday) questioned Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins about the proposed expansion of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) to include all seniors and persons with disabilities who are benefit recipients before the statewide rollout. Meeting at the State Capitol, the committee also heard public testimony.

TIERS is a computer software program designed to assist Texans who qualify for state benefit programs by gathering their information to help them collect benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. Since implementation by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in 2003, the program has proved difficult to navigate and faulty in processing and maintaining the integrity of critical data.

Senator Zaffirini questioned the disproportionate impact the HHSC’s proposed expansion of TIERS has on seniors and persons with disabilities. She expressed concern that the plan risks the healthcare benefits of persons who are the most likely to need medical attention and least likely to successfully use this complex system. If the proposal is carried out, 100 percent of the cases involving Medicaid for the Elderly and People with Disabilities (MEPD) would be handled through TIERS, compared to only 22.4 percent of food stamp cases.

“Due consideration must be paid to the unique needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Existing TIERS errors must be identified, addressed, and fixed before this population is asked to utilize the system.”

Senator Zaffirini provided suggestions for improving the program for the elderly and persons with disabilities, including developing additional benchmarks specific to the MEPD conversion and outreach to educate the MEPD population about how to navigate the program and avoid problems. Senator Zaffirini also proposed that extensions for eligibility to seniors and persons with disabilities be provided due to the problems associated with TIERS, the same way food stamp eligibility was expanded.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst appointed the senator to the oversight committee last January.