Texas Senate Approves Legislation Requiring Additional Training for College and University Governing Board Members

(AUSTIN) —The Texas Senate today (Wednesday) overwhelmingly approved legislation by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would enhance training for members of the governing boards of Texas institutions of higher education.

SB 24 would require that the current mandatory training for new regents and board members be completed during the member’s first year of service, rather than within the first two years as under current law. What’s more, it would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop an intensive short orientation course offered online that new regents would be required to complete before they could vote on budgetary and personnel matters.

“If Texas is to maintain its reputation as a state with a superior system of higher education, it is imperative that we hold our governing boards to the highest standards of excellence through rigorous training and accountability,” Senator Zaffirini said. “My bill would ensure that newly appointed regents have prompt and timely access to training about important governance matters prior to taking action as a regent.”

The intensive short orientation course would cover such topics as:

  • best practices relating to excellence, transparency, accountability and efficiency in the governing structure and organization of institutions of higher education;
  • best practices relating to the manner in which governing boards and administrators develop and implement policy, including the need for impartiality and internal review; and
  • ethics, conflicts of interest and the proper role of board members in the governance of higher education institutions.

During the 2011 and 2012 interim hearings of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, which Senator Zaffirini co-chaired, expert witnesses consistently testified that system regents would benefit from improved standards of training.

“SB 24 is a necessary response to ongoing controversies surrounding university system regents dating back to the spring of 2011 and would help our state avoid similar controversies in the future,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I am grateful to the many wonderful regents who generously volunteer their time and effort as stewards of our higher education institutions, and it is critical that we provide these leaders the training they need to be successful.”

Senator Zaffirini has filed legislation improving training for members of higher education governing boards each legislative session since 2011.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for affordability, accessibility, accountability and excellence in higher education. Her Senate Bill 24 would enhance training for members of the governing boards of Texas higher education institutions.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for affordability, accessibility, accountability and excellence in higher education. Her Senate Bill 24 would enhance training for members of the governing boards of Texas higher education institutions.

Texas Senate Passes Legislation Shedding Light on Compensation for Court-Appointed Attorneys, Guardians

(AUSTIN) —The Texas Senate today (Tuesday) passed legislation by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would shed light on the compensation paid to attorneys and guardians who are appointed by courts to represent a person, such as a minor, an elderly person or a person with disabilities, who is deemed unable of representing himself or herself.

“Two decades ago a Supreme Court task force found evidence that some state judges abused their discretionary authority by using appointment income to reward campaign supporters. Since then, there has been little reform, and the media has continued to report on problems.” Senator Zaffirini said. “When even the appearance of abuse undermines the public’s confidence in the entire judicial system, it is critical that we do more to promote transparency in the ad litem system.”

SB 1369 would require courts appointing attorneys, guardians and mediators to submit to the Office of Court Administration data including the name of each person appointed by the court, the rate and total amount of compensation paid to each attorney in that year and the number of hours each attorney served ad litem for the appointed case. The information would be posted on websites accessible to the public and physically at the courthouse.

“It appears that more than $25 million in taxpayer money has been spent on these appointments through 2014,” Senator Zaffirini said. “The true cost is likely much higher, however, especially because many courts have not reported the information. SB 1369 will help us gain a clearer picture of the costs and discourage potential abuses.”

If a court fails to report the data, it would be made ineligible for state grant funding for a two-year period.

Senator Zaffirini, who previously served as Chair of the Senate Government Organization Committee and Co-Chair of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, long has promoted legislation that would increase transparency in state government.

This session she has filed legislation enhancing the transparency of university system Boards of Regents’ meetings, improving oversight of state contracting, promoting “Truth in Taxation” and centralizing state grant information in a searchable database.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for increased transparency in state government, including the judicial system. Her Senate Bill 1369 would shed light on the compensation paid to court-appointed attorneys and guardians.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for increased transparency in state government, including the judicial system. Her Senate Bill 1369 would shed light on the compensation paid to court-appointed attorneys and guardians.

OP ED: Texas Should Pass Texting Ban During Distracted Driving Awareness Month

By Senator Judith Zaffirini

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and, unfortunately, we don’t have to look far to understand the terrible toll that distracted driving is taking on Texas families.

Last month alone, 15-year-old Delia Ramirez of Austin was killed when a distracted driver ran a red light and crashed into the vehicle she was riding in, and 87-year-old Helen Montfort of Corsicana was killed and her daughter seriously injured when a distracted driver of a pickup truck rear-ended their vehicle.

The problem of distracted driving is getting progressively worse in Texas. In 2014 distracted driving was a factor in more than 100,000 crashes in our state, an increase of six percent from 2013. What’s more, these crashes were responsible for more than 3,200 serious injuries and 468 deaths. All were needless and could have been prevented, but for distracted drivers.

Texting while driving increases the risk of a crash by at least eight times, and according to the Texas Department of Transportation, distracted driving is the cause of one in every five crashes in our state. A recent study by the AAA Institute for Traffic Safety indicates that distracted driving was the cause of nearly 60 percent of crashes in which teenagers were behind the wheel.

There’s good reason to believe a statewide ban on texting while driving could make a real difference in reducing the number of deaths and injuries related to distracted driving. Researchers at Texas A&M University recently found that the number of car crash hospitalizations declined in states that instituted strict bans on texting while driving.

No text is worth a life, and texting bans are worth it if they save even one life. More than 40 Texas cities have recognized this and passed their own bans on texting while driving.

This patchwork of local ordinances is better than nothing, but it can be confusing to drivers. What we need is one uniform, statewide rule. Like the well-known state law requiring Texans to buckle up, a statewide ban on texting will ensure drivers know they are prohibited from texting while driving on city streets and state highways.

Accordingly, this legislative session Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and I again have filed the Alex Brown Memorial Act, named after one of Rep. Craddick’s constituents who was killed in a single-car rollover crash on her way to school. She was distracted by text messages on her cell phone.

It’s time for Texas to get serious about distracted driving and join the 44 other states that already prohibit texting while driving. The Texas House of Representatives already has passed the Alex Brown Act overwhelmingly, and it’s time for the Texas Senate to do the same.

Passing the bill during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month would send a strong message that our state is serious about saving lives and preventing unnecessary deaths and injuries.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of having a distracted driving crash. For example, you can put your phone in a place where you can’t see it and won’t be tempted to reach for it. Alternatively, you can put your phone in silent mode until you reach your destination, because the less you hear it, the less you’ll be tempted to reach for it.

If you have a passenger, make him or her your “designated texter.” What’s more, there are many downloadable smartphone apps such as Live2Text and AT&T’s DriveMode that can help you stop texting while driving.

Perhaps most important, the next time you see friends or family members start to send a text while driving, remind them that it can wait. Their lives—and yours—could depend on it.

Senator Judith Zaffirini represents District 21 in the Texas Senate.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-Laredo, speaks at a National Work Zone Memorial event, honoring the men and women killed in traffic accidents in roadway work zones across the United States. She champions legislation and funding that promote public safety on Texas roadways.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-Laredo, speaks at a National Work Zone Memorial event, honoring the men and women killed in traffic accidents in roadway work zones across the United States. She champions legislation and funding that promote public safety on Texas roadways.

 

Texas Senate Passes Senator Zaffirini’s Contracting Reform Legislation

(AUSTIN) —The Texas Senate today (Tuesday) approved unanimously comprehensive legislation by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would strengthen oversight and management of state contracts.

“Poor management of some contracts results in inadequate delivery of goods and services and costs taxpayers millions of dollars,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Senate Bill 543 would improve state contracting at every stage of the process, including planning, procurement, contract formation and oversight.”

Senator Zaffirini, who previously served as Chair of the Senate Government Organization Committee and a member of the Joint General Investigating Committee on State Contracting, has filed legislation to enhance state contracting every legislative session since 2005.

SB 543 also would ensure more state employees who handle contracts receive contract management training and would turn many recommendations from the state’s Contract Management Guide into requirements.

The bill is part of a package of meaningful contracting reforms Senator Zaffirini has filed this session. Her SB 1638, for example, would improve the training of state agency employees in contract management, including by requiring not only that the Comptroller’s office create a training class schedule, but also that the Department of Information Resources train applicable state employees to use the Cooperative Contracts program. What’s more, her SB 1053 would create a contract management division at the Legislative Budget Board, and her SB 1161 would increase the use of competitive bidding in the Cooperative Contracts process.

Senator Zaffirini’s legislation is complementary to SB 20 by Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which was passed by the Senate last month.

“My legislation would require agencies to make a reliable determination of best value before proceeding with a contract,” Senator Zaffirini added. “Because so much taxpayer money is at stake, it is critical that state agencies take a ‘measure twice, cut once’ approach to contracting, instead of doing the opposite.”

A report released last month by the State Auditor’s office revealed serious violations and deficiencies in a Health and Human Services Commission contract to privatize the Terrell State Hospital, including a finding that the agency did not determine “best value” before awarding the contract. The agency also has drawn fire for the way it handled a multimillion dollar contract for anti-Medicaid fraud software. The auditor has identified similar problems with contracting at agencies throughout state government.

The State Auditor previously had identified areas for improvement in all areas of contract management.

Provisions of SB 543 include:

  • Planning
    • Requires agencies to clearly identify the needed goods or services
    • Requires agencies to establish guidelines and procedures for staff involved in contract management
    • Requires a work statement that includes contract goals and expected outcomes
    • Requires consideration of a range of alternatives for service delivery
    • Requires an assessment of risk to the state
  • Procurement
    • Prohibits an agency from accepting the sole response to a major contract solicitation
    • Requires state agencies to consider “best value” during contract procurement
  • Contract Formation
    • Requires uniform contract provisions that establish cost-effective processes and help hold contractors accountable for producing desired results
    • Requires provisions ensuring that contract renewals, revisions, and amendments undergo proper oversight
  • Monitoring & Oversight
    • Requires each state agency to monitor contracts, review contract performance and report to the Comptroller
    • Allows the exclusion of contractors who have performed poorly in the past
    • Requires a monetary threshold above which contract changes must have written authorization by the state agency executive director

     

    SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for legislation strengthening management and oversight of Texas' state agency contracts. Her Senate Bill 543 would improve state contracting at every stage of the process, including planning, procurement, contract formation and oversight.

    SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI is an advocate for legislation strengthening management and oversight of Texas’ state agency contracts. Her Senate Bill 543 would improve state contracting at every stage of the process, including planning, procurement, contract formation and oversight.