Bexar County officials have a packed legislative agenda
With the 79th session of the Texas Legislature underway, dozens of special-interest groups have begun lobbying for a piece of the legislative pie, which could be divvied among nearly 5,000 prospective bills. Along with the environmentalists, big businesses, and religious fundamentalists competing for the attention of Austin lawmakers is an entity few would think of as a typical "special interest": Bexar County government.
Bexar County's participation in the legislative process can range from active campaigning to passive monitoring, depending on the importance of particular bills.
According to Leilah Powell, Bexar County's government relations manager, each session the county adopts a legislative program identifying 55 areas of interest, from environmental management to judicial jurisdiction, that are locally important. Powell then reviews thousands of bills as do organizations such as the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, both of which Bexar County is a member.
This session, the evaluation process has yielded a 44-page legislative agenda, available on-line at www.Bexar.org.
"My job is to go to the `Bexar County's legislative` delegation and explain to them what the issues are and see if there is interest in sponsoring those particular bills," Powell says. "And we're making sure that if there's a bill that could hurt Bexar County, we're showing up and testifying against that."
This session, county officials are eyeing bills that affect county governments across Texas, not just Bexar County. This includes such proposals as the controversial HB 305, which would allow government officials to meet for presentations without posting a public meeting notice, provided no action is taken. And HB 483, which would make child-care facilities exempt from property taxes.
Receiving the highest priority are bills that speak directly to Bexar County, such as HB 287, which would establish an oversight committee for Bexar County's child protective services program. Also on the slate are a number of resolutions that have yet to be filed as bills, including initiatives that would transfer felons appealing their sentences to state facilities, one of several strategies to ease the strain on the County's prison population.
With many bills yet to be filed in this young session, the County's priorities could change as the session progresses. Currently at the top of the County's list is a draft of a bill that would allow county courts to raise money for building improvements.
"We can't continue to rely on grant dollars and donations to fix public buildings, so we're hoping we can generate revenue from a filing fee that can allow us to make improvements for courts at the county level," Powell says.
Of all the bills the County is monitoring, endorsing, or lobbying against, one is of particular importance: the closure of San Antonio State Hospital and State School, which would put a greater strain on Bexar County's health care system.
The County opposes the closures. `"See related story, "Last-ditch measures," November 4-10, 2004.`
Powell doesn't like to think of herself as a lobbyist for the County (understandable considering how loaded the word has become), but she'll have to walk like a lobbyist and talk like a lobbyist to compete for lawmakers' attention this session. •