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Texas Senate
April 25, 2002
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Committee continues reviewing funding for educational excellence

AUSTIN - The Joint Interim Committee on Higher Education Excellence Funding met today, April 25, 2002, at the state Capitol, to continue the debate about funding with state universities' representatives.

The committee was created by House Bill 1839, and is in charge of reviewing the current higher education funding formulas. The committee also examines Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's procedures and recommendations regarding these formulas.

Today the members received testimony from presidents and chancellors of the following universities: Texas Woman's University; Texas Southern University; Stephen F. Austin University; Midwestern State University; universities of the Texas A&M University System in Tarleton, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Galveston and Prairie View; and the universities of the Texas State University System: Sam Houston and Southwest Texas.

The witnesses described to the committee the use of the excellence funding their institutions received from the 77th Legislature. The funding was used for the addition of master and doctoral programs, research efforts, and hiring of more professors and scholars. Schools also used the extra monies in efforts to increase academic and enrollment standards. All of them agreed on the importance of filling the educational gap as a needed investment for the state to be successful.

As is usual in these debates, the legislators voiced their wish to see more progress with the funds they allocate, and universities officials asked for an increase in the funds. The current funding formulas were set until 2005. After that, the Legislature will have to decide if the state maintains the existing ones or changes them.

The Texas Excellence Fund gives 80 percent of the funds to the three university systems dedicated to research in the state, and 20 percent to the remaining 18 universities. The witnesses voiced different opinions about whether they prefer this dual system, or want to combine them into one pool before distributing the funds.

Senator Ogden and Representative Junell expressed concern about the latest practice of some universities that hire lobbyists to influence legislators about funding. One of the witnesses responded that if universities' officials have to walk the halls asking for money, they couldn't be doing the job the legislators tell them to do, which is to manage the schools.

The joint committee is co-chaired by Senator Steve Ogden and Representative Robert Junell. Its Senate members are Senators Gonzalo Barrientos, Chris Harris, John Whitmire and Ken Armbrister. The members from the House are Representatives Helen Giddings, Jim McReynolds, Senfronia Thompson and Irma Rangel.

The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.

Senate Jurisprudence Committee Examines Juvenile Sentencing Guidelines

HOUSTON - In 1995 Texas lawmakers passed legislation intended to ensure the consistency, uniformity and predictability of juvenile sentences. During this 77th interim, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee is studying how those guidelines are working. The committee is to make recommendations to the 78th Legislature on improving the effectiveness of juvenile sanctions in protecting public safety and rehabilitating offenders.

On April 25, 2002 in Houston, the committee heard from a number of different panels regarding sentencing guidelines at various levels of the judicial system in Harris County. The first panel gave the senators an overview of the entire process. Tony Fabelo, from the Criminal Justice Policy Council, described how the data on sentencing is collected. Professor Robert Dawson of the University of Texas School of law testified that funding has increased since the reforms that were enacted in 1995, increasing the number of local probation officers and programs. However, the state still needs to better respond to mental health and chemical dependency needs. Vicki Spriggs from the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission said that resources were indeed inadequate before 1995 and that increased funding allowed the agency to appropriately respond to the problems of minors. Neil Nichols, general counsel of the Texas Youth Commission, finished up the first panel, saying that current sentencing guidelines have generally been successful for their purposes, especially in non-violent cases.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels began the second panel saying that while many resources are being put into these programs, they are having difficulties finding out how the juvenile offenders are doing ten years later. District Court Judges Ken Ellis and Pat Shelton described their experiences with teens, saying that the state needs to address the problems of at-risk youth before they wind up before a judge. Twenty-year veteran Judge Veronica Morgan-Price told the committee that the needs of defense attorneys need to be included in any new reforms. Newly elected Justice of the Peace Jo Ann Delgado asked that the members not forget that the JPs are the first magistrate that youthful offenders encounter and that they need help getting them back to a more normal life. Another JP, Tony Columbo, said they need authority to hold parents accountable.

Elmer Bailey from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department briefed the committee on the services available at the Burnett-Bayland Home, the juvenile facility where the meeting was being held, as well as Harris County mental health services. Elizabeth Godwin of the Harris County District Attorney's Office recounted the changes in the Juvenile Probation System over the past few years. Attorney Ann Campbell of the Harris County Juvenile Advisory Council said that troubled children have to get in trouble with the law before they can get any kind of help.

Regarding areas outside of Harris County, District Larry Thorne of Jefferson County agreed with other witnesses that judges need the authority to deviate from the current progressive sanctions and be able to tailor sentences to individual cases. Mike Griffiths from the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Center agreed that sanctions should be flexible. Carey Cockrell from the Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department said he has had the best success with offenders working with the family and community as a whole. Alan Brown, the Chief Probation Officer for Hunt County and James Martin from Jefferson County generally agreed with the previous testimony, with Martin saying that many juvenile probation professionals agreed with them. Orlando Torres from the San Patricio County Juvenile Probation Department testified that prevention programs combined with zero tolerance not only decreases the need for juvenile probation but saves court costs as well.

On the last panel, Dee Kifowit from the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments said that the mental health system needs to be as accountable as the criminal justice system. Russell Mai, the Director of Juvenile Services for the Houston Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse agreed with previous testimony that family problems contribute to teenage delinquency and substance abuse. He too said that many juveniles' needs are identified only after they've become involved in criminal activity. Dr. Elaine Rodney spoke about the high number of minority juveniles in the system. Dr. Phillip Lyons, Sam Houston State University, said that the guidelines need to focus on the individual. Miguel Angada with MHMR outlined their resources that were available for children and adolescents

Senator Royce West chairs the committee, with Senator David Bernsen acting as vice-chair. Members include Senators J.E. "Buster" Brown, Robert Duncan, Rodney Ellis, Mike Jackson and Jeff Wentworth. Also at today's meeting was Representative Scott Hochberg. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.