West Texas lawmaker reflects on progress during time with Sunset commission
By Enrique Rangel
A-J MEDIA AUSTIN BUREAU
AUSTIN — The Texas Legislature is not in session this year, but this week Rep. Four Price was at the State Capitol for three days, including a daylong public hearing of the House Human Services Committee.
“We’re already looking at some of the issues we expect to deal with when we’re back in session next year,” Price, R-Amarillo, said during a short break.
For Price — who also sits on the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee; chairs a sub-committee that deals with health care funding; heads a panel looking at mental health issues; and co-chairs a joint legislative group — this is the kind of schedule he expects at least once a month until mid-summer.
That’s because the state budget and health care funding are expected to be top priorities in the 85th session.
But as is the case with a few of his colleagues, Price is used to this workload. He served four years on the Sunset Advisory Commission, a joint legislative panel that every two years evaluates the performance of about two dozen state agencies, boards and commissions and then recommends to the Legislature whether to abolish or overhaul some of those offices.
“I am very pleased with what we accomplished during those four years,” said Price, who was vice chairman of the panel during the last two years.
The commission’s recommendations the Legislature approved last year “will result in more than $134 million in savings and revenue gains over the next two years by eliminating waste, duplication and inefficiency in state government,” he said.
One of the high-profile bills the commission worked on — authored by Republican Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the panel’s chairwoman during the last two years, and sponsored by Price in the House — will consolidate five Health and Human Services agencies into three.
“It sounds very simple, but it was very complex in the sense that it affected multiple agencies delivering multiple services to different types of patients and consumers across the state of Texas,” Price said. “I think they will benefit from a better organizational structure because the services will be delivered more effectively, and I think the agencies will have more accountability.”
Price sponsored another Senate bill — the first Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last year — that clarified and updated statutes relating to the provision and administration of health and human services.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure that we are not only using our taxpayers’ dollars efficiently but that the services are properly delivered to people who need them,” he said. “I am very proud that we accomplished that.”
On the flip side, a Sunset Commission’s proposal to close the Austin Assisted Living Center and a similar measure that would have recommended closing other facilities that care for people with severe physical and mental disabilities — institutions formerly known as state schools — didn’t pass.
But Price said he has no major disappointments or regrets.
“Not everything goes your way during the deliberation process,” he said. “Not all bills pass.
“However, in many cases the recommendations (in the failed bills) are instituted by the agencies anyway,” he noted.
In addition, “I learned a lot about those agencies,” he said in reference to the roughly 50 state agencies, boards and commissions, the Sunset Commission reviewed during his four-year tenure.
“You learn a lot about how agencies work, not just the way they are funded or the way they are organized but the way they actually work,” he explained. “That, in turn, gives you an insight on how government works, (something) that you would not otherwise know.”
Rep. John Smithee, who has served in the Texas House for 31 years but has never been appointed to the Sunset Commission, said he is glad House Speaker Joe Straus appointed Price to the panel.
“Four is the right fit for the Sunset Commission,” Smithee, R-Amarillo, said during a recent visit to Austin.
“He doesn’t come with an agenda and he’s very policy oriented, which is what you need to serve on the commission,” Smithee said. “You need unbiased members like Four to do the work they are asked to do, as objectively as possible.”
Rep. Richard Raymond, chairman of the Human Services Committee, who also served with Price on the Sunset Commission and authored the failed bill that would have identified which assisted living centers — including the one in Lubbock — would be closed, agreed.
“He will deal with you honestly, very straightforward,” Raymond, D-Laredo, said. “You don’t have to worry that he’ll say one thing and do another, and I appreciate that.
“He is a Republican and I am a Democrat, so we are not always going to agree,” said Raymond, who also worked well with former Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.
“But I agree with the approach that, in dealing with your colleagues, you do it honestly,” Raymond added. “The other thing is that he’s really got a good mind, very smart in trying to figure how to solve very complex issues we deal with. He is blessed with a very good mind.”
Price said now that the Sunset Commission’s work is behind him, he is focusing on issues the panels he chairs, or he is a member of, are working on.
“Those six committees are keeping me busy,” he said.
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