The House Committee on County Affairs held a hearing on Aug. 23 where they discussed several interim charges important to counties, including mental health services and the impact of natural disasters on county finances.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins opened the hearing offering testimony on natural disaster authority and the importance of allowing local emergency managers to handle local disasters even if they cross county lines. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel discussed the challenges of dealing with clients with mental disabilities within the criminal justice system.
Several county officials, including Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom and Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley, were on hand to provide testimony on the topics. They testified to the need for changes to the indigent defense program in order to better contain costs while maintaining the integrity of the program.
During Gossom’s testimony, Chairman Coleman took time to offer congratulations on a successful 85th legislative session and on defending local decision-making.
Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood testified to the challenges of courthouse safety in light of the 2013 murders of Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney Michael "Mike" McLelland, wife Cynthia and Assistant Prosecutor Mark Hasse.
The House Committee on County Affairs interim charges covered during the August hearing include:
Interim Charge #1: Examine how emergency response activities are organized, funded, and coordinated. Review the impact of natural disasters on county finances. Identify any deficiencies in authority for the most populous counties related to infrastructure planning, emergency response, and recovery. Explore ways to improve efficiencies and manage costs while protecting public safety. Additionally, study the relationship between the state, counties, non-governmental organizations, and churches in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, and determine if preparedness plans are adequate.
Interim Charge #2: Evaluate whether counties have the necessary ordinance-making and enforcement authority to deal with flood risk in unincorporated rural and suburban areas of Texas. Additionally, examine whether counties have adequate resources and authority to ensure that new development in unincorporated areas is not susceptible to flooding.
Interim Charge #3: Study how counties identify defendants’ and inmates’ behavioral health needs and deferral opportunities to appropriate rehabilitative and transition services. Consider models for ensuring defendants and inmates with mental illness receive appropriate services upon release from the criminal justice system.
Interim Charge #5: Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature.