Coleman: Perry Slow on State Schools
Legislative Study Group chair asks why governor has left fixing state residential facilities to legislature
By Richard Whittaker,
8:00AM, Thu. Feb. 5, 2009
Gov. Rick Perry got plaudits yesterday for asking legislators to fast-track reform of the state school system (it's a misnomer: It's actually the residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities run by the Department of Aging and Disability Services.)
But now Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has reminded the governor that legislators spent the last year asking him to intervene.
While Coleman said he is "glad that the Governor has realized the importance of this pressing policy issue," he questions Perry for not acting already, since the Legislative Study Group Committee on State Schools sent him a report demanding urgent action. "The sad fact," he wrote, "is that these issues could have been addressed by administrative action during the interim instead of waiting for the Legislature to change statutes."
Two years ago when the 80th session was kicking off, the state schools were poised to go under the legislative microscope: But they got a pass because the Texas Youth Commission was revealed as even more of a disaster area. So after another two years, damning federal reports and the LSG recommendations, reform seems inevitable.
Coleman's letter after the break.
Statement From Representative Garnet F. Coleman on Governor Perry's Emergency Declaration Regarding State School Legislation
Austin – Representative Garnet Coleman, chair of the Legislative Study Group House Caucus, released the following statement in response to Governor Perry declaring state schools for the mentally retarded an emergency issue
I am glad that the Governor has realized the importance of this pressing policy issue. Representatives Herrero, Ortiz, Burnam and myself held hearings on this issue and issued a report of recommendations that the state should have adopted over a year ago.
Low pay for primary care workers, high staff turnover rate, inadequate training, low employment standards and lack of oversight at state schools led to the current state of affairs. The sad fact is that these issues could have been addressed by administrative action during the interim instead of waiting for the Legislature to change statutes. The rulemaking authority of the governing agencies and executive branch could have been used to implement necessary reforms long before the Department of Justice launched their statewide investigation.
I cannot understand why we needed the federal government to come and tell us that the state of Texas is continuing to fail its disabled citizens.
Governor Perry's omission of this pressing issue from his State of the State address shows that there was a lack of will and a lack of action from both the Governor and the state, and the task now falls to the Legislature to address the policy failure. At the very least, the Governor has allowed the Legislature to begin work on the issue immediately.
We stand ready to work with the governor and our colleagues to resolve these issues.
In 2007 and 2008 the Legislative Study Group held hearings in Corpus Christi, Dallas and Houston, and met with advocates, employees, clients and family members regarding cases of abuse and neglect at Texas state schools. A copy of the LSG findings and recommendations is attached.