July 10, 2008
One of my favorite things to do is a version of the “town hall meeting.” I really like doing it in a casual setting during the lunch hour of a workday, where folks bring a brown bag lunch. No matter the size of the business or the number of people who come to the deal, it’s always a great way to get to know people, hear their concerns, and get them some detailed answers to questions.
While I want my constituents to get something out of these events, I continually learn from them too, from little things that help me communicate to the big things that people care about.
One of those lessons came at just such an event this week at the headquarters of one of our area’s biggest employers. Great crowd. Good room. Lots of important questions. A real chance for folks to get to know me, and for me to hear their concerns.
The room was set up so that those who came to visit were seated in a “U,” with a stool in the middle for me to sit. It was a tall stool, I guess both to be stylish and to elevate me a little. It seemed tall enough that I felt like I needed to sort of climb up on it.
Let’s just say there’s no way to look “senatorial” when your feet are dangling several inches above the ground. Thank goodness I have excellent balance.
There’s no easy way – without being boring – to talk about the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission report on the Texas Department of Insurance and Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
But if you pay for insurance in this state, it’s a very, very important issue.
I sent a letter to the Sunset Commission this week asking that it take another look at recommendations for the Department of Insurance.
Among other things, I want the commission (which reviews the functions of every state agency and recommends ways to improve them) to abandon the suggestion that Texas do away with the Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
The office provides a vital check on the industry by representing consumers in cases that could affect their insurance rates. As I say in the letter, it’s imperative that consumers hold onto this advocate, particularly when dealing with an agency that too often seems more oriented toward companies than Texans.
You can read my letter here. Here’s the gist of it:
“Texas has the highest homeowner’s insurance rates in the nation. Over the past five years, Texans have been paying more for insurance while receiving less coverage. … TDI’s policies and procedures have not kept insurance companies operating in Texas from making profits over-and-above what the insurance industry itself defines as successful. Rather it is the consumer who has been bearing the brunt of any inefficacies at TDI.”
The big event this week was at the El Paso public library, where the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, of which I’m vice chair, held a hearing on immigration and border security.
It was an interesting hearing about tough issues that have tied the federal government in knots and pushed a lot of hard decisions onto states, counties, and cities. Particularly since September 11, the nation has needed a plan for immigration and border security – not to mention money to pay for it – from the feds. But like a lot of things that have needed attention since that terrible day, this one hasn’t gotten nearly enough.
I’ve written before about traveling to the border to learn about our security issues and how to deal with these complicated challenges. In El Paso this week, a number of police chiefs and sheriffs once again implored lawmakers not to put them in the position of cracking down on illegal immigration, particularly when they need to work in communities with a lot of immigrants to fight crime.
In El Paso, a number of police chiefs and sheriffs once again implored lawmakers not to put them in the position of cracking down on illegal immigration, particularly when they need to work in communities with a lot of immigrants to fight crime.
And once again, farmers, ranchers, and business leaders emphasized the need for a sensible immigration system that ensures the American economy has all the workers it needs.
So despite the thumb-twiddling in Washington, this clearly isn’t an issue Texas can ignore. State, federal, and local law enforcement agencies need resources so they can communicate with each other. Police need to use every tool available to keep our neighborhoods safe. And Texas needs to be creative in exploring every option to protect all of our people and our economy.
Rest assured, you’ll be hearing more about this as we get closer to next year’s legislative session.