December 22, 2009

From the Desk of Allen Vaught

Interim Charges
As a continuation of the last article, I am going to look at some of the interim charges for the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. I was appointed to this committee earlier this year, and serve as the Vice-Chairman.

The Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the relations between the State of Texas and the federal government involving defense, emergency preparedness, and veterans issues; the various branches of the military service of the United States; the realignment or closure of military bases; the defense of the state and nation, including terrorism response; emergency preparedness; veterans of military and related services; and the following state agencies: the Adjutant General’s Department, the Texas Veterans Commission, the Veterans’ Land Board, the Texas Military Preparedness Commission, the Division of Emergency Management, and the Emergency Management Council.

There were six charges presented to the committee, one of which was discussed last week regarding the veterans court programs in Texas. This is a joint charge for both the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, so I will not discuss it again in this article. Another charge is simply to monitor the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction which are listed in the above paragraph. There are four additional more specific charges which I will summarize for you here.

Land surrounding military installations
“Investigate strategies to address incompatible land use surrounding Texas military installations. Study approaches that minimize conflict with neighboring landowners.”

Preventing the encroachment of military installations has become one of the top priorities of the U.S. Department of Defense. To ensure the military’s ability to maintain operational readiness in defense of the United States, it is necessary to foster compatible land use between military installations and neighboring communities.

The committee will look at various ways to go about creating compatible use, including analyzing the recently law that allows defense communities to establish and fund a regional military sustainability commission that regulates this kind of development (HB 2919).

Additionally, Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment last month that would authorize the Legislature to allow cities and counties to issue bonds in order to purchase areas around military installations for constructing roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure that could protect or promote the military installation (HJR 132). The committee will look at this amendment, now part of the Texas Constitution, during the interim as well.

Centralizing Call Centers for Veterans
“Evaluate the advantages, including potential cost savings, of centralizing call center activities for referral to benefits providers for Veterans.”

Benefits providers for veterans include the Texas Veterans Commission, the Texas Veterans’ Land Board, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of State Health Services, Suicide Prevention Call Centers and more. By centralizing these resources, veterans may have better access to services. In fact, providers would be able to share contact information, databases, and pool some direct mail efforts which could save the state time and money. Furthermore, by studying this charge, the committee may be able to find alternate ways to streamline the benefits process for veterans so that they are getting the most out of the services they need.

Border & Homeland Security
“Monitor and review the disbursement and use of border and homeland security funds. Evaluate the effectiveness in meeting the state’s border and homeland security program goals and objectives.”

The current state-led border security operations program is called “Operation Border Star.” Created in 2007, Operation Border Star provides additional funding to local law enforcement on the border in order to hire more staff and coordinate intelligence. Last September, Gov. Perry added to this program by sending highly skilled Ranger Reconnaissance (Ranger Recon) Teams to the border. The state has dedicated significant financial resources to border security during the past two legislative sessions, so this interim charge will ensure those funds are being used in an effective and pragmatic manner.

Military & Overseas Voting
“Study ways the state can enhance military and overseas voters’ ability to obtain and return balloting materials and reduce burdens on those voters’ exercise of their right to vote.”

As of Sept. 1st, 2009, military personnel and overseas voters can request a federal postcard application and ballot via mail, fax, or email; however, they can only return a ballot by mail or fax. There were several bills filed during the session that aimed to allow voters to return their ballot by email, but those did not pass.

Many military families and overseas voters have greater access to a scanner and to email than they do to a fax machine, yet both ensure more timely delivery than the postal service. This interim charge will allow the committee to consider all the options for overseas absentee voters, including returning ballots through email, so that they can exercise their right to vote to the fullest extent.

If you have questions regarding any of these interim charges or would like more information, I invite you to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244. Please free to email me as well at, and be sure to include your name and full address. I look forward to hearing from you.