The Wise Report

The Wise Report
Henry M. Wise, P.G.
June 27, 2009
I attended the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists (TBPG) meeting on Friday, June 27, 2009.  This was an important meeting because they were discussing the possible increase in fees.   The legislature passed SB 940, which will allow the TBPG to self-implement complaints, provide confidentiality of complaints until charges have officially been filed, and implement a Geologist-in-Training (GIT) program.  All of these were needed to assure that the TBPG rules are being followed by all, allow members to file confidential complaints until the Board can determine if they have merit, and encourage students to advance their careers easier and earlier.  Unfortunately, the legislature decided not to fund these programs.  They told the Board that they must fund these programs themselves, that is, raise fees to cover these programs.  In addition, the legislature requires the Board to fund all of the programs or none.  Judging by some of the conversations, the Board was very agitated by this choice.  If you look at how much the Board receives in fees, and how much they actually spend, you'll find that the $3 of every $4 brought in goes to the State of Texas General Fund.  The Board only gets to keep $1 out of every $4.
If the Board doesn't raise fees for the new programs, they can't be implemented.  If they aren't implemented, The TBPG runs the risk of being sunsetted in two years because the sunset commission will look at how many complaints have been filed and actions taken.  Currently, the Board is highly dependent on us to issue complaints, and may people don't want to make a complaint for fear of reprisals from the community.  There is currently insufficient personnel available to try to find out who's registered or not, and if reports are being properly sealed.  There are currently 297 registered geological firms in Texas, which sounds low, considering there are currently over 5,070 registered geoscientists, down from the 6,400 peak.  This is why we need better enforcement.  We've been getting 81-100 new applications per year, but have been loosing approximately 20-30 PGs per month, mostly from the oil and gas industry.  There was a 15% drop in PGs last year.  The Board is very concerned about loosing additional PGs.  Some estimates are saying a further increase in fees, especially given today's economy, could result in the loss of 20-50% of the the PGs in Texas.
The TBPG received over 325 letters on the proposed increase, almost all against any increase.  As I said, the Board is caught in the middle of all this.  After a rather contentious discussion, they decided it was better to raise fees on everything, rather than nothing or some things.  The result is the proposed increases:
        Initial application              $55
        Renewal                             $55
        Renewal over 65               $28
        Initial Firm Registration   $225 (corrects an error that made it cheaper to re-register rather than renew)
        Firm Renewal                    $150
        Sole Proprietorship           $25
There is a 30-day comment period, starting now.  If you have comments, pro or con, please write to the TBPG.  It was pointed out that, while the Texas PG fees are already the highest in the nation, they are the lowest (even with the increase) of all the professional licenses issued in Texas.
On a bright note, during this meeting, it was announced that the Governor's office had finally responded to a request for a meeting to see what could be done about the finances.  The Board had requested this meeting a number of times over the past two to three months.  Matt Cowan, with the Texas Association of Professional Geoscientists helped to finally get this meeting arranged.  They'll be meeting shortly after July 4.  Hopefully the Governor can help.  The budget is due in October.
In other matters discussed at the Board meeting, an individual was found to have issued 60 reports over a period of three years with an expired license.  The exact fine amount is to be determined.  All fines go to the State of Texas General Fund, not the TBPG.
Senator Wentworth will be filing a rebuttal to the veto of HB 2820 by the Governor.  This was the bill that was going to add Geoscientists to the list of professional services for bidding purposes.
We are currently negotiating with the states of South Carolina, Arkansas, and Wyoming for reciprocity.  Kentucky is looking at accepting comity with us.
The Board is also looking to establish an Oil/Gas Advisory Workgroup.  They appreciate the participation of the Oil/Gas industry and want it to continue.  They would like to hear from you.  They are especially interested in why you continue to support the PG in Texas, even though you're exempt.
The Board also issued it's thanks for the help and involvement of the TAPG and Houston Geological Society during this legislative session.
New officers of the TBPG were also elected.  Congratulations and good luck to them:
    Barbara Roeling - Chairperson
    Ronald Kitchens - Vice Chairperson
    Tom Hallmark - Secretary
Henry M. Wise, P.G.
The Wise Report

Henry M. Wise
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Government Update