Sunset Decision Hearing final recommendation to the Texas Legislature
Today I am contacting you as I promised during August to inform you at key times about the progress of the effort to reverse of all the Sunset Advisory Commission’s (SAC) initial recommendation on August 2 to abolish the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists (TBPG) and repeal the Texas Geoscience Practice Act, after which no geoscientists would be licensed by Texas. As I previously reported, HGS is one of the founding organizations of the Texas Geoscience Council (TGC) (https://www.txgeoscience.org/), an umbrella organization whose purpose is “to support the protection of the health, safety and welfare of all Texans through public education about geoscientific work and advocacy for professional geoscientist licensure in the Lone Star State.” Since August, many people from across the State have been actively engaged in educating the SAC and other legislators about the functions and value of licensed geoscientists to protect the public health, safety, welfare, and the State’s natural resources. I have been surprised by the lack of knowledge about what all geoscientists do, as well as our contributions to our modern civilization.
On Wednesday, September 14, I attended the Sunset Decision Hearing at the State Capital along with HGS members Henry Wise and Richard Howe and at least 12 other people from the TGC and other organizations around the State who have been engaged in the process. Even though we attended only as observers of the SAC discussions and votes, the TGC lobbyist advised us that a physical presence was important to send the message that we care about the outcome. Our presence was noticed when we entered the cleared chamber after the review of the Veterans’ Land Board.
We’re not at the finish line, but we have successfully cleared a major hurdle. The final SAC recommendation to the Legislature will be to continue the TBPG for another 6 years, until September 1, 2025, while implementing 12 recommendations. Six years is when the TBPG will again come under Sunset review along with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TBPE). Besides active discussions, there were essentially 2 votes to get to that conclusion:
1) The first vote, which failed with 8 No to 4 Yes, was to abolish the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists (TBPG) and transfer the regulation of geoscientists to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TBPE) by September 1, 2020. In the modified proposal that was voted on, geoscientists would have only had an advisory committee to the TBPE, not Board representation.
2) The second vote to continue the TBPG for another 6 years, until September 1, 2025, while implementing 12 recommendations passed by 10 Yes to 2 No.
While some of the recommendations we must implement are not our first choice, they are palatable, considering the alternatives to either abolish the TBPG, or fold geoscientists into the TBPE. They are:
1) Eliminate the statutory notarization requirement for individuals applying for the professional geoscientist license.
2) Eliminate the letter of reference requirement for individuals applying for a professional geoscientist license.
3) Direct the board to eliminate the letter of reference requirement for individuals applying to register as a geoscientist-in-training. (Management action – nonstatutory)
4) Direct the board to discontinue geoscience firm registration. (Management action – nonstatutory)
5) Direct the board to cease routinely opening unlicensed public practice complaints against expired licensees who failed to timely renew. (Management action – nonstatutory)
6) Direct the board to further develop policies guiding the administrative dismissal of complaints by staff, specifically to provide staff clear direction to handle continuing education complaints unless aggravating circumstances require board involvement. (Management action – nonstatutory)
7) Direct the board to publish its penalty matrix on its website. (Management action – nonstatutory)
8) Apply the Sunset across-the-board recommendation to provide that the governor designates the presiding officer of the board to provide a direct line of accountability between the board chair and the governor.
9) Apply the Sunset across-the-board recommendation to require the agency to develop a training manual that each board member attests to receiving annually, and require existing board member training to include information about the scope of and limitations of the board’s rulemaking authority, including potentially anticompetitive behavior.
10) Apply the Sunset across-the-board recommendation regarding complaint processing for complaints against the board.
11) Apply the Sunset across-the-board recommendation regarding alternative dispute resolution.
12) Amend Texas Occupations Code, Section 1002.452 to increase the board’s maximum administrative penalty amount from $100 to $1,500 per day for each violation. The application of the maximum penalty should be limited to only the most serious offenses.
As I said earlier, we are not to the finish line. The Texas Geoscience Practice Act (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1002), which authorized the establishment of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists and licensing of geoscientists must be reauthorized in the next legislative session, beginning January 8, 2019, ending May 27, 2019. If the Act is not reauthorized, the TBPG will by default be abolished. So the next and final hurdle is to educate all legislators about what geoscientist do and the importance of licensing to those geoscientists who work in areas that protect public health, safety, welfare, and the State’s natural resources, as we ask them to reauthorize the Act.. This will entail visits to all State Legislators. The Texas Geoscience Council is preparing a booklet to leave with legislators, which will reinforce the message of our profession’s importance.