Among the highlights of the recent legislative session were enactment of the TDCJ sunset legislation, a significant expansion of treatment and diversion programs, and approval of pay increases that will result in state employees receiving raises in four consecutive fiscal years.
Passage of the TDCJ sunset bill extended the life of the agency until 2011 and implemented a number of recommendations made by the staff of the sunset advisory commission (see the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of Connections for more information about the Sunset review process and the role of the Commission). Sunset reviews generally occur every twelve years, but during the next four years legislators want to evaluate how expanding both alternatives to incarceration and programs intended to reduce recidivism have impacted offender population growth.
Among the programs targeted for expansion as a result of actions take by the 80th Legislature are the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment and In-Prison Therapeutic Community programs, both of which provide substance abuse treatment to various offender populations incarcerated in TDCJ. Additional funding was also approved for other initiatives designed to divert offenders from the prison system, reduce their likelihood of returning once released, and provide additional correctional capacity without requiring new prison construction, as shown in the box at the right entitled, “criminal justice initiatives.”
General obligation bonds to finance the construction of up to three new prison facilities was also appropriated, contingent upon voter approval in November of a constitutional amendment authorizing bond financing. However, the Legislature has no immediate plans to proceed with the construction of the units. Should the bonds be approved by the public, the Legislative Budget Board would determine if and when any bonds would be issued for construction of additional capacity.
The Legislature approved an across-the-board two percent pay raise for all state employees in fiscal year 2008 and another two percent pay increase in fiscal year 2009. The FY 2008 salary increase took effect September 1, 2007, and will be reflected in the paychecks employees receive during October 2007. In addition, the rate of hazardous duty pay was increased for certain correctional positions, while the $300 per month cap on hazardous duty pay was eliminated for all other hazardous duty positions.
A summary of legislation impacting state employees, as well as a summary of the major criminal justice legislation enacted by the 80th Texas Legislature, is available on the agency website, www.tdcj.state.tx.us.