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By Brad Livingston, Executive Director
Among the many important issues acted upon by the 83rd Texas Legislature, the most significant for the Department involved appropriations for agency operations and employee pay raises, enactment of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Sunset legislation and changes to the pension program serving state employees. Since an overview of the new retirement provisions is provided, this update will focus on appropriation and Sunset matters.
The Legislature generally maintained agency operations at the fiscal year (FY) 2012-13 levels, although increased appropriations were provided for community corrections, parole caseload growth, reentry and continuity-of-care, offender health care and certain capital/infrastructure items like facility repair, computers and vehicles. Note that increased appropriations did not necessarily expand programs; some funding increases simply offset caseload growth or rising health care costs.
A significant reduction in funding for contract prisons, privately-operated state jails and residential pre-parole facilities was made possible by recent declines in the offender population. Largely attributed to the Legislature's expansion of treatment and diversion programs, the decreased number of inmates led policymakers to reduce funding by $97.3 million in the FY 2014-15 biennium. Consequently two facilities will be closed by September 1, 2013.
Most state employees will receive a 1 percent salary increase in FY 2014 ($50 monthly minimum) followed by a 2 percent increase in FY 2015 (also a $50 monthly minimum); however, TDCJ's uniformed security staff will receive a 5 percent pay raise effective the first year of the biennium, and licensed peace officers employed by the Office of Inspector General will also receive a salary adjustment effective September 1, 2013.
A more detailed overview of how the general appropriations bill will impact the agency and our employees is available on the TDCJ website. But in summarizing the big picture, it's fair to say the current situation is markedly better than it was two years ago. In 2011, fiscal constraints required TDCJ and many other agencies to focus on minimizing the negative impact of budget reductions. In 2013, legislative appropriations to TDCJ will maintain programs and services as needed based on demand, and selectively expand certain functions like offender reentry. In addition, the actions taken to put the employee retirement program in a better long term fiscal situation, in combination with the salary enhancements described above, represent, in my opinion, a very favorable outcome for current state employees.
Note: The governor has until June 16 to act on SB 1 and most other legislation approved by the Legislature, so all information provided, while current, is subject to change.
The Sunset Review process began back in the summer of 2011, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice submitting a self-evaluation report and numerous other documents requested by the Sunset Advisory Commission. In addition to reviewing the large volume of information provided by the Department, Sunset staff then spent months touring facilities and offices, meeting with senior and front line staff and observing agency operations. They also sought input from various individuals and groups, to include judges, prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals, as well as the families of offenders, advocacy groups and other concerned citizens.
In May 2012, the Sunset staff report was released. The report contained multiple recommendations impacting the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Windham School District and the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee. From an agency perspective, perhaps the most significant finding was that the Texas criminal justice system was working well, and the most significant recommendation involved extending the life of the agency for another twelve years.
After meeting in a public hearing to take both agency and public testimony, the members of the Sunset Advisory Commission met again during September 2012 to adopt their final recommendations pertaining to TDCJ and other adult criminal justice agencies. With a few exceptions, the staff recommendations were adopted in their entirety and published in the Staff Report with Commission Decisions. One modification of note involved extending the life of the agency for eight years, not 12, in order to provide more frequent reviews of all the criminal justice agencies and their vital public safety functions.
The TDCJ Sunset bill, SB 213 by Whitmire and Price, was filed on March 5, 2013, and incorporated the Commission's recommendations. After being considered in the appropriate House and Senate committees and by the full membership of both legislative bodies, the bill emerged from the legislative process with relatively few amendments, none of which significantly impacted TDCJ. As of June 12, SB 213 is on the governor's desk pending his consideration.
I could not be more pleased with the Sunset Review process and the outcome. Sunset staff was both professional and courteous to our employees. The members of the Commission were equally good to work with, contributing their experience and insights to the final report. The review produced a number of useful recommendations that we are already working to implement. Finally, while the review did identify some areas for improvement, the overall conclusion was positive, and the life of the agency was extended another eight years.
A synopsis of the Sunset bill and other significant criminal justice legislation can be found on the TDCJ website.
In order to enhance the long term viability of the pension program serving state employees, the 83rd Texas Legislature has adopted several measures intended to decrease the unfunded liability of the Employees Retirement System's (ERS) retirement trust funds. Click on this link to review a summary of the retirement changes included in Senate Bill 1459.Although preliminary versions of the legislation would have made significant changes in the retirement benefits for many current employees, the authors of the bill were sensitive to the concerns of the state's workforce. They revised the legislation to exempt current employees from changes in retirement benefits, and exempted most current employees from changes in the state's contributions for retiree health insurance.
Attention current and former employees who have withdrawn, or are contemplating withdrawal of their retirement contributions
Employees hired on or after September 1, 2013, to include current and former employees returning to state employment who have withdrawn their retirement funds, will be subject to the new requirements for retirement. For current employees contemplating departure from state employment and withdrawing retirement contributions, it is important to consider how that decision may affect your future retirement benefits should you wish to return to work.
Likewise, former employees who have withdrawn their contributions and are now contemplating a return to state employment should consider how returning to work on, before or after September 1, 2013, will affect future retirement benefits.
According to Human Resources Division Director Jan Thornton, the retirement benefits for employees hired on or after September 1, 2013 will remain very competitive with those offered by other employers, and should continue to be an asset in recruiting.
"With more and more employers offering defined contribution benefit plans, which makes future benefits harder to predict, continuing to provide a defined benefit retirement plan will be something our recruiters continue to emphasize," said Thornton.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Executive Director Brad Livingston acknowledged that some changes were necessary to ensure the retirement fund remained fiscally sound in the long term, but thanked legislators for making the retirement benefit changes apply prospectively.
"Had the retirement bill not been amended, many current TDCJ employees would have been required to work years longer in order to receive full retirement benefits," said Livingston. "Changing the rules so dramatically for employees with many years of service would have been unfair, and I deeply appreciate Senator Duncan, Representative Callegari, the governor, the state's legislative leadership and all the members of the Texas Legislature for making the retirement benefit changes apply only to those hired on or after September 1, 2013."
Reflecting on his career with TDCJ, Thaler praised agency staff. "It has been an extreme pleasure to serve with the many men and women who are committed to providing public safety for this state. I truly believe that Texas is blessed to have the most dedicated and professional correctional staff in the world. It has been an honor to work beside these individuals for the last 33 years."
Taking his place as director of CID is Bill Stephens, another veteran TDCJ employee. Stephens began his career in 1981 as a correctional officer at the Wynne Unit and has advanced through nearly every security position in the agency. He began serving as CID Region II director in 2005. Since 2009, Stephens has supervised operation of all six CID regions while serving as Deputy Director of Prison and Jail Operations.
Congratulating Stephens on his promotion to director of the Correctional Institutions Division, TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston said, "His strong leadership experience working in virtually all of the key frontline security responsibilities in this agency will serve him and the agency well as he transitions to this critical function."
In April, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) Correctional Institutions Division (CID) named new directors for CID regions I, IV and VI.
|Richard K. Alford|
Alford began his career with TDCJ in 1986 as a correctional officer at the Goree Unit. He has promoted through the ranks of TDCJ, most recently serving as senior warden at the Polunsky Unit. He holds an Associate in Applied Science-Criminal Justice degree from Angelina Jr. College.
|Cody W. Ginsel|
Ginsel began his career with TDCJ in 1988 as a textbook coordinator for the Windham School District. In 1990 he became a correctional officer at the Huntsville Unit and continued to promote through the agency, holding several senior warden positions throughout the state. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree from Lamar University.
|Eric J. Guerrero|
Guerrero began his career with TDCJ in 1994 as a correctional officer at the McConnell Unit, and subsequently served as lieutenant, captain, major and assistant warden. He served as senior warden at the Glossbrenner Unit, the Lopez State Jail/Segovia Unit, and most recently, the Wallace and Ware units.
He volunteers much of his time to the Special Olympics, and served as the TDCJ-CID director for Special Olympics of Texas from 2009 to 2012.
|Thomas P. Wingate|