Legislative Reports

By Shea Guinn
May 28, 2013

83rd Legislative Session

The legislative session is coming to an end.  There is a special session being called and hopefully there will be no surprises for GWs there.  I feel that we had a very good session and I’ll summarize some things below.  I want to thank everyone that helped during this session. I appreciate you taking your personal time to come and help.   It takes a huge amount of time, energy, and resources to get through a session, but I feel that it has been more than worth it.

HB 1882 and SB 1459 are the retirement bills.  When  they  originally came out, they made some drastic changes to our retirement.  They proposed to move the retirement age from 50 to 57 and changed the time needed to calculate your final annuity from 36 months to 60 months.  The grandfather clause was if you were 50 years old, had 20 years of service, or met the rule of 70.  We immediately began to communicate with Sen. Duncan and Rep. Callegari about our concerns.  They dropped the grandfather to 45 years old or 15 years of service.  This would still impact nearly half the GWs in the state.  We continued to talk to each office and our stance was that every GW currently working should be grandfathered.  That amendment was added and the retirement bill passed in both houses.   Nothing will change for current employees other than a very small increase in our contribution to the fund.  New hires after Sept. 1 2013 will have a retirement age of 57.  This is something that we would like to see lowered to at least 55, but there will be some studies done on this over the next couple of years.  Again, our goal was to grandfather ALL CURRENT GWs.  Considering  the impact these two bills would have had on GWs, I feel that this is a very positive result.  This bill still has to be signed by Gov. Perry.

The other main item this session was the pay raise.  It was contained in SB 1, which passed both houses over Memorial weekend.  It also has to be signed by Gov. Perry.  I recently sent everyone the Schedule C chart that spells out the actual numbers.  This is a very good raise and every GW in the state should thank his or her legislator.  Our position during the entire session on the pay raise was that we should remain in parity with DPS.  There were a couple of bills filed that would have separated DPS from us and moved Troopers up to the C4 level within Schedule C.  I testified multiple times on these bills stating that DPS deserved a raise, but so do we.  I testified that GWs stand side by side with Troopers in all areas of law enforcement and we deserve the same considerations when it came to pay.  In the end, I think our concerns with separation were heard.  GWs are respected at the Capitol , but we cannot get lazy.  We need to get to know our legislators and continue to educate them on what we do for the people of the state.

There were some other small things that we worked on this session, but retirement and pay were the two big items.  Both of these bills still need the signature of Gov. Perry, but hopefully the hard part is over.  As I have said the entire session, things can change in a second, so please continue to be patient.  I would like to thank David Sinclair, Harold  Stone, Laci Peterson, and Gene McCarty for their help during this session.  They explained many things  and had many good ideas.  I also had complete support from everyone at TPWD headquarters.  There was an open line of communication and that is huge when dealing with the issues that came up this session. I had a lot to learn and these people assisted in every way possible.

Thanks and call if you have any questions,

Shea Guinn
325 451-7649
May 28, 2013

By Sam Center
Jun 10, 2011

I am finally able to write this last report on the 82nd Legislative Session and glad to do it! This is my 9th session to work at the capitol for you and the only one that our goal was to just maintain the status quo. And that is exactly what we did manage to do. When the LBB came out with the initial budget and we saw the deep cuts recommended for game wardens we were not sure we could make a difference in the final outcome – but I feel we did and in a positive way.

Let’s do a review of all the issues we were facing this session:

SCHEDULE C – It was recommended to freeze all step raises for the biennium and increase the time between steps from 4 to 6 years. A floor amendment was added to HB 1 that left Schedule C intact as it was and there are no changes in it.

OVERTIME PAY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY – A floor amendment was added to HB 1 to authorize game wardens be paid for overtime accumulated while working homeland security assignments.

RETIREMENT – There are no changes in the current retirement benefits for LECOS members except for no funding of the states .5% contribution in 2012. Funding will be reinstated beginning fiscal year 2013 in the proposed budget.

HEALTH CARE – No proposed changes in costs for employees/retirees in the biennium.

LAW ENFORCEMENT BUDGET – Game wardens will not have any cuts in positions and the current cadet class is funded to permanent assignments upon graduation. There are other issues including meals at the academy but these should be addressed by Colonel Flores instead of us.

Mr. Travis and I enjoyed working with John Pitts and Shannon Lucas during the session. Personally I think bringing them on board was a home run for us. I know Mr. Travis and I walked a lot fewer miles this session thanks to their expertise. Thanks also to everyone else who came to Austin to make a difference for game wardens – you did!

At this time President Malcom Wilkes is in the planning stages of a thank you party for the Legislators and their staff who stepped up and gave us much needed support this session. Be sure and thank your local legislators when you see them. Several of the floor amendments to help us passed unanimously on the House floor! The credit for that belongs to you and the good job you do every day in your communities and counties.

Apr 18, 2011

Your legislative team has been busy at the Capitol working on issues that affect all peace officers in Texas but especially game wardens. We have hired another consulting firm to assist in this session because of the number of important issues facing game wardens. The GWPOA board hired the Texas Star Alliance group headed by John R. Pitts. John has named his principle, Shannon Lucas, to be our daily contact. Between the 2 of them they have been very effective in making good things happen for game wardens along with Legislative Consultant, Dickie Travis, President Malcom Wilkes, VP Shea Guinn, Sec/Tres Chris Wilson, Butch Shoop and myself.

There are lots of issues facing game wardens and all state employees. The biggest concern will be proposed increased costs in health care. What those costs will be cannot be determined until the budget is finally adopted. You can view proposed changes at the TPEA website or the ERS website. Some of the major changes may be that employees will not get their share of health care funded at 100%. There are proposals of the employee contributing either 10% or 20% and decreasing the spouse or family contribution from 50% to 40%. These are just being discussed at this time and nothing is determined yet.

Another proposal is for the state to stop its .5% to the LECOSE fund. Members of LECOSE would still contribute their share of .5%. Experts tell us that 2 years of this should not have a negative affect on the retirement fund. Beyond that is an unknown and we should all pray the stock market and the national economy makes a quick rebound. This would have a very positive affect on the retirement funds. ERS says the funds are in good shape at this time and should remain so for a number of years. Other than that ERS does not propose any changes to the retirement system at this time. Keep in mind nothing is guaranteed until the final budget is approved. Those planning on retiring in August of this year or before can visit the ERS website to see exactly what your benefits will be. All of the changes that may be initiated should not take place before September 1.

There are 2 items of good news to report to you – the first being that during the House vote on HB 1, the budget, we were able to add an Amendment that restored Schedule C to its current status. Hopefully that will remain intact throughout the budget process. Also we added an Amendment to change the system to allow game wardens to receive overtime pay when working border operations instead of having to go home and take comp time off. We worked closely with Colonel Flores and DPS on this issue and appreciate their cooperation.

The Senate will adopt their version of HB 1 in the near future and then the budget will go to a Conference Committee to be finally agreed upon and, with the Governor’s signature, will be placed in law. We will continue to monitor and work closely with all concerned groups such as TABC, TSTA, DPSOA and TDCJ to protect the interests of the Schedule C members.

I encourage you to consider joining TPEA or at least signing up for updates on their website. Also if you hear rumors of negative things about retirement issues or health care go to the ERS website and look at their news update section. If it isn’t there then it is just another rumor making the rounds. Don’t contribute to the rumor mill by passing on unsubstantiated information.

I also encourage you to call or e mail me or any of the TGWPOA board members especially your Regional Representative if you have any questions or concerns. We will keep them up to date on legislative issues so they can keep you informed.

Mar 7, 2011

This past week was a busy one at the capitol as committee’s started hearing bills and the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees continued their work on the budget for the next biennium.

Mr. Travis, Malcom Wilkes, Shea Guinn and I worked with John Pitts and Shannon Lucas of Texas Star Alliance all week on the legislative goals of the TGWPOA. We attended committee meetings, testified or signed witness forms in favor of legislation we are supporting either for ourselves or at the request of TPWD and met with key legislators and their staffs. It is too early in the process to make any predictions about any outcomes.

But we do feel better about some issues now than we did at the first of the week. We feel we have made some progress in finding existing funding to ensure the current cadet class will continue to be employed when they complete their training. John Pitts worked with Col. Flores and Rep. Riddle and her staff to prepare 3 Riders to present to the House Appropriations Committee this coming Thursday.

We are working with the other LECOS members on the issues of Schedule C, retirement benefits and health insurance. Those committees are starting to hear bills also. One bill we are watching is HB 1974 by Rep. Kenneth Sheets. This bill would change our retirement system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. This is not beneficial to state employees at all.

The survivor benefits legislation we assisted Amanda Hurst with last session is in need of some tweaking so we are working with her this coming week on a bill to be presented to Pensions and Investments on Tuesday. House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees are focusing on Higher Education this week. The House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee are meeting on Wednesday at 2:00 PM and we will attend this meeting.

I know this is pretty general information but it is too early to provide you with anything else except pure speculation. Please read your e mails, check the TGWA website under Legislative Committee and keep up with the news coming from the Capitol. Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you read!

Feb 25, 2011

I intend to do an update at the end of each legislative week for the officers and regional reps of the Association to share with all the game wardens. It will also be posted weekly on the TGWA website under Legislative Report. This will be the first of many as we work towards the conclusion of the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature.

TGWPOA board voted to hire the public affairs firm of Texas Star Alliance. This firm is headed by John R. Pitts with offices in Austin, Houston and Washington, D. C. We will be working on a daily basis with John and his associate, Shannon Lucas. The challenges facing game wardens and TPWD concerning the budget for the next 2 years justify the extra dollars we will be spending for their expertise at the capitol this session.

One of the issues for game wardens is proposed cuts of $0.7 million and 5 FTE’s in the Training Academy budget. Plus a proposed $2.5 million and 20 FTE’s in the overall law enforcement budget. The key here is the word “proposed”. This is why the Association has retained expert help this session – to attempt to remove these cuts from the budget.

Another issue is the proposed change in the Schedule C career ladder. The House version budget increases the time between steps and freezes any step increases for the next biennium. The Senate version makes no changes to Schedule C. We will be working to have the Senate version adopted when the budget goes to conference.

TPWD has asked us to assist in several riders to the Appropriations Bill. We will be working with then to assist in any way we can. We will all be meeting with TPWD’s legislative team and leaders on a regular basis. We are scheduled to meet a week from today to see where we are and how to accomplish our goals as a team.

There are and will be lots of rumors about issues at the capitol including retirement, healthcare, insurance etc. Don’t be part of the rumor mill by spreading heresay. Call me or any member of the leadership of the Association, preferably your Regional Representative, when you have an issue or concern. Any of us will be glad to answer your questions at any time.

By next week the budget will have had it first Senate Finance hearing and the committees hearing ERS healthcare, insurance and retirement issues will have had their first meetings and hopefully more information will be available by then.

Feb 3, 2011

This will be the first legislative update to be posted on the new website as current news instead of old news. In the past by the time the magazine was published my articles were 3 or more months old. It is kind of hard to write anything under those circumstances. Of course the other side of the coin means we will be more accountable for what I put in here. That is fine with us – Mr. Travis and I consider ourselves accountable to every member of the 2 Associations. While on the subject of accountability every one of you should thank Elaine Shaw for the outstanding job she is doing in the office. It is always a pleasure to do business with her.

The 2011 Legislative session draws near with the budget being the foremost issue on everyone’s mind. Hopefully the proposed budget cuts will not affect game wardens abilities to perform their duties. We are working with TPWD leaders to prevent that from happening. This early in the game it is all speculation – no one will know for sure what the end product will be until May of 2011 with passage of the final budget. We will also be monitoring proposed Health Insurance rate increases and any proposed changes in Retirement Fund contributions. We always try to be proactive rather than reactive during the legislative sessions – but sometimes circumstances, such as these times of monetary uncertainty, prevent that. In the past working hand in hand with others, especially TPWD, we have been able to react successfully and we will continue to do our best.

Mr. Travis and I have been in discussions with Executive Director Carter Smith and Colonel Pete Flores in regard to TPWD’s 2011 legislative agenda. We will continue to work as a team to assist them in any way we can. Mr. Travis and I have enjoyed working with TPWD’s legislative team in the past and look forward to the same teamwork in the upcoming session. In the 2009 session we were able to assist with the Sunset Bill and other important issues for TPWD. Teamwork and cooperation will be even more important in 2011 as we face uncertain economic times that always create unexpected issues.

I would be negligent in my duties if I did not remind you how important you are to the legislative process. Your daily, professional, courteous, above and beyond duty service to the people of Texas is the reason we are able to get good things done in Austin. It is a pleasure for Mr. Travis and I and others to represent you at the Capitol.

Mr. Travis and I along with President Malcom Wilkes and Vice President Keith Gerth will be hosting the 3rd “Lunch for the Colonels” in Austin on September 20. The heads of law enforcement for all state agencies will be in attendance along with some of their senior staff. In the past this has been an excellent opportunity for sharing ideas and just getting to know each other on a more personal basis. We are proud to be a part of creating fellowship amongst the leaders of Texas law enforcement agencies.

As many of you have heard the fund raiser held in Ft. Worth in August was a success. The D&D Ranch fishing trip brought a whopping $24,000.00 at auction. I understand there were 7 telephone bidders during the bidding on this trip. Past president Ted Tolle lined up this trip for us a number of years ago while he was stationed in Bastrop County. It has always been the number one money maker for us through the years. Ted informs me that Dan Duncan’s children have agreed to sponsor the trip again in 2011. That is great news and we thank them wholeheartedly.

As a sad note we need to report the passing of Dan Duncan in April of this year. Dan passed away at his home in Houston of a sudden and unexpected illness. He was a self made man, a true friend of conservation and game wardens and an outstanding gentleman. He was one of the few men I encountered in my life that I truly admired. Retired Game Warden Roger Haug and I attended his memorial service in Houston. Mrs. Duncan gave the Eulogy for Dan and did an amazing job. Dan was praised in many ways for the generosity and kindness he displayed throughout his life. Roger and I, along with our wives, were the recipients of a lot of Dan’s generosity in the 30 plus years we knew him. That generosity and kindness was extended to countless other people through the years. We never saw Dan without his trademark; a big, beaming smile on his face. I will end this with one of the quotes printed in the program celebrating Dan Duncan’s life:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” John Wesley