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Judge Joel Baker Participates in Legislative Session Discussion on County Government
Smith County Judge Joel Baker was one of hundreds of county officials who gathered in Austin Aug. 27-29 at the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) 2014 Legislative Conference to discuss common concerns shared by Texas local governments, learn about the biggest issues facing counties and local taxpayers heading into the 84th Legislature and discover the resources available to those who wish to advocate the needs of their local communities to legislators. 

“The Legislative Conference is the one time each year county officials from across the state can gather together as colleagues and as community leaders to discuss common issues and potential solutions to our shared problems and challenges, and to prepare together for the upcoming legislative session, the workings of which will undoubtedly affect counties in many ways,” said TAC Executive Director Gene Terry. “County government is the working arm of the state, and counties shoulder many responsibilities that affect citizens in their day-to-day lives. Any and all of those responsibilities can be affected by the Legislature. County officials must be dedicated to ensuring that legislators are aware of the pros and cons of any legislation that may affect local control, counties and Texans.”

During their three days in Austin, county officials heard from their peers, experts and legislators on a number of current and expected hot topics affecting counties, including: 
An update on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including how counties can prepare for the excise tax in 2018;
Compliance with the Supreme Court of Texas’ statewide e-filing mandate; 
Water and drought issues, including how the State Water Plan project prioritization is progressing and how local entities are responding to changing water needs;
Rising indigent defense costs and best practices;
How the state budget is written, how legislators use dedicated funds to balance the budget and the affect that practice has on Texans and important services; and
An update on the Mental Health Advisory Panel and how counties are working to improve mental health crisis services across the state.

In addition, the conference’s General Sessions included presentations by author David Houle, a business consultant and one of the nation’s top futurists; University of Texas communications professor John Daly, who discussed best practices for advocating to legislators; Chet Garner, the creator of the Emmy-award winning television show The Daytripper, who gave his perspective on how important diversity is to Texas and what it means to be a Texan; and Steven Murdock, the first official State Demographer of Texas and former director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. 

Other notable speakers included Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), the chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation, who discussed possible funding solutions to help build and maintain the state’s road system, and Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio), who spoke about services and resources available for Texas veterans.

Several county officials and department heads also led discussions and helped educate their colleagues on a number of topics. Those county officials included Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen, Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson, Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter, Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Mike Denton, Fort Bend County Clerk Dianne Wilson and Tom Green County District Clerk Sheri Woodfin.  TAC works to unite Texas counties together in search of solutions for challenges faced by all counties and to provide services to support county officials in the vital work they do for their local communities.

Information about the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) 2014 Legislative Conference was provided by the Texas Association of Counties. For additional information regarding the conference contact Lonnie Hunt at (512) 478-8753 or at For additional information regarding Smith County elected officials please contact Adrienne Hampton, Smith County Public Relations Liaison at (903) 590-4607.
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