Letter from the President of the Houston Geological Society regarding the PG License

Posted: August 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Dear HGS Colleagues:

 

I am contacting you today for 2 reasons:

  1. to inform you about a recent recommendation by the Sunset Advisory Commission Staff recommending the abolishment of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists, which has the effect of abolishing the ability of Texas Geoscientists to be licensed by the State of Texas and
  2. to ask you to submit a personal letter, as well as ask your employer and your clients and all professional organizations to submit letters to the Sunset Commission telling them why it is important for the State of Texas to regulate Geoscience licensure, giving them examples from your real world experience – specifically cases where a P.G. helped protect the public health, safety, and welfare, saved a client and/or the public money that would have been wasted, and so forth. These letters can be from license holders, unlicensed individuals and firms, where in the letter provides the perspective of why having licensed geoscientists and an agency overseeing that licensing is important to you, the public, and/or your firm.  It’s best if these letters are received by August 16, this Thursday.  HGS will be sending a letter on behalf of our membership.  Following this is a table of a time line that includes the timing of actions you can take as well as key information regarding this issue.

Timeline and what you can do to help

DATE NOTES and WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
August 2, 2018 Sunset Advisory Commission (SAC) releases version 1 of the Sunset Staff Report, stating “Issue 1 State Regulation of Geoscientists Provides No Measurable Public Benefit and Should Be Discontinued”  and recommending to

Abolish the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists (TBPG) and repeal the Texas Geoscience Practice Act.  If taken to conclusion, there will be NO licensed Geoscientists by Texas starting September 1, 2019.

Full documents, including the Summary, can be found on the Sunset Commission website:

https://www.sunset.texas.gov/reviews-and- reports/agencies/texas-board-professional-geoscientists-tbpg

If you only want the full report, it can be found at https://www.sunset.texas.gov/public/uploads/files/reports/Texas%20Board%20of%20Professional%20Geoscientists%20Staff%20Report_8-2-18.pdf

STARTING NOW

And preferably by August 16, 2018

Thursday

Submit Public Comments:

Submit written statement to the Sunset Commission appealing for them to reverse their recommendation and giving your reasons for why having the TBPG and licensed Geoscientists is important.  These letters should be from:

  1. Individuals, both licensed and not licensed
  2. Businesses
  3. Professional Organizations

Although you may submit public comments to the Sunset Commission after August 16, 2018, we have learned that public input should be submitted by August 16th in order for your comments to be available to the Sunset Commission Members prior to the public hearing that is scheduled on August 29-30, 2018.

Submit public comments to the Sunset Commission by completing the Public Input Form found at

https://www.sunset.texas.gov/input-form-public?id=463&agency=TEXAS%20BOARD%20PROFESSIONAL%20GEOSCIENTISTS%20TBPG, which can also be accessed from the Sunset Commission website given previously, but okay to submit comments via email to sunset@sunset.texas.gov

Starting NOW and continuing through the next legislative session, January 8 to May 27, 2019 As one of their constituents, personally contact your elected State Representative and Senator, especially if they are members of the Sunset Commission, the Governor, and the Lieutenant Governor telling them the importance of retaining the TBPG and Texas licensed Geoscientists, AND imploring them to support the reauthorization of the existing Texas Geoscience Practice Act (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1002), which authorized the establishment of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists.

A good resource for information about contacting legislators is:

https://capitol.texas.gov/Resources/contactText.aspx

Texas Legislature Online – Contact

capitol.texas.gov

To find information on Texas government agencies and services, including online services such as license and vehicle registration renewals and permit applications:

Governor:

https://gov.texas.gov/contact

Contact | Office of the Texas Governor | Greg Abbott

gov.texas.gov

Governor Greg Abbott and his staff welcome your comments and concerns. Our office prefers contact via this website as it may facilitate a faster response. To send us a message, please first click one of the three options below to continue. Notice: Please be aware that all information (except your …

Lieutenant Governor:

https://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/

Home – Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick

www.ltgov.state.tx.us

Lt. Governor Patrick Commends Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security

August 17

Friday

Attend the TBPG Board Meeting

TBPG may submit a formal response to the SAC report.

8:30 am – 12:30 pm

Where: Hobby Building, 333 Guadalupe St
Austin, TX 78701, Cost: Free

Contact: Molly Roman 512 936-4405

Please attend this meeting (turnout counts) and even better give oral testimony to the TBPG.  So far, Matthew Cowan (wrcowan1@hal-pc.org; mobile 713-818-3114) will be attending and giving oral testimony on behalf of the HGS and other professional organizations. He needs more people to attend with him.

August 29-30, 2018 (but dates not locked in) Attend the Sunset Advisory Commission Public Hearing which will take testimony regarding the staff report and the TBPG agency overall, which they will use to make a final decision regarding the recommendation to the legistature.

Please consider attending and giving oral testimony at this hearing.

November 2018 Date (specific date TBA) Sunset Advisory Commission Decision Meeting

The SAC makes its final vote on recommendations to the full Legislature.  After the meeting, they will issue the Sunset Staff Report with Commission Decisions which documents the Sunset Commission’s decisions on the original staff recommendations and any new issues raised during the hearing. They can make one of 3 decisions:

  1. Continue with the original recommendation to abolish the TBPG
  2. Reverse the decision, recommending to keep the TBPG as is
  3. Recommend to keep the TBPG, but with required changes

 

January 8 to May 27, 2019 Legislative Action Phase – The Sunset Act requires reauthorization of the Texas Geoscience Practice Act (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1002) for it to continue. This Act authorized the establishment of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists, which licenses Geoscientists.  If it is not reauthorized during the legislative session, either by a negative vote or not being brought up to a vote the TBPG, and effectively licensing of Geoscientists goes away, NO MATTER what the final recommendation is from the Sunset Advisory Commission.   Obviously, if their final decision is to abolish the TBPG, it will be much harder to convince legislators to submit and support a bill for the entire legislature to consider.  However, if they reverse their recommendation, with or without required changes, then legislators must be identified to submit a reauthorization bill, and all legislators must be encouraged to support it.

A vote must come early in the Legislative Session to assure there can be a vote, because even if bills are in the hopper, if they don’t come up for a vote before the Session ends, they are dropped.  The Lieutenant Governor sets the agenda and the order of bills considered.

May 27, 2019 to May 31, 2020 Wind down period:

If we are not successful in preventing the abolishment of the TBPG during the Legislative Session, then a wind down period will begin to finish existing business before the TBPG.

September 1, 2019 If we are not successful in preventing the abolishment of the TBPG during the Legislative Session, TBPG and Texas’ licensure of Geoscientist will cease to exist.

 

I’ll now try to fill you in with some details:

 

Legislative History:

In 2001, the Texas Geoscience Practice Act (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 1002) authorized the establishment of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists (TBPG) (http://tbpg.state.tx.us/tbpg/statute/).  There have been licensed Geoscientists in Texas since that time.  “The mission of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists is to protect public health, safety, welfare and the state’s natural resources by ensuring only qualified persons carry out the public practice of geoscience and enforcing the Code of Professional Conduct the Board has established for its licensees.”  They are the vetting and enforcement agency that can withdraw licenses and pursue unlicensed  individuals and unregistered companies who practice geoscience in regulated areas.

 

What is the Sunset Act?

The Sunset Advisory Commission exists because of the Sunset Act.  “The entire purpose of Sunset is to question the need for and effectiveness of state regulation and the agencies that perform this regulation.”  It “specifically requires this evaluation as well as an even more rigorous evaluation of occupational licensing agencies and whether or not they serve a meaningful public interest through the least restrictive form of regulation necessary to protect the public.  When an occupational licensing agency cannot be justified by a clear threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the public, Sunset staff has a duty to report this finding to its Commission and the Legislature in an effort to reduce state regulation and focus state resources where public protection is paramount.”

 

When reviewing an occupational licensing program, as directed by the Legislature in 2013, the Sunset Commission has to answer the following questions:

  1. Does the occupational licensing program serve a meaningful public interest and provide the least restrictive form of regulation needed to protect the public interest?
  2. Could the program’s regulatory objective be achieved through market forces, private certification and accreditation programs, or enforcement of other law?
  3. Are the skill and training requirements for a license consistent with a public interest, or do they impede applicants, particularly those with moderate or low incomes, from entering the occupation?
  4. What is the impact of the regulation on competition, consumer choice, and the cost of services?

 

Who are the Sunset Advisory Committee Members?

5 Representative, 5 Senators, 2 Public Members, one appointed Director

 

Sunset Advisory Commission Members:  
Senator Brian Birdwell, Chair Representative Chris Paddie, Vice Chair
Senator Dawn Buckingham, M.D. Representative Dan Flynn
Senator Bob Hall Representative Stan Lambert
Senator Robert Nichols Representative Poncho Nevárez
Senator Kirk Watson Representative Senfronia Thompson
Emily Pataki, Public Member Ronald G. Steinhart, Public Member
Ken Levine, Director  

 

 

The Background of the current issue:

Some of you, especially if you’re a licensed geoscientist in the state of Texas, may already be aware that the on August 2, 2018 the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission made public their recommendation that the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientist be abolished.  No TBPG means no Texas P.G.s!  This was their first and only Sunset review of the Board.  They found “that professional geoscientists provide valuable assessments and research related to groundwater, subsurface concerns, and other areas. However, a historical lack of meaningful enforcement action, no measurable impact on public protection, and more direct oversight of geoscientists’ work provided by other state agencies’ render ongoing state regulation of geoscientists unnecessary to protect the public.”  Even without this recommendation, the Geoscience Practice Act will need to be reauthorized in the next Texas Legislative session which begins on January 8, 2019 and runs through May 27, 2019.

 

The Sunset Advisory Commission Staff’s reasoning for their recommendation to eliminate the TBPG is:

  1. No complaints have been brought by the public, and history shows that there was no demand from the public to create the agency in the first place.
  2. There has been no measurable impact of Geoscientist licensing on Public protection.
  3. The Board was not established in the first place to protect the Public, but primarily “to legitimize the profession” and to protect Geoscientists from the Engineers and from untrained competitors.
  4. Almost no geologists deal directly with the public – our clients are mainly organizations. Therefore, licensing is not necessary for public protection.
  5. There are too many (50%) Texas geologists who are exempted from the requirement to get a license.
  6. No meaningful enforcement action over the life of the Board.
  7. More direct oversight of geoscientists’ work is provided by other state agencies’ (Texas RRC, TCEQ), which renders ongoing state regulation of geoscientists unnecessary to protect the public.
  8. 78% of CURRENT Texas PGs ere Grandfathered, therefore did not take ASBOG, therefore there is no guaranty that they are, in fact, well-trained.
  9. The licensee population is steadily declining, from 6,600 in 2003 to 4200 in 2017.
  10. Less restrictive means exist to ensure the safe practice of geoscience (i.e. certification by AIPG, AEG, AAPG, etc.)

 

If this recommendation is carried out, there will be consequences to the overall economy and health and safety of the State when unqualified individuals and firms perform incompetent and inadequate services whose deleterious effects may not be discovered for years.

 

My opinion is that licensing provides a uniform minimum standard of excellence.  Being licensed assures the public and industry that the licensed individual is capable (has the required education), competent (has the minimum experience), and honest (in so far as the licensed Geoscientist acknowledges and adheres to a written code of standards).  As the Sunset Advisory Commission pointed out, many agencies require that work be done and stamped by a licensed Geoscientist.  The license seal on a report frequently gives regulatory agencies confidence that the submitted report is done by a Geoscientist with the necessary education, experience, and demonstrated honesty to correctly perform the work.  They do not necessarily provide, or require separate specific licenses for all specific tasks.  Because the TBPG can withdraw a Geoscientist’s license for bad work or dishonesty, effectively taking away their ability to do future work that requires a license, the license provides the incentive to perform good work and be honest.  This may be the reason for so few reported infractions.  Licensing and the enforcement ability of the TBPG provides that minimum level of security to the general public, to industry, and to governmental agencies.  Prior to the licensing Act there were many unqualified individuals who were practicing before the public, and giving our profession and our science a black eye.

Please join me in supporting the continuation of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists and their licensing of Geoscientists in Texas.

 

Sincerely,

Cheryl Desforges
HGS President 2018-2019

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