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INTERVIEW / “The Legislature Has a Role” MICHAEL KING INTERVIEWS GARNET COLEMAN Among the most controversial issues in the current legislative session is the Texas Integrated Enrollment System, or TIES. As the Observer went to press, the state was awaiting a federal government decision on TIES, an estimated $2 billion project, designed by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and the Council on Competitive Government, to restructure and dramatically privatize social service programs in Texas [see “Virtual Welfare, March 14]. Houston Representative Garnet Coleman is among several legislators who have offered new legislation to limit or revise TIES. He describes the drafted bills as attempting to streamline the computerization, telephone and mail systemscontracting as seems efficientbut “at no point would we want to see a person dissuaded, if it’s a difficult case, from going into an office and getting the proper counseling in order to get services.” Michael King interviewed Coleman March 25 at the Capitol; the following is an excerpt from that conversation. Michael King: Where do you think the TIES program stands now, and what do you think might come out of the Legislature? Representative Coleman: I believe that there is a commitment to integrated enrollment, for recipients of government services, for benefits, for those who are eligible for themintegrated eligibility, and then enrollment. We should receive some efficiencies, and hopefully create better access and better service in the processit has to do both, that’s the public policy on it. One way of doing that was TIES…. It was the way of doing it that became controversial, because we were talking about a procurement that essentially outsourcedeven if it was a joint venture with a state agencythat outsourced a whole chunk of what state government does. And not just contracting with, but actually saying, “You do this,” and we walk away. That was very different…. What was intended in the ’95 privatization initiative? I don’t think anybody ever thought that it would be a complete outsourcing of the eligibility systemthat’s the major part of the determination of services, and the providing of services. And if we did think that, most of us would have objected at the time. We wouldn’t have wanted that, that’s not something we would have done. The majority of the Legislature would have rejected that notion? I think, in the final analysis, yesif they understood all the implications of that notion. What was not said in that amendment was that we were going to lay off five to ten thousand employees; we may close offices in San Angelo or Hale Center, or other places. Because the inefficiencies have always been in the rural areas, not in the urban areasthe reason being that you’re dealing with distance…because in order to have a physical body there, giving people the proper service, and especially when you look at something like Medicaid, that’s very complicated to deal with, for the elderly, nursing homes and things like that, we’re not talking about things that are very simple…. The private sector would never provide that. As a matter of fact, welfare wouldn’t exist if it was up to the private sector to provide it. Medicaid would not exist if it was up to the private sector to fund it and provide it. But there’s a considerable sentiment in the Legislature that says, “Well, that would be great….” There may be. But they may not think it’s so great when Suzy Bobtheir constituentgets laid off. Anything sounds good in a vacuum, but when you look at the consequences of that action, it has an impact, and this would have an impact on employment. Just like building a prison has a positive impact in the community, it creates jobs, it brings a payroll, and so on well, so does health and human services. Alan Pogue The DHHS and the Council on Competitive Government apparently thought they had a mandate to go out and create this $2-3 billion private contract for the next five years. They may have. But we’re back. And that’s the difference between what people do and think they can do in the interim, when we’re not here, and when we’re here. We often clarify legislation in the next sessionthere’s no static legislation. We can change any law anytime the Legislature’s back in session, if that’s the will of the Legislature, and the Governor signs it or doesn’t sign it. Regardless of what somebody may or may not have thoughtif the proposed implementation of the policy is something that may not be good for the state of Texas, the Legislature has the right and the obligation to go in and correct it. 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 11, 1997