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Legislative session like a new day for state employees

illustration of sun coming up from horizonTwo years ago state agencies experienced workforce reductions when lawmakers were forced to cut spending in the face of a $10 billion budget shortfall. Approximately 1,700 TDCJ positions were eliminated and, needless to say, no employee pay raises were authorized.

But what a difference a session makes. Although state agencies were required to submit budget requests at a level five percent below the amounts appropriated for the prior biennium, the proposed reductions to TDCJ were almost totally restored by the end of the session. Consequently, unlike last session, no reduction-in-force is necessary.

Furthermore, this year legislators gave state employees the first back-to-back pay raises they have received in 14 years. What’s more, the 7 percent increase spread over the two years of the 2006-2007 biennium is the largest percentage increase in 17 years.

And the good news didn’t stop there for TDCJ employees. Hazardous duty pay was increased from $7 for every year of service to $10 and longevity pay went from $20 for every three years of service to $20 for every two years. There were no increases in health insurance co-pays or deductibles. And premiums increased only slightly for those with spouses or dependents covered by the group health insurance plan. The state continues to contribute 100 percent of premiums for full-time employees and 50 percent of premiums for dependents.

“Going into the session, it was my hope that agency employees would be given a meaningful pay raise that was not offset by higher insurance costs,” said TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston. “I am very appreciative that state legislators and the Governor were able to make it happen.”

“It was apparent from the beginning of the session there was a consensus in Austin that state employees were deserving of a pay raise for their important contributions to Texas. Based on the discussion I had with legislators and the governor’s office, I would say TDCJ employees in particular were very much on their minds. ”

Lawmakers also took action to ensure that the Employee Retirement System (ERS) remains strong by increasing the matching state ERS retirement contribution from 6 percent to 6.45 percent. The ERS retirement contribution for employees remains at 6 percent. A complete summary of legislation impacting TDCJ employees is available on the agency website.

In addition to boosting employee salaries, the legislature provided TDCJ with increased funding in order to strengthen programs aimed at diverting probationers from prison and treating parolees with substance abuse problems.

“Through the Community Justice Assistance Division we will provide funding for the hiring of additional community supervision officers and significantly add to the number of outpatient and residential treatment and intermediate sanction beds available to probationers, said Livingston. “Through the Parole Division, we will provide additional treatment to those whose battle with substance abuse threatens their ability to successfully reintegrate into society.”

In combination with funding appropriated for contracting with local jails, the expanded probation and parole programs should provide for the agency’s capacity needs throughout at least the next two years. Livingston said the Legislature’s actions to address employee pay raises and offender population growth puts the agency in a good position entering the new fiscal year, which begins on September 1.

“I am pleased with how the Department and our employees emerged from the legislative session, particularly since the last legislative session was so challenging for all state agencies,” Livingston said. “I think the session demonstrated the Governor’s and Legislature’s commitment to maintaining public safety and the appreciation they have for hard working, dedicated public servants like those employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”

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