As SB 1 was voted out of the Senate, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst remarked: “The state budget passed today reflects our commitment to balancing a fiscally conservative budget without raising taxes and giving your priorities the resources they need to continue building a better future for Texas.” The budget passed by the Senate, 29-2 (Sen. Wendy Davis and Sen. Sylvia Garcia voted nay) appropriates $94.1 billion for general revenue and a total of $195.5 billion overall, a 7.7% increase in spending. Dissenting Senators argued the Senate should do more to restore funding for social services and education. $1.5 billion was added to public education and healthcare spending, including an additional $240 million for mental health services, increased 8.1 percent.
The House is busy putting together a budget that increases education funding, including per-student spending in public and higher education and a boost to financial aid. Members hope to offer better resources to teachers and to accommodate a growing population of students that are more expensive to educate. Speaker Straus outlined his two major priorities for the upcoming week: HB 5, a bill by Rep. Aycock that cuts the number of End-of-Course exams and creates opportunities for vocational training; and HB 4, which creates a fund for water and conservation projects.
Perry urged legislators to invest in critical water and transportation infrastructure as Texas’ population and economy continue to grow. He called for $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for a one-time injection into water and transportation infrastructure projects. Legislators have ramped up efforts to regulate utility agencies, including bills to place the PUC under Sunset Review and to transfer water rate authority to the PUC.
Sen. John Corona’s fight to curb the $4 billion a year payday lending industry continued with a hearing on SB 1247, which would codify regulation in statutes. Cities like San Antonio and El Paso have already created local laws to regulate the industry. Critics say some customers may end up paying over 500% in interest on a small payday loan.
News of the Week
Senate Approves $195.5 Billion Budget, 29-2
SB 1 spends $94.1 billion in general revenue — the part of the budget lawmakers have the most control over — a 7.7 percent increase over the 2011 budget. Spending would increase in most areas, including education and health care, but still drew criticism from those who argued that more spending is needed in light of the size of last session’s budget cuts and the amount of money now available.
Payday Lenders Buy Themselves a Weakened ‘Reform’ Bill
Earlier this legislative session, a chief of staff for a senator noted that the $4 billion Texas payday and auto-title loan industry would soon grow powerful and lucrative enough that the Texas Legislature would be unable to take it on. That time may have already come.
House Passes Public Utility Commission Sunset Bill
HB 1600, authored by state Rep. Byron Cook would transfer authority over water rate regulation from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the PUC. And it would place constraints on power companies’ abilities to distribute information gained from their customers’ smart meters.
House budget-writers back $1.5 billion more for education
The House Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to put $1.5 billion more into public education on top of covering enrollment in the next two-year budget cycle, an amount equal to that endorsed by Senate budget-writers.
Senator boosts gambling hopes with late bill
Sen. John Corona, who chairs the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee that would handle the bill, filed Senate Joint Resolution 64 late Wednesday to greatly expand gambling in the state.
Texas lawmakers now tackling big challenges
The Texas House convened in January focused on priorities that will promote economic growth, such as reforming public education, securing reliable supplies of water and making our state budget more transparent. With the legislative session now halfway over, each of these priorities is moving forward.
Gains on State Exams Don’t Translate to National Tests
Performance on the ACT and SAT, the college admissions exams administered to most high school students in the state, has either flatlined or dropped. Modest gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which evaluates samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country to provide side-by-side comparisons among states, have not matched their skyrocketing scores on the state standardized tests.
Texas Legislature briefs: Senate panel to vote on allowing more charter schools
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick said he will seek committee approval Tuesday of his bill to raise the cap on the number of independent charter schools in Texas. But he has given up on his efforts to provide facilities funding for charter schools and to require that vacant schools lease their property.
Medicaid Expansion Sparks Debate Over Asset Tests
Gov. Rick Perry said last week that any Medicaid overhaul in Texas should include so-called asset testing, “to ensure care is there for those who really need it most.” With lawmakers eyeing a Medicaid expansion, such testing is stirring debate.
House budget makers beef up school funding
Texas lawmakers under pressure from educators to restore billions of dollars cut from public schools two years ago are responding in an ever-bigger way. The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to boost funding for public schools by $2.5 billion in the next two-year budget period.
Sequester Could Hit Special Ed, Poor TX Students
In 2011, Texas schools were hit with a $5.4 billion cut in state financing. And now that the state is also facing automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect on March 1, administrators say they are running out of cost-saving options to maintain services that get federal money.
Bill Would Designate Schools That Enroll Dropouts
Fewer than 85 percent of Texas students in the class of 2010 graduated from high school. At a hearing Thursday in the state Senate, lawmakers heard the case for keeping better tabs on dropouts who end up back in school.
Gonzalez, Workman: Career training good for students, employers and Texas
Young adults aspire to a good job, free from crushing student debt. That’s why we support House Bill 5, by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock. The bill will create multiple career pathways for high school students and reduce over-reliance on standardized state tests in our schools. We support giving Texas students the opportunities they need to succeed in life.
Winemiller: The real cost of the Texas drought
What seems to get lost in the debate about funding the state water plan is assessment of the full costs in addition to the benefits. When more water is diverted from a river basin for human needs, then less water is available to support wildlife and the services provided by healthy ecological systems.
Coastal insurer could be headed for receivership
The insurer of last resort for virtually all property owners along the Texas coast is considering going into receivership, a move just short of bankruptcy.
City officials to lawmakers: Leave Austin’s bag ban alone
Austin’s recycling director urged the Legislature on Wednesday night to allow the city’s plastic bag ordinance to continue without state interference.
25 CPRIT cancer grants ‘unfrozen,’ can move forward
State leaders will allow the state’s troubled cancer agency to finalize contracts for 25 grants to be used to move out-of-state cancer researchers and their teams to Texas.
Texas will take a big leap backward if the Legislature passes SB 3, SB 1724 and HB 5
The Senate Education Committee yesterday approved legislation that would drastically reduce the number of end-of-course exams that Texas high school students must pass to graduate. Like HB 5, the measure the House Public Education Committee approved last week, SB 1724 would require students to pass five EOC exams.
Ending Texas’ ban on Sunday liquor sales would shift economics
They framed the debate as a matter of giving consumers the freedom to shop when they want for what they want; of giving liquor stores a competitive chance against other businesses — convenience stores, supermarkets, stores in Mexico — that can open seven days a week; even of avoiding hard liquor alongside beer and wine in grocery stores.
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GOP stalwart Tom Pauken to run for governor, says Texas needs “a different style of leadership”
Pauken is a former Reagan administration official who most recently served as Perry’s appointee to head the Texas Workforce Commission. He resigned this month and says Texas needs a new kind of leader who will revamp public education, end crony capitalism and solve problems, not divide people.
Rick Perry likely to announce presidential intentions in late 2013
Perry told the Florida political blog The Shark Tank that Perry had said he would decide on whether to seek reelection as governor in June and then volunteered that he would make an announcement about running for president “sometime later in the year.”
Senate panel moves quickly to close loophole in state hit-and-run law
Tearful testimony about two Austin hit-and-run deaths led a Senate committee on Tuesday to advance legislation closing a loophole in state law that allows intoxicated drivers to escape with less punishment if they flee the scene of a fatal accident.
Texas Senate passes term limits for statewide officers
The Texas Senate voted 27-4 to allow voters to decide whether statewide officeholders should be limited to two terms. The proposed amendment would not count the tenure of current officeholders towards the two-term limit.
Report: Water conservation can save 500 billion gallons
Water conservation in agriculture, landscaping and the energy industry in Texas could save 500 billion gallons of water per year by 2020, enough to meet the water needs of nine million people, said a report issued Tuesday.
Texas senators eye training for gun-carrying school employees
Senators considered a school safety measure Tuesday that would provide crisis training for school employees who are designated to carry concealed handguns on campus.
State Insurance Regulator’s Job is on the Line
Eleanor Kitzman, if reappointed insurance commissioner by Gov. Rick Perry, has to win Senate confirmation in the next 10 weeks or she will be out of a job.