WEEK IN REVIEW
77TH REGULAR SESSION OPENS
AUSTIN - The Texas Senate convened Tuesday, January 9, the start of the 140-day 77th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. The first Session of the 21st century began with the traditional ceremonies in a chamber packed with the Senators' family and friends beneath a crowded public gallery.
The session began with the invocation, followed by the roll call and swearing in of the Senators re elected last November and the chamber's only freshman, Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine.
The Dean of the Texas Senate, Sen. Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, offered Senate Resolution (SR) 1, the first resolution of the 77th Session, in tribute to Gov. Rick Perry. Perry, accompanied by his wife, Anita, addressed the full Senate in session for the first time since he succeeded President-elect George W. Bush.
"The good news is we have 140 days to make a difference in Texans' lives," Perry told the members of the chamber over which he used to preside.
Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, selected by the Senate on December 28 to serve out Perry's term as presiding officer of the Senate, showed a humorous side to the proceedings in the traditional recognition of the Doctor of the Day, introduced by Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio: "Thank you for being here, doctor," Ratliff said. "We sincerely hope you're not needed."
Sen. Truan then offered SR 2, the adoption of the Senate Caucus Report naming senate officials elected by the members. This session's Caucus Report adds an unprecedented new official, Secretary of the Senate Designee Patsy Spaw. The Secretary of the Senate is elected by the Senate as its chief executive administrator.
Spaw will replace Betty King, who will retire following this session after 24 years as Secretary of the Senate and 52 years of service to the Texas Senate.
"We consider Betty King the Mother Superior of the Senate," Lt. Governor Ratliff said, "and she always be, I think."
Next came the nomination and election of the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Sen. Chris Harris of Arlington. Following unanimous election by his peers, Harris invoked the name of a giant figure in Texas politics, the late former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock.
"I think if he were here today, he'd try to say something nice, give me a slap on the back, and then he'd tell me to get back to work," Sen. Harris said.
2002-2003 Budget Recommendation Introduced
Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston and San Angelo Rep. Rob Junell on Wednesday, January 10, announced the introduction of the Texas General Appropriations Bill for the 2002-2003 biennium.
The General Appropriations Bill sets budgets for every state agency and outlines the state's general spending priorities for the next two-year budget period.
Ellis, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the $108.2 billion budget proposal takes into account both current economic factors as well as future considerations.
"This budget reflects the realities of a strong but possibly cooling economy," Senator Ellis said. "It allows us to meet the basic needs of Texas for the next two years while tackling several important challenges that impact our future."
Junell, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the proposal will serve as a vehicle for legislators in both chambers to use to craft final legislation setting the state's next two-year budget.
"The State of Texas can run smoothly on this budget," Rep. Junell said. "It makes the right investments and sets forth the priorities of the legislature for the next two years. Over the next few months we will work together to make a good budget even better."
The introduced bill dedicates the bulk of the budget to education and health and human services, which together account for almost 75 percent of the total. The $108.2 billion represents a 6.2 percent increase compared with the current budget.
"There are several important priorities I look forward to working to address this session," Ellis said, "including increasing funding for the TEXAS Grants Program, providing health insurance to our hard-working Texas teachers, giving state employees a pay raise and maximizing participation in the CHIP program."
But Ellis and Junell said the House and Senate will have to carefully weigh priorities during the legislative process.
"Unfortunately, there are more bright ideas than there are dollars to pay for them," Ellis said. "We have to make tough decisions and fund initiatives that will help build a stronger foundation for Texas."
Finance Committee Hears Budget Testimony
The Texas Senate Finance Committee met Thursday, January 11, to hear invited testimony on Senate Bill 1 (SB1).
SB 1 is the bill that will become the General Appropriations Act, which will set every state agency's budget and outline Texas' general spending policies for the 2002-2003 biennium. The proposed budget totals $108.2 billion, a 6.2 percent increase over the current budget.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, heard testimony from six witnesses, including representatives from the Legislative Budget Board, who laid out the details of the proposed budget for the committee members, and the Office of the Comptroller, who gave the Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate.
In Session on Thursday, Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff distributed a letter to the members of the Senate naming the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, chaired by Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan. Also appointed to the committee were Sens. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso (vice chair), Troy Fraser of Marble Falls, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.
Also in Thursday's Session, the Senate adopted Dallas Sen. David Cain's Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 (SCR4), which will provide for a portrait of former governer and current President Elect George W. Bush to be hanged beside the portraits of all former Texas governors in the Capitol Rotunda.
The Senate also unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 5 (SR5), offered by Sen. Royce West of Dallas, in honor of the anniversary on Monday, January 15, of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The chamber will not convene on Monday in honor of the day and stands adjourned until 11 a.m. Tuesday, January 16.