Senator Tommy Williams
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0104

February 7, 2005
Contact: Lauren Hutton (512) 463-0104

Capitol Notes
By: State Sen. Tommy Williams

AUSTIN -- In late January, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed Senate committees for the 79th Legislature. My committee assignments remained relatively unchanged as I was re-assigned as the Vice Chair of the State Affairs Committee and to the Senate Finance, Education and Criminal Justice committees. The only change occurring in my assignment was the addition of the Subcommittee on Higher Education.

State Affairs
Just like it sounds, the State Affairs Committee addresses issues pressing to the state. For example, last session the committee developed and passed historic tort reform legislation and worked to make health insurance more available and affordable to Texans. In the 79th Legislature, the State Affairs Committee will address reforming the workers' compensation system and other items of statewide importance.

The Finance Committee's main purpose is to develop and pass the state budget. The committee also handles other pieces of legislation related to financing the state government. Everything from a state employee's compensation and health insurance benefits to state retirement systems are decided in the appropriations process. This session, I would like to see Texas law enforcement officers receive a much-needed pay increase. Pay raises for teachers and state prison guards are also among my priorities for the session.

The Education Committee will look to reform the public school funding formulas, and the Subcommittee on Higher Education will take a look at funding for public universities and the controversial Top 10 Percent Law currently used to guarantee students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes automatic admission to the state university of their choice. I along with 12 other senators have co-authored a bill filed by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, to repeal this law. The goal is to see first-rate students not shut out of the state university system simply because they attended a more competitive high school. Runaway tuition rates at some of the state's public universities will also be addressed during the 79th Legislature.

Criminal Justice
The Criminal Justice Committee, responsible for modifications of both the penal and criminal procedure codes, is also charged with the oversight of the adult and juvenile prison system, a population collectively totaling more than 155,000. The committee also oversees the adult parole population (77,000), adult probation population (156,000) and juvenile probation population (41,000). All these entities are at or near their maximum sustainable loads, especially the adult prison system already operating at 100 percent capacity. These overcrowding issues are sure to be addressed this session through probation reforms, parole reforms and/or contract beds.

First elected in 1996 to the Texas House of Representatives, Tommy Williams was later elected to the Senate in 2002 and re-elected in 2004. He represents Senate District 4 that covers all or portions of Montgomery, Harris, Liberty, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties.