And They're Off!
The Legislature kicked off at full steam this week with major announcements regarding child protective services, school finance, and, like last session, an eye popping announcement regarding the state budget. The session runs through May 30th. Here is a look back:
Comptroller Forecasts Revenue Surplus
Two years ago the Texas Comptroller shocked the Legislature with news of not one but two budget problems -- a $1 billion deficit in the existing budget and a $9.9 billion budget legislators were preparing to craft. This year the Office of the Comptroller announced that she projects the state will have a $400 million surplus.
"It is encouraging to hear that the economy is showing these positive signs. However, this is no time to loosen our belt. We must remain fiscally disciplined as we prepare a budget that meets our service needs and is sensitive to taxpayers," Senator Nelson said.
Child & Adult Protective Services Declared Emergency
The governor has declared child and adult protective services an emergency issue for the Legislature, meaning that Senate Bill 6 by Senator Nelson is eligible to become law in the first 30 days of the session.
Senator Nelson filed SB 6 in response to a series of child abuse fatalities and the ensuing investigation which uncovered severe procedural problems at CPS. The State Inspector General found that caseloads were too high and that CPS investigators were failing to take appropriate action to protect children in the majority of cases.
"We will be retooling our bill in the coming days to ensure that we have the best possible plan to protect our children, but we need to realize that child abuse is not a CPS problem. It is a community problem, and our legislation calls for a multi-faceted solution," Senator Nelson said.
Senate Offers School Finance Plan
The Texas Senate this week presented a unified front in the effort to reform education, announcing unanimous support among its 31 members for an end to the current school finance system, commonly referred to as "Robin Hood."
The Senators agreed in principle to the basic provisions of Senate Bill 2, which would make an estimated $6.7 billion in additional funding available for school. Following are some highlights:
- Reduce school property tax by a third. (Statewide cap at $1 per $100 valuation).
- Eliminate the "recapture" provision of Robin Hood.
- Preserve local control.
- Bring teacher salaries to the national average over the next two years.
- Reduce the franchise tax but distribute more equitably.
- Incorporate proposals to assist fast-growth school districts.
- Preserve commitment to charter schools.
"As one of the few Senators who voted against the Robin Hood, it is a welcome development for all 31 members of the Senate to be in agreement that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed," Senator Nelson said. "I approach this issue as a former teacher who served two terms on the State Board of Education -- and as the owner of a manufacturing company who is very concerned about taxes. It is important to me that the finished product results in improvement to education, preservation of local control, property tax relief and a revenue structure that is equitable for all businesses."
To read the outline, visit the following website: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/ltgov/assets/pdf/TexasChildrenFirst.pdf.
Visiting the Texas Capitol
Everything is bigger in Texas, including our State Capitol. Containing more square footage than any other state capitol, it is second in size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. However, it rises 15 feet in height above its counterpart in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of school students and other visitors tour the Texas Capitol each year, and Senator Nelson's Office is able to assist with group tours for schools or organizations in Senate District 12.
Visit the Visitor Center online at: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/capevent/capevent.htm.
It's a Wrap for Sunset Advisory Commission
The Sunset Advisory Commission this week cast its final vote of the season, completing the Sunset review process for 30 state agencies, board and commissions. In Texas, each agency has a Sunset date -- a date after which it is abolished unless it is re-authorized by the Legislature.
The Sunset Commission reviews each agency and makes recommendations to the Legislature about whether it should continue at all, continue with changes or continue as is. Senator Nelson is completing a 4-year term on the Commission. She served as Chairman of the Commission in 2002-03 and Vice Chairman in 2004-05 when the chairmanship role rotated from Senate to House.
"I have cherished my time on the Sunset Commission and am a true believer in this process. State agencies should have to prove their usefulness and effectiveness in order to continue receiving support from the taxpayers. That is what this process is all about," Senator Nelson said.
Senator Nelson Takes Aim at Institutional Cheating
The Sunset Advisory Commission's last act on Tuesday was to recommended re-authorization of the Texas Education Agency but with several changes, including a proposal from Senator Nelson to aggressively investigate allegations of organized cheating on state accountability tests.
"When educators tolerates cheating, they are missing out on an opportunity to teach children something that truly matters -- doing the right thing. When they encourage cheating, they are doing harm to these students by teaching them to do the wrong thing. We need to reinforce the lessons of right and wrong that parents are trying to instill in their children," she said.
For more information on these or other issues, visit the Legislature online at www.capitol.state.tx.us or call Senator Nelson's Capitol Office at 512-463-0112 or District Office in Grapevine at 817-424-3446.