Special Session of the Texas Legislature Comes to a Close
Senator Hegar offers his thoughts about the Legislature's efforts
Katy, Texas—The first called special session of the 82nd Texas Legislature came to a close on Wednesday when the House of Representatives adjourned "Sine Die" (Latin for "without (a) day"), just one day after the Texas Senate had completed their work and adjourned. The failure of a fiscal matters bill critical to the state budget due to a filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis forced Texas Governor Rick Perry to call lawmakers back in special session on June 1st. No special session can last longer than thirty days.
As provided for by the Texas Constitution, only the governor has the authority to call a special session. Likewise, while lawmakers are free to introduce any bill, only those that the governor authorizes can become law. During the just completed special session, Governor Perry authorized the consideration of bills relating to state fiscal matters, Texas Windstorm Insurance Association reform, Medicaid, sanctuary cities, the judiciary, public education, Congressional redistricting, and Transportation Safety Administration screening procedures.
"The special session saw some important advances for our state, most importantly, the passage of funding measures for the two year budget that reduced spending by a record $17 billion. We passed a balanced budget in the face of a multi-billion deficit without raising taxes or using the rainy day fund for future expenditures. We sent a strong message that the State of Texas must live within its means just as Texas taxpayers must do," said Senator Hegar.
During the special session, the Texas Legislature returned to the difficult task of funding the state's public school system. Hegar said that maintaining a quality education for Texas school children and keeping outstanding teachers in their jobs while working within the confines of the state's multi-billion budget shortfall was difficult, but that the resulting legislation passed during the special session accomplished those goals. The bills give Texas school districts flexibility to respond to the current reductions in funding without the constraints of needlessly cumbersome and outdated provisions in law. As a result, school districts will have the ability to retain more quality teachers. The legislation also updates the curriculum and educational materials used in our state's schools in order to bring Texas into the 21st century and give our students a competitive edge.
Throughout both the regular and special sessions, Senator Hegar said that he worked with his fellow lawmakers to develop a fair and balanced approach for funding Texas school districts. The initial cuts to education funding proposed at the beginning of the regular session were unacceptable to Senator Hegar and he and his Senate colleagues fought tirelessly to lessen the severity of school funding reductions. The education funding measures passed during the special session protected the Senate's work.
"Due to the economic downturn in our state and across the nation, every area of government has been forced to tighten their belts to make ends meet. No branch or subdivision of state government, including public education, has been exempt from the impact of the $17 billion cuts in the taxpayer's budget. My chief goal throughout this process has been to preserve the framework of our education system for future generations and to protect our talented and dedicated teachers. While cuts in school funding had to be made, I worked hard to make sure they did not adversely impact the ability of our school children to receive the top quality education they deserve," Hegar added.
Hegar said that Governor Perry also charged the Texas Legislature with making changes to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) by adding reform of the agency to the special session call. TWIA is a quasi-governmental agency that serves as the insurance provider of last resort for homeowners who live along the Texas Gulf Coast. Hegar's Senate District includes almost one-third of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Hegar said the TWIA reform bill passed by the Texas Legislature will protect homeowners along the coast and will preserve their right to go to court if TWIA fails to fulfill its obligations and to timely pay its claims. The legislation also provides protections against abuses to the system by the filing of unwarranted or frivolous lawsuits. Most importantly, the bill ensures the long-term viability and stability of TWIA while keeping rates reasonable for coastal Texans. "As the State Senator for a substantial portion of the Gulf Coast, reforming TWIA was a top priority. Although much work remains to be done, the TWIA bill passed during the special session is a step in the right direction and will serve as the foundation for continued reform," said Hegar.
Hegar said that he was disappointed that a bill he co-authored to protect travelers from invasive and abusive Transportation Safety Administration searches failed to become law during the special session, as did a bill that would have prohibited Texas cities from passing ordinances to prevent their police forces from inquiring about an individual's immigration status. "Our TSA anti-groping legislation was written to send a strong message to the Obama Administration that we not allow federal officials to trample on the rights of Texans," Hegar said. He added that he would continue to fight for the passage of "sanctuary cities" legislation so that Texas peace officers are not impeded in their ability to investigate crimes and protect our citizens from the threat posed by those who are in our country illegally.
Senator Hegar also noted the passage of Senate Bill 7, which implements changes designed to make the state's Medicaid system more efficient and cost effective for taxpayers. The bill's changes will save Texas taxpayers over one billion dollars and helped prevent additional cuts to the state's public school funding system. Hegar said that the legislature had also passed House Bill 79, which reorganized the court system in Texas to make our civil and criminal justice systems more efficient and less costly.
Finally, Senator Hegar noted that during the regular session of the legislature, state lawmakers could not reach agreement on the redistricting of congressional lines and that no legislation had been passed. He said that was remedied during the special session by the passage of Senate Bill 4, which provides for fair and equitable congressional districts consistent with the state's conservative voting majority. SB 4 passed both chambers and was sent to Governor Perry's desk on June 24th. Hegar played a crucial role in protecting the interests of voters in Senate District 18 by ensuring, to the best extent possible, that communities of interest were maintained and that counties were not split between multiple congressional districts.
Hegar said that now that the special session was concluded, he was anxious to return to his district and to his family, including his three young children. "While the special session has ended, my work in protecting the interests of taxpayers and their families continues," said Senator Hegar. "I will spend the interim listening to my constituents and seeking new ways to make state government more efficient and responsive to the people of Texas," Hegar concluded.
Senator Hegar served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and now represents Senate District 18 in the Texas Senate. He is a sixth generation Texan, and earns a living farming rice and corn on land that has been in his family since the mid 1800's. He currently resides in Katy, Texas with his wife Dara, and their three children, Claire, Julia, and Jonah.