Dear Fellow Texan--
Happy New Year!! I hope that you and your family had a great holiday season, and I trust that you are rested, relaxed and looking forward to this new year.
Beginning with this edition of Capitol Update, I want to start talking to you more each month about what is going on in Austin and Senate District 24. So each month you will receive this update from my office with what has been happening as well as looking forward to things that will happen.
Let me first update you on the activities of the Texas Legislature from last year. As many of you know we completed the 79th Regular Session in 2005 and then were immediately called back for two 30-day special sessions during the summer.
Last January as we began the 79th Legislative Session, there were many issues identified as the key issues of the session. Those key issues included school finance and property tax reform, the state's workers' compensation system, Child and Adult Protective Services reform, among many others. In fact, over 5,500 pieces of legislation were filed during the regular session.
We were able to enact numerous laws affecting your daily lives. The Legislature sent over 1,300 bills to the Governor for his approval. As these important reforms take effect, they will protect citizens from abuse and neglect, control medical costs for injured workers, and ensure Texas continues to grow and prosper.
As always, education and healthcare drove budget decisions. This two-year state budget restored cuts from last biennium and put additional dollars into public education and even managed a pay raise for state employees.
Specifically, we were able to increase spending for public education by appropriating an additional $2.8 billion to maintain equity, fund enrollment growth and provide new funding for public schools. And, while I am very disappointed that we were unable to enact a new school finance plan and significant school property tax relief, there is no doubt we will continue to work on a solution to these problems.
In addition to school finance, workers' compensation and all the other issues that took the front stage during session, we also were able to address some local issues that were important to Senate District 24.
This session, I sponsored legislation which allows defense communities to obtain and lease a facility to the federal government to enhance the value of the military operation. House Bill 2931 will give communities like Killeen, Temple and Abilene the ability to proactively respond with needed infrastructure when national defense strategies change.
The tourism industry plays an important role in many West Texas counties. One way to support this industry is through the enactment of a local hotel occupancy tax. Gillespie County overwhelming supported the passage of House Bill 214 for this purpose. The revenues derived from this tax will be used to finance many important tourism development and economic development projects within the county.
House Bill 2902, which I sponsored, authorizes the Texas Historical Commission to develop and implement a program to ensure that counties that receive money for courthouse projects continue to maintain, repair, and preserve their courthouses. The Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program has successfully restored and preserved many historic courthouses including those courthouses in Lampasas and Llano Counties. This bill ensures that this investment of state funds is well secured so these courthouses never again fall into a state of disrepair.
This session I also passed House Bill 495 which expedites the opening of Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen as a stand-alone institution. The legislation lowers the threshold of full-time equivalent students needed for Tarleton State University System Center to achieve stand-alone status. The school will operate under the name Texas A&M University -- Central Texas as an upper-level general academic teaching institution.
The Legislature is always looking for ways to enhance our military bases and the quality of life of our military personnel. This session we enacted House Bill 503 which updates the Hazlewood Act to include those who have served in the military as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including the ongoing War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Hazlewood Act allows for tuition and fee exemptions for military personnel and children of those personnel who have served our country.
In March of this year, I worked with the City of Abilene to negotiate an agreement between the City, the West Central Texas Municipal Water District and the Brazos River Authority that enhances the current water rights of the City and that preserves future water supply options for both the City and the District. This agreement will ensure the future water supply for the residents of Abilene and nearby cities for the next 50 years.
Working with Burnet County officials, I was able to pass legislation during the regular session that created the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District. The voters of Burnet County approved the creation of the district in September. This new water district will allow the residents of the district to protect their water supply from surrounding urban counties.
The Legislature continued the work we did two years ago to reform the insurance industry by passing Senate Bill 14. SB 14 establishes an interest penalty for insurers who refuse to refund auto or residential property insurance premiums deemed excessive or unfairly discriminatory.
House Bill 1765 establishes the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to cultivate economic and technological opportunities that will allow Texas to remain competitive in both national and global markets. The fund will be used to attract, create, and expand private sector businesses that will help increase high quality jobs; as well as increase higher education applied technology research capabilities.
OTHER LOCAL ISSUES
For Mason and other small rural counties, we enacted House Bill 132 to allow a county to impose a county health services sales and use tax with voter approval up to one-cent in order to provide health care for the citizens of the county.
House Bill 2025 transfers the jurisdiction of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg from the Parks and Wildlife Department to the Texas Historical Commission to allow for more local administration of the museum.
House Bill 1772 streamlined the City of Hico's (in Hamilton County) annexation authority.
We also amended the laws governing the Kimble County Hospital District, Menard County's Underground Water District and Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, and the Saratoga Underground Water Conservation District (in Bell County) to allow these districts to better serve their constituencies.
For Brown and other similar counties, we enacted House Bill 2414 to allow a district court and a county court at law to share a jury pool or panel in order to save money and eliminate the inconvenience to the public.
Finally, we created two new district courts to ease the work load of existing courts. The first court was created in Bell County. The second court was created to overlap the 33rd District Court in Blanco, Burnet, Lampasas, and Llano Counties.
In late December, wildfires ravaged homes and businesses throughout Senate District 24 and much of West Texas. Governor Perry toured the area on December 29 and declared it a disaster area.
Working with the Governor's office we have asked the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make citizens in Callahan, Cooke, Eastland, Erath, Hood and Montague counties eligible for long-term, low-interest rate loans to defray the costs of losses from wildfires.
Additionally the governor has requested a presidential disaster declaration on December 28 to make impacted counties eligible for federal public assistance to help rebuild communities and defray the millions of dollars spent by local governments to fight the fires. The Governor also requested that individuals and families who are eligible be given assistance to cover temporary housing and other basic needs.
If you need information or assistance during this time, please feel free to contact any of my offices listed at the end of this e-mail. Here also are some other phone numbers of importance:
- Texas Emergency Management Services: (512) 424-2138 or (512) 424-2000
- Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA): (512) 936-6701 or Toll Free: 800-544-2042
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov or Disaster Assistance: 800-621-FEMA
In November (2005), Governor Perry created the Texas Tax Reform Commission. This bipartisan group of 24 Texans will develop proposals to modernize the state tax system and provide long-term property tax relief as well as sound financing of public schools. The commission plans to hold public hearings across the state.
For a complete look at the committee, including a schedule of hearings, check out their website here: Texas Tax Reform Commission.
House Committees have already begun their hearings on interim issues. For a complete list of the House interim charges, click here. For a complete list of House committee hearings, click here. The Lt. Governor has not yet announced the Senate interim assignments.
Thank you for allowing me to continue to represent you in the Texas Senate. As always, I am honored to serve the people of Senate District 24. Your thoughts and concerns--as well as your legislative suggestions--are important to me as I work during the Interim. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance with a state agency or wish to voice an opinion on any matter before the Texas Legislature. I always appreciate hearing from you.
I will continue to spend time in the district in the months ahead, meeting face-to-face with as many of you as I can. Hopefully, I'll see you soon.
|HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER|
|Austin Capitol Office|
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
|Marble Falls District Office|
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
|Abilene District Office|
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
|Belton District Office|
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611