SPECIAL SESSION UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan:
On Monday the Legislature adjourned the 30-day Special Session, and I have to say that I am very pleased that the Texas Legislature has reached a bipartisan solution on property tax relief. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1 which provides relief to local property taxpayers by reducing rates by 11 percent in 2007 and an additional 22 percent in 2008.
Going into the special session first goal was to solve the Supreme Court ruling. We passed a comprehensive set of bills that does that. This tax shift lowers local property taxes by one-third over two years and also provides the capacity for local enrichment to give school districts meaningful discretion as required by the Constitution. Our second goal was to address some education issues which had become prevalent over the last couple of years. The bill package gives all teachers a $2,000 raise, including a performance pay plan to reward classroom excellence, and requires schools to start class no earlier than the last week of August.
To come up with the $5 billion needed to lower property taxes by one-third, the Legislature passed House Bill 3 which closes the franchise tax loophole. Currently, only one in sixteen businesses pay the franchise tax. This legal loophole had to be closed so we make certain that everyone is paying their fair share. However, because the foundation of our state's economy is the small business, we included appropriate exemptions for the small business owner.
Due to the growth in our state's economy, we were able to use part of our budget surplus to help lower local property taxes. Additionally, we also increased the tax on cigarettes by $1.00 and passed House Bill 4 which directs buyers of used cars to report the accurate value of the car when paying their sales tax. House Bill 2 instructs that all the money raised from new taxes this special session be applied to property tax relief.
One of the most important jobs of the Legislature is to ensure the education of our children. These bills provide much needed property tax relief, while also providing new money for Texas schools.
OTHER BILLS PASSED DURING THE SPECIAL SESSION
House Bill 153
There were several other bills passed during the special session, but the biggest one was the passage of House Bill 153 which authorizes tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) for higher education institutions. Currently, institutions of higher education are limited because they do not have the revenue needed to issue bonds on their own. TRBs provide a vehicle for our state supported universities to issue bonds to finance construction and improvements for needed facilities.
I am pleased at the growth of higher education opportunities in Senate District 24. These TRBs will help institutions in Central Texas and others around the state by ensuring they have an adequate opportunity to continue to grow and succeed.
House Bill 97
The Legislature also passed House Bill 97. HB 97 criminalizes protesting within 500 feet of a cemetery or a facility being used for a funeral service beginning one hour before a service and ending one hour after a service is complete.
In recent months, radical individuals have launched a campaign targeting the funerals of American soldiers. A number of people continue to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers with signs thanking God for the explosives that have killed a large number of American soldiers in Iraq. These protests have occurred throughout Texas and across the country.
This bill is aimed at protecting peace at funerals for soldiers while still being respectful of the right to protest under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
House Bill 163
Hurricane Rita struck southeast Texas in September 2005 causing catastrophic damage to the electric utility system and leaving hundreds of thousands of Texans without electric service. The local electric company, Entergy, spent substantial amounts of money to restore electric service and reconstruct utility infrastructure. This cost has created concern as to the company's financial strength and its ability to respond effectively to another disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Rita.
HB 163 addresses these concerns by providing for timely current recovery of Hurricane Rita costs The costs will be recovered through the sale of bonds. These bonds impose no financial obligation on the state and are expected to result in significant savings to customers when compared to the rates customers would pay if the Hurricane Rita costs were recovered through conventional means.
House Bill 63
Hurricane Rita also affected higher education in southeast Texas. Among the Texas public institutions most impacted by these storms, Lamar University and its related institutions suffered extensive damage.
HB 63 appropriates funds to the Texas State University System to cover the costs associated with damage caused by those storms.
All of the bills now go before the Governor for his approval and signature.
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 hope to 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