News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

My five cents...

a few important things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol.

The saying goes that April showers bring May flowers, but at the Capitol April bills bring May thrills. In the last month of session, the Legislature works early in the morning and late at night to pass legislation. With major issues like approving a state budget and redistricting still ahead of us, May promises to be both busy and exciting.

Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

1. Budget talks continue

Late last week the Senate Finance Committee passed a budget and the Capitol spent the week analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the committee's version of the upcoming budget. Some important facts about this version of the budget include: it spends $11 billion less than the current state budget, contains no new taxes, and maintains essential services like public schools and nursing homes.

The Senate budget will likely come to the floor next week. Once passed, there are several more steps before the budget is finalized, including reconciling differences with the House version of the bill. The good news is, legislators are constitutionally required to balance the budget. Unlike on the federal level, Texas government cannot deficit spend. Additionally, the majority of legislators, including me, are committed to balancing the state budget without increasing taxes.

2. House approves redistricting map

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the House passed a redistricting map for state House districts after a long night of debate. The map must divide the state into 150 House districts with a population close to 167,000. The House version passed by a vote of 92 to 52 and now heads to the Senate for additional approval. In addition to the state House map, legislators must also approve a map with state Senate districts, federal Congressional seats, and districts for the state board of education.

3. Background checks required for right-of-way agents

The Senate passed Senate Bill 1812, my bill requiring background checks for independent right-of-way agents. These agents negotiate the purchase and sometimes the use of eminent domain to acquire land for large projects such as pipeline easements. Because their job sometimes allows access to a person's property, including entry into a home or other structure, it is essential we not allow those with a criminal past to work as right-of-way agents. Senate Bill 1812 now heads to the House.

4. Senate passes bill to help landowners with water service

The Senate passed Senate Bill 573, my bill to allow a water user to find a new utility service if the current utility in their district does not provide water or waste water service. Current law allows only one exclusive water provider in certain areas. When the exclusive provider does not actually provide service, landowners need another option. I learned about this problem in Senate District 3, and across the state, where landowners cannot get service but face large barriers to be allowed to find another provider. Senate Bill 573 provides a practical solution to providing water and wastewater service. The bill now heads to the House for additional approval.

5. Texas legend Bum Phillips honored

On Wednesday the Senate honored a Texas legend. Football coach Bum Phillips was recognized on the senate floor for his football legacy and his example of leadership and community service. As a young man I had the honor of playing for Coach Phillips while he was still coaching high school football in Jacksonville. He gave our program a solid foundation that eventually lead to championships, and his work helped positively influence many young people. Being able to thank this role model was a personal highlight for me this session.

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