My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
Green seemed to be on everyone's mind this week at the Capitol but not because of St. Patrick's Day. Most are thinking green as in dollars and where the dollars in the state budget will go.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
Sunshine Week and more transparency
Texas got its report card back this week, and the news was good: an 'A' in government transparency from the Sunlight Foundation. This announcement came during Sunshine Week, a time to focus on how our state is doing in regards to the public's ability to access information on government's activities.
While this news was great, there is always room for improvement. One effort toward greater transparency is Senator Kirk Watson's SB 1297, which would allow government officials to interact with one another through an online message board posted on their agency's website. This adapts the Open Meetings Act to the electronic age, and is a way to allow the public access to government's online meetings in the same way they have access to physical ones. It is a bipartisan effort, and one that I support.
Something brewing in the beer industry
Five bills representing the most dramatic change in Texas beer laws in 20 years passed out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee this week. Under terms of the bills, Saint Arnold's Brewery in Houston, as well as other craft breweries around the state, would be able to sell a limited amount of beer on site. In addition, brewpubs such as San Antonio's Freetail Brewing would be able to package some of their product for sale in restaurants, stores and bars.
Currently, beer moves from manufacturers to retailers almost exclusively through wholesalers; current regulations prohibit brewpubs from packaging their product for stores and keeps breweries from selling beer to visitors. Loosening these restrictions would be a big advancement for free enterprise, and should have a large economic impact on the state as a whole.
In an analysis submitted last year to the Craft Brewers Guild, it was estimated that independent craft brewers had a $608 million impact on the state economy and that if laws were changed, they could potentially employ an additional 52,000 people and build a $5.6 billion industry by 2020.
Funding for State Water Plan
On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed HB 4 to fund the State Water Plan. Specifically, HB 4 would create the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) to provide a fund to finance projects in the State Water Plan. There will be an emphasis on conservation, reuse and rural projects.
Ensuring water availability to all areas of our state for the foreseeable future is an incredibly important issue, as well as a nonpartisan one. It is my hope that we see this bill and related bills given the full attention they deserve.
I am pleased to report that on Tuesday Texas Parks and Wildlife announced a $17.5 million contract for the Battleship Texas' repair to be started in April and finished within 18 months.
The ship is the only dreadnought to have served in both World War I and World War II, and is currently owned by the state and docked in La Porte. Included in the repairs will be replacing parts of the ship's deteriorated hull and the support structures beneath the twin engines, each of which weighs more than 1,000 tons. Without this action, the engines would be at risk of crashing through the ship's bottom.
The Battleship Texas is a treasure for all Texans, but holds special significance for me. My uncle, Jack Bowling, a Rear Admiral in the Navy, served upon it at one time. Every time I look at or read about the ship, I am reminded of his long service to our country. I could not be more pleased to see the Battleship Texas soon restored to her former glory.
This week the Senate was visited by some really tough lobbyists- first graders wanting to make pecan pie the official pie of Texas. After receiving a letter from the kids who live in his district, my colleague Senator Charles Schwertner filed a bill last month to formally designate the pie as the state's favorite.
The kids were pretty convincing, and the bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Administration this week unanimously. As a big fan of pecan pie myself, I'm excited about this development and look forward to seeing the bill progress to law.