My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
"Whooah, we're half way there, Livin' on a prayer." Monday was the half-way mark of the Legislative session- day 70 of 140. Getting to this point reminds me we have done a lot of work, but still more lies ahead. Thankfully, we had a very productive week filled with lots of action in both the House and Senate.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
This week the Senate approved a $195.5 billion budget for the coming two years on a 29-2 vote. Passing a balanced budget is the only thing the legislature is constitutionally required to do each session, and I am pleased that this budget addresses many of the areas we set out to address. Thankfully, we were able to restore funding this session to many areas which have suffered over the past two years.
Among those areas, the budget restores some funding to public schools, colleges, mental health services, and the women's health program. It does all this without touching any money in the state's rainy day fund, which I consider to be a wise and fiscally conservative measure.
This week the Texas Retired Teachers Association had their day at the Capitol, and wow, was it a success! Wearing their red t-shirts, they seemed to be virtually everywhere around the building, visiting with legislators and advocating for their legislative agenda. I was excited to get to meet with many of them from various parts of Senate District 3 and to discuss the issues they felt important.
I am sure each of us can think of teachers over the course of our academic careers who made a significant impact on our lives and who we will never forget. As I sat on the Senate floor and looked up at the sea of red t-shirts in the gallery, it occurred to me that each of these individuals represent hundreds, if not thousands, of Texas schoolchildren who they have influenced. They have done our state an invaluable service and have my respect and gratitude.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a rather interesting joint resolution with a 27-4 vote. SJR 13 by Senator Kevin Eltife would implement term limits for statewide office holders, limiting them to only two consecutive terms in office. Because the measure is a joint resolution rather than a bill, it would need to pass both the Senate and the House with a two-thirds majority and would then appear on a statewide ballot for Texas voters to decide on the measure.
Thirty-six states already limit gubernatorial terms according to the Council of State Governments, and this measure is one I have heard about from many constituents. I am pleased that, should it pass, citizens will be able to decide for themselves whether our statewide leaders should be term limited or not.
End of Course Testing
Over the one-and-a-half-year interim period between the last two legislative sessions, I was able to meet with the superintendents of all 102 school districts in the 19 counties I serve. In those meetings, the number one concern I heard was regarding state standardized testing. These superintendents, as well as parents and teachers all over the state, worry that we are over-testing our kids, causing undue stress and hardship for everyone involved.
I am happy to report that this week an important bill on the subject passed out of the Senate Education Committee. Senator Dan Patrick's SB 1724 would change the number of state standardized tests required to graduate from Texas high schools from 15 to five. These five would be in the subjects of English I and II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S. History.
The bill will soon be heard on the Senate floor, and will then hopefully move from there to the House. I am proud that the legislature is addressing such a serious concern.
On Monday, the House of Representatives presented singing legend Merle Haggard with a resolution honoring his many contributions to country music. House Resolution 634 references Haggard's humble beginnings before his rise to superstardom with such hits as "Okie from Muskogee" and "Mama Tried." This poet of the common man has championed the cause of those given hard lots in life, and has spent several decades influencing the work of a generation of country musicians. I am, personally, a big fan of the Hag's, and wish him only the best in the years to come.