My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
The most exciting sporting events are those that go into overtime. The basketball championship settled by a single three-point shot or a football game that comes down to one final drive adds to the drama of sports. The Legislature found itself in a similar situation this week when time ran out and bills were left without final approval.
We are now in legislative overtime to resolve some of these issues. Unlike a game, however, there is much more at stake than a trophy and bragging rights. My goal during this special session is to help all of Texas win with the best policies possible to make our state a better place.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Special session called
Monday was the last day of the regular legislative session, but Gov. Rick Perry called legislators back that night to clear up redistricting issues. He may add other issues as the session progresses. A special session can last up to 30 days, but the governor may call additional special sessions as needed.
2. Transportation funding
One of the issues I am hoping the governor will add to the call is transportation funding. Although we were able to take care of many important issues during the regular session such as increasing water funding and decreasing the amount of standardized tests given in public schools, one problem left unresolved was the lack of funds for our state highways.
In response, I have filed SJR 2 in hopes that Governor Perry will address the problem during the special session. This resolution would ask voters to approve using part of the oil and gas severance tax for the state's highway fund. I will make sure to keep you updated on SJR 2's progress in the coming weeks.
3. Business tax cuts
Just before the end of the regular session, the Legislature passed over $1.3 billion in business tax cuts which should go a long way in helping to sustain Texas' great economic climate. This included a permanent franchise tax exemption for small businesses, as well as an overall rate reduction for all businesses.
As a former manufacturer and business owner, I can tell you how helpful this is and how it helps to spur economic growth. As Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said, passing the franchise tax proposal "sends a clear message that we are committed to sustaining the country's best climate for job creation."
4. Hazlewood funding
Some of you may be familiar with the Hazlewood Act and Hazlewood Legacy Act which are State of Texas benefits that provide qualified veterans, spouses, and dependent children with up to 150 hours of tuition exemption at public colleges in Texas.
While the Hazlewood Act has been around since just after World War I, the Legacy Act was instituted in 2009, allowing veterans to transfer their unused benefits to dependents. However, at that time no state money was appropriated to pay for the change. Universities were required to absorb the cost, basically amounting to an unfunded mandate.
This session the Legislature passed SB 1158 to establish a permanent endowment to help alleviate some of this financial burden. I am proud that we were able to help lift the strain on universities, while also continuing this program for our veterans.
5. Merry Christmas!
The Legislature also recently passed HB 308, a bill I sponsored to protect Texas public schools' ability to use traditional holiday greetings such as 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Hanukkah' on school grounds and to educate students about the history and roots of such holidays.
I have heard from many constituents who dislike that it is becoming less culturally acceptable to openly celebrate these holidays in the ways past generations have. To me this is a matter of helping our teachers and administrators feel safe talking about these holidays at school without fear of legal action being taken against them.
We are currently standing at a cultural crossroads in our society, and this is one step forward for those defending our traditional values and beliefs. I am pleased the Legislature took this step forward to protect our traditional celebrations.