My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
Special sessions are an interesting phenomenon: Rather than having multiple policy areas vying for legislators' attention, we are able to concentrate all our energy on a narrow number of topics.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Vetoes, signatures and more
Did you know that 5,868 bills were filed in the Legislature this session, and 1,437 of those were then passed by both chambers and sent to the governor? Of that number, 206 have been signed and 2 have been vetoed. As I write this column, Gov. Perry has over 1,200 bills left to decide what to do with before June 16th. If he takes no action upon them by that date, they automatically become law. I will be sure to keep you updated of any developments.
2. Water Treaty with Mexico unenforced
What does an obscure 70-year-old water treaty between the U.S. and Mexico have to do with today's Texas' economy? Quite a lot, it seems. The document, otherwise known as the "Treaty of the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande," requires Mexico to release an average of over 114 billion gallons of water a year to the U.S. from six tributaries that feed into the Rio Grande.
However, Mexico is currently behind on these releases. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), they have decreased steadily since 2010. During 2010, 82 percent of the water was delivered, but that fell to 29 percent the next year and six percent the next. If this continues, the South Texas agriculture industry, as well as area municipal water supplies, could be in grave danger.
Gov. Perry, Ag. Commissioner Todd Staples, Sen. John Cornyn and others have all separately asked President Obama to intercede and ask Mexico to comply, but so far nothing has been done. Let us hope he will take action soon.
3. School finance trial continues
Many of you may be aware of the ongoing school finance trial in which over 2/3 of all Texas school districts are involved. In February, state district court Judge John Dietz issued an oral ruling in which he found the school finance system unconstitutional, both because of inadequate school funding and because of the way the state distributes money to districts. A more detailed, written explanation was expected in March, but was never released.
On Wednesday, the judge agreed to hear new testimony in light of the significant education legislation passed this session. The legislature was actually able to restore $3.4 billion of education spending that was cut last session, as well as pass HB 5 to drastically reduce standardized testing and SB 2 to increase the state's number of charter schools. All three bills are now waiting for the governor's signature, and the school finance trial's resolution may hang in the balance.
4. Redistricting hearings held
We are now in week two of the special session on redistricting and have begun public hearings on the subject around the state. The Select House Committee on Redistricting held a Dallas meeting on Thursday, June 6th and have one scheduled in San Antonio on Monday, June 10th and one in Houston on Wednesday, June 12th. The Senate Committee held their meetings in Corpus Christi on Friday, June 7th and in Houston on Saturday, June 8th.
These public hearings are an important part of the democratic process to allow all interested citizens a voice in their future legislative and congressional maps. However, each special session can only last 30 days, so the legislature must be efficient and stay on track. So far we seem to be doing fairly well.
5. School's out
As we move further into June, school's out and many of us are looking forward to summer activities. May I suggest one of our great state parks? There are four located in Senate District 3: Mission Tejas State Park (Houston County); Lake Livingston State Park (Polk County); Martin Dies, Jr. State Park (Jasper County); and Village Creek State Park (Hardin County). These are a great Texas resource and something of which we can all be proud.