My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
Did you know that this week was National Flag Week? Flag Day is celebrated each year on June 14 and commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened on that day in 1777 by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress. I enjoy observing this holiday, and hope you do as well.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Redistricting continues
After holding public hearings the last two weeks around the state, on Wednesday the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting approved a set of maps outlining political boundaries for the Texas House, Texas Senate and U.S. Congress. The maps are identical to ones drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year and used for the 2012 elections. As I write this, the Senate is expected to hear the bill on Friday, June 14. With any luck, we can come to a satisfactory resolution before the end of session.
2. Transportation funding added to special session call
A few weeks ago I shared with you about my hope to address transportation funding during the special session. That hope became a reality on Monday when Gov. Perry added the topic to the special session 'call.'
Things progressed quickly and by Wednesday, SJR 2 was heard in the Finance Committee. This resolution, which I authored, would ask voters to approve using part of the oil and gas severance tax for the state's highway fund. I hope to see it pass out of committee soon and be heard in the Senate early next week; then it will move to the House. Because it's a constitutional amendment to be approved by voters, it must pass each chamber with a two-thirds majority. If successful, you will then see it on the ballot this November. I will make sure to keep you updated.
3. Several pro-life bills heard in committee
In addition to transportation funding, the governor also added several pro-life bills to the special session call and they were heard in the Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. As a proud member of the committee, I was able to hear several hours' worth of public testimony on the bills, and was reminded again of how important this input is to our democratic process.
SB 13 would ban termination after the 20 week mark, on the basis of medical research that says this is when an unborn baby begins to feel pain. SB 18 would add regulations to ensure women's health protection. SB 24 would require facilities' standards to be that of an ambulatory surgical center in case of medical emergency. Finally, SB 5 is what is referred to as an 'omnibus' bill, which basically incorporates all of the above into one comprehensive piece of legislation.
4. Criminal justice bill passes from committee to the Senate floor
The last topic Gov. Perry added to the call deals with criminal justice. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional for juvenile defendants, and defined a minor as being less than 18-years-old. Because Texas had been sentencing 17-year-olds as adults, this meant the state was out of compliance with the court's ruling.
In order to comply, on Wednesday the Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed SB 23 to treat 17-year-olds as minors rather than adults, and give them the same mandatory punishments as 14 to 16-year-olds. The bill is expected to advance quickly with little resistance.
5. Major testing relief signed by governor
Perhaps most significantly this week, Gov. Perry signed HB 5 into law. You may remember me telling you about this bill which cuts the number of standardized tests required for students to graduate from 15 to five. In addition, it enhances career and technical education programs in schools to give students more choice in their future career path.
I have consistently heard from an overwhelming number of parents, teachers and school administrators that believe our kids are being over-tested. This bill, now a law, will allow teachers more time to teach, and will allow students more time to learn. I consider it one of the most significant accomplishments of this legislative session.