My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
In the days before air conditioning, legislators worked to wrap up session before the heat of summer. With Austin temperatures at almost 100 degrees this week, I can appreciate their desire to get out of town. Despite the climate control currently in the Texas Capitol, things heated up as the Legislature seeks to pass bills and finish the special session.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Governor Perry announced vetoes
Last Friday, Gov. Rick Perry announced his vetoes of bills from the 83rd Legislative Session. He rejected 26 bills. While the Legislature may in theory override a veto with a two-thirds vote, that vote is impossible if the Legislature is not in session. Because almost all legislation is finally passed in the last days of session, there are very few bills the Legislature could revive should the governor veto it. This makes the governor's veto a very powerful tool because it can completely shut down legislation despite its passage by the Legislature.
2. Senate passed transportation funding bill
Last week I shared with you that SJR 2, a transportation funding bill which I authored, had been heard in the Senate Finance Committee. I am very pleased to report that it was voted unanimously out of committee and late on Tuesday night was voted unanimously out of the Senate. It is now expected to be heard in the House in the next few days.
This resolution would ask voters to approve using part of the oil and gas severance tax for the state's highway fund. 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 see it on the ballot this November.
3. School finance trial to be reopened in January
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.
This week the judge announced there would be a new trial beginning in January to hear additional 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. Both measures have now been signed by the governor.
The new trial is expected to last around six weeks and will greatly affect the way schools all over the State of Texas are funded. This is of special interest to Senate District 3 in which the majority of school districts are funded at below the state average.
4. Legislators call on federal government to give aid to West, Texas
"And we stand with you and we do not forget, and we'll be there even after the cameras leave." These were the words of President Obama to the residents of West, Texas in the days shortly after their April disaster.
However, that has not come to pass. In a letter dated June 10 to Gov. Perry, FEMA said it had reviewed the state's appeal for help, but that the explosion was "not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."
State officials are now in the process of appealing that decision and I proudly stand with them. If FEMA will not reconsider their decision, it is my hope that the President will exercise his ability to override it and provide West with funds to repair roads and sewer lines, and to rebuild schools.
5. Tax holiday coming earlier this year
The recent passage of SB 485 and subsequent signage by Gov. Perry means a change in dates for this year's Sales Tax Holiday. Most of you are probably familiar with this tax-free weekend that exempts clothing, footwear, backpacks and other school supplies from the state sales tax. Though kids will be glad to remember that the start of school is still two months away, parents will know this opportunity for a little savings is still in existence- and coming a bit early this year August 9-11.