My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
If you enjoy fireworks like I do then this week in Austin was a real treat. However, all the fireworks happened inside the building!
This Monday marked the beginning of the second called special session of the 83rd Legislature. Special sessions can only be called by the Governor and are usually called to resolve unfinished business. This week marks the 4th special session I have served since being elected to the Senate.
On Monday thousands of protesters arrived at the Capitol to show their support or opposition to SB 1, a pro-life bill. The gathering was so big that additional security was necessary and called to the Capitol from various parts of the state. The unofficial head count by the Department of Public Safety was 3,000. The protest drew attention from both national media and the Daily Show.
There was chanting, singing, prayer circles, and dueling news conferences throughout the day. The protests were loud yet peaceful and those in the Capitol maintained decorum. Regardless of your position on the subject, it is awesome and inspiring to see democracy in action and citizens engage their elected officials in this process.
The bill will be heard in the House of Representatives this week and will be heard in the Senate next week.
Another chance for transportation funding
Lost in the shuffle of last week's events was an opportunity to identify new transportation revenue for the first time in over a decade. My bill on transportation funding did not pass during the first special session due to a filibuster on another piece of legislation. However, within minutes of a second special session being called I filed SJR 1, a constitutional amendment that would dedicate 50 percent of all general revenue currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to the state highway fund.
According to estimates from the Comptroller's office, SJR 1 could deposit as much as $900 million a year into the state highway fund. That number will grow over time.
This bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday July 2nd. I am hopeful the measure will pass both chambers before the clock runs out this time.
Criminal justice bill re-visited
Another bill that ran out of time during the first special session was a complicated issue dealing with the sentencing of 17-year olds, 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 with this Supreme Court ruling, Texas must pass legislation 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.
Redistricting reprieve rejected
If you recall last week the US Supreme Court, in Shelby County vs. Holder, struck down a central section of the Voting Rights Act essentially allowing Texas and eight other states to alter their own election laws as they want, rather than having those laws first "pre-cleared" by the U.S. Department of Justice.
As a result of this ruling, and in conjunction with Governor Perry approving legislatively drawn maps last week, the Attorney General's office petitioned the three judge federal panel in San Antonio to end the litigation over the maps drawn in 2011. The judges ultimately rejected this request. The result is litigants will have to appear again later this year for a reexamination of arguments by the court. This might impact the date of spring primary elections.
And so the saga continues....
Beat the heat and come for a visit
Looking for a way to avoid the summer heat, grab some AC and learn about Texas history this summer? Come visit your state Capitol! An extraordinary building by any measure, the 1888 Texas Capitol is the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. However, the Texas Capitol surpasses the National Capitol in height, rising almost 15 feet above its Washington counterpart!
Don't forget to stop by your state Senate office for a visit. It's your office after all; you just let me work there!