EDUCATION IS TOP LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY FOR THE 76TH SESSION
AUSTIN--Texas Senators returned to the capitol on Tuesday, January 12, surrounded by their families and a full chamber, as the last legislature of this century convened for the 140 day regular session. Governor George W. Bush and Lt. Governor-elect Rick Perry were all in attendance as Lt. Governor Bob Bullock convened the Senate for the last time.
The crowd gave Lt. Governor Bullock a standing ovation as he stepped up to the rostrum. Legislators spent much of the opening day expressing their respect and admiration for his dedication to public service. Some honors surprised Bullock, including a college scholarship in his name at Baylor University. "No person should be rewarded as I have for doing what you should've done as a public official," Bullock said.
The first order of business in the 76th Legislative Session was administering the oath of office to the newly elected senators. After senators-elect took their oath, they began business by electing a President Pro Tempore. Senators awarded this position to Teel Bivins of Amarillo. As President Pro Tempore, Bivins acts as Texas' chief executive in the absence of the governor and lieutenant governor.
Texas legislators are making education a top priority this session, demonstrated by its large percentage of the budget. Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Representative Rob Junell of San Angelo unveiled the new budget plan on Wednesday, January 13th. The proposed budget allots approximately 75 percent of new funding for education. A rapidly growing Texas demanded a large portion of the budget to maintain current programs in areas such as schools, prisons and health.
The excitement over a budget surplus and where to spend it could take a downturn. Ratliff warns that spending available money may not be the best option for the future. Legislators may want a tax cut but Ratliff thinks the focus should be on additional education funding, especially increased teacher pay. He worries along with other legislators that the healthy state economy may not continue. "I think we have to be very careful about cutting taxes, "said Ratliff, "particularly if we're about to see a downturn because then we build a trap for the next legislature and force them to vote for a tax bill."
If you own a small business, help could be on the way. Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay proposed eliminating the corporate franchise tax and the filing report for an estimated 45,000 Texas businesses with gross receipts of less than $200,000. If the bill passes, these businesses could save close to 135 million dollars, according to Fraser. "We think this is about job growth, about stimulation of the economy. We have a fear that we're hearing that the economy could potentially slow down a bit and we think this will be a stimulus," said Fraser.
The Sunset Commission met Thursday to discuss recommended changes for the Office of Attorney General Child Support Division, the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Public Safety and others. Some of the solutions they discussed included involving the private sector in child support collection, creating an advisory council on aging and a long-term health care agency.
The Sunset Commission reviews state agencies periodically to assure they are working efficiently and to eliminate overlapping and duplication among agencies with similar goals. The commission's membership includes Senators J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson serving as chair, Chris Harris of Arlington, Frank Madla of San Antonio, and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, along with Representatives Patricia Gray of Galveston, Fred Bosse of Houston, Allen Hightower of Huntsville, and Brian McCall of Plano, and two public members, former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and fellow Houstonian Bill Jeter.
The Senate has been recessed since Wednesday, January 13, in memory of Dean Page Keeton and Charles "Lefty" Morris. Senators will be back in the chamber on Monday, January 18th to give their official acceptance of election returns for the governor and lt. governor. Lt. Governor-elect Rick Perry will be inaugurated the following day, along with Governor George W. Bush. Perry is expected to announce committee appointments before the end of next week.
1/19/99, Tuesday - Inauguration of Governor George W. Bush and Lt. Governor-elect Rick Perry at 12:00 p.m. on the South Steps of the Capitol
1/20/99, Wednesday - Joint Interim Committee on Statutory Probate Courts at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.012