JUDICIAL PAY RAISE, TELECOM DEREGULATION, WATER BILLS BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEES
While the special session is primarily focused on school finance and tax reform, legislators are taking the opportunity to bring back bills that died at the end of the regular session. The Texas Constitution limits passage of bills to those that are included in the call, but Governor Rick Perry has said he would consider opening up the session to other measures if the Legislature can come up with a plan to reduce property taxes and put more money into public schools before the end of the special session. Senators want to be ready for this possibility, so Senate committees are considering bills to send to the floor should the governor's call be expanded.
The Natural Resources committee considered two important bills today that did not pass out of the House during the regular session. Senate Bill 11, by Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister, is essentially the same as the regular session's SB 3, which would implement the state's 50 year water plan. This bill would create a scientific base for freshwater inflows to improve the health of the state's bays and estuaries, as well as create a consistent water management policy statewide for management of groundwater.
The committee also heard SB 39, by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, which deals with radioactive waste coming into the state. This bill, which is the same as SB 1667 from the regular session, would transfer jurisdiction over radioactive waste to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and would levee a 10 percent gross receipts fee on companies that want to dispose of radioactive waste in Texas. One-fifth of the revenue from this fee would go to the county in which the disposal site is located, with the remaining amount going to the state's general revenue fund.
The Business and Commerce committee considered a bill today to begin the deregulation of the state's telecom market. This bill, SB 21, is essentially the same as last session's SB 789 by Senator Troy Fraser, which died in the House in the waning days of the session. The Public Utilities Commission would be given authority to de-regulate some markets once they have met certain criteria for determining competition. One major difference added to SB 21 are provisions for allowing the delivery of high-speed internet service through standard power lines. SB 21 would allow utility companies to provide this service to customers.
A bill for judicial pay raises that died on the last day of the 79th Session is back in the form of SB 11 by Senator Duncan. This bill would increase the annual pay for district judges to $125,000, appellate judges to $137,000, and supreme court judges to $150,000. The bill would raise the revenue for this pay raise through an increase on court and filing fees.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, June 29, at 10 a.m.