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March 22, 2007 (512) 463-0300

COMMITTEES LOOKING AT SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATION

PHOTO
Freshman Senator Glenn Hegar of Katy enjoys the traditional ribbing of a first-year Senator as he lays out his first piece of legislation in the Senate.

(AUSTIN) -- With only nine weeks left in the 80th Regular Session, Senate committees are spending hours considering and debating major legislation that has state-wide ramifications. Bills before committees this week would address standardized testing, billion-dollar transportation projects, and steroid testing for high school students.

Two of the bills before the Senate Education Committee this week could impact nearly every public high school student in Texas. The first bill, Senate Bill 1031, would end the controversial Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, and replace it with four end-of-course exams. Bill sponsor and committee chair Senator Florence Shapiro said Tuesday that problems with the TAKS test, like failing to adequately gauge progress, or prepare students for college, means that the state needs to look for a better system. "End of course assessments, I believe, will provide a better way for students, for schools and for the state to measure and test our students," she said.

Shapiro's bill would have public high school students taking four end-of-course exams, one each for Science, English, Social Studies, and Math, beginning with the 2009 freshmen class. These tests would make up about 15 percent of the students' final grade, and in order to graduate, a student would have to average 70 points out of 100 for each test over all four years. The bill also contains enhanced security measures to discourage cheating, including one measure to make leaking test information to students or the public a class C misdemeanor.

The Education Committee considered a bill Thursday that would mandate random tests of all University Interscholastic League athletes for performance enhancing drugs. Author Senator Kyle Janek says a mandatory testing program will help lawmakers grasp how much of a problem steroid use is among high school athletes. "Senate bill 8 recognizes the anecdotal reports of a steroid problem in our high schools. We're concerned that this could turn into an epidemic," he said. "One of the ways to determine exactly how big the problem is in our high schools is through mandatory testing." The measure would direct the state education agency to formulate guidelines for conducting tests, and penalties for students who are caught using steroids. The bill seeks to sample three percent of all UIL athletes in the state every school year.

The controversial Trans Texas Corridor could face some serious limitations under a series of bills considered by the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. TxDOT has come under fire from the public and lawmakers alike for its policy of entering into long-term construction and management contracts for public road projects with private entities. Legislation was passed in 2003 that gave TxDOT that power, but the sponsor of that bill, Senator Steve Ogden, said its time for a 'mid-course correction". He laid out four bills before the Transportation Committee on Wednesday that would restrict who could own these projects, where they can be built, and how they are financed.

Ogden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, says the state does not need to turn to private entities to fund transportation projects. "I think, as I look at the state budget and look at the ability of this state to access capital through bonding," said Ogden, "it seems to me it is unnecessary and inappropriate to ask private entities to basically loan us the money to build highways."

One of the measures he proposed would double the amount of bonds the state could issue to build new transportation projects. Another would prohibit TxDOT from entering into long term private/public partnerships with private contractors that give those entities control over the projects. A third measure would restrict corridor projects to the Texas Trunk System, a set of previously identified construction projects intended to complement the state's system of rural highways. The final measure would state that once tolls have paid for the construction cost of a toll road, proceeds from those tolls can only go toward maintenance and operation, which should bring down future toll rates.

Of these bills, only SB 718, which aligns future projects with the trunk system, has been passed. The remaining three measures remain pending before the committee for further consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 26 at 1:30 p.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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