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Friday, February 5, 1999     (512) 463-0300

Texas Senate Review

AUSTIN - Emergency legislation to relieve economic problems in Texas' oil fields passed unanimously out of the Senate's Finance Committee Wednesday, February 3, and is on its way to the Senate floor. Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Lake Jackson Senator J.E. 'Buster' Brown, suspends the severance tax for wells producing less than 15 barrels a day when prices drop below $15 per barrel. The temporary relief could have a price tag of up to $45 million; the bill will be in effect until July 31, 1999. Governor Bush designated the issue a legislative emergency, citing desperate conditions in one of Texas' biggest industries. Brown said the bill will be on the Senate floor Tuesday, February 9th. Legislators plan to have the bill on the governor's desk within two weeks.

Jobs are not the only casualty of low oil prices, some public school districts receive money from oil wells in the form of property taxes.

The Senate Electric Utility Restructuring Committee, chaired by Senator David Sibley of Waco, heard testimony from Pat Wood III, Chair of the Public Utility Commission (PUC) on the subject of stranded costs on Monday, February 1. Stranded costs are the difference between the market value or what someone is willing to pay for it, and the book value of an electric provider which is decided by the PUC. It is the investment that companies would lose once the market is open to competition. The PUC currently awards 10-12% for general investment costs they determine are prudent.

The committee is trying to determine whether electric providers should be allowed to recover stranded costs after the market is open to competition; and how to determine the numbers of those costs. Chairman Wood stressed that these costs are currently being paid by every rate payer in the state. If the bill passes, stranded costs would be noted as a delivery charge on the consumer's bills.

Sibley says that although the restructuring included in Senate Bill (SB) 7 could cause an adverse affect for companies, it does not mean the government is being unfair and more importantly, unconstitutional, "We are not obliged to hold them harmless from the travails of competition we're supposed to be reasonable and fair with them. That's what the constitutional law says."

Senate Finance heard testimony from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) Tuesday, February 2. The agency did not meet the goal of applying 15% of total housing funds to the poorest of the poor. They allotted only 5.6% of those funds to that income range. Agency director Daisy Stiner claimed she did not have the resources to target specific groups. Senator Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi was especially worried about border areas with shortages of affordable housing. Truan hoped the agency, now under new management, would not continue its reputation of neglecting Texas' neediest citizens. Truan and other members on the Interim Committee on Housing have been closely monitoring the efficiency of TDHCA and the Texas State Affordable Housing Cooperation since last session.

On Thursday, February 4, the State Affairs Committee heard testimony from representatives of the Department of Information Resources (DIR) about the readiness of state agencies for possible year 2000 (Y2K) problems. Officials say 73 agencies are ready for the Y2K but 36 are less than halfway there. They expect to spend about $300 million fixing the problems, focusing their efforts on public health, public safety, and fund distribution, like child care and medicaid.

The Senate Finance, Electric Utility Restructuring, Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committees, and the Subcommittee on Higher Education will meet on Monday. The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 8, at 1:30 p.m.

Events

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/9/99, Tuesday - Economic Development Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in 2E.20/Lt. Gov. Committee Room

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/9/99, Tuesday - Health Services Committee Public Hearing at 1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment, in the Capitol Extension, room E1.016

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/9/99, Tuesday - Natural Resources Committee Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. in the Senate Chamber

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/10/99, Wednesday - Human Services Committee Public Hearing at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Chamber

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/10/99, Wednesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/10/99, Wednesday - Intergovernmental Relations Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.028

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/10/99, Wednesday - Administration Committee Public Hearing at 10 a.m. or upon adjournment of the Senate in the Capitol Extension, room E1.714

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/10/99, Wednesday - Education Committee Public Hearing at 11:00 a.m. or 30 minutes upon adjournment in the Capitol Extension, room E1.012

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/11/99, Thursday - Border Affairs Special Committee Public Hearing at 8:30 a.m. in 2E.20/Lt. Gov. Committee Room

2/9/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.2/11/99, Thursday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036

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