AUSTIN - The Legislature's primary task, the state budget, is moving through the legislative process. The Senate unanimously passed its version of the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 1 Friday, April 23. Education will receive the biggest increase in funding from the last budget; three billion dollars of the more than $98 billion budget will go toward education. The appropriations bill also includes a state employee pay raise including non-faculty college employees. Some asked whether Governor George W. Bush would be disappointed that the budget did not reach the two billion dollars in tax cuts he promised. But Lt. Governor Rick Perry says the focus was in the right place. "I think Governor Bush would like to see substantial work toward the continuation of creating the best schools in America. And I think this budget does that," said Perry.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant says the budget is conservative but they opened their pocketbooks to help Texas children. "If there is an overall emphasis in this budget, it is children. Not only education but if you look at all the tobacco money, we're looking at a lot of programs for children," said Ratliff.
The House did not concur with the changes the Senate made to CSHB 1. Both chambers appointed members to a conference committee to work out the differences between each version of the bill. Conference committee members include Representatives Junell, Coleman, Gallego, Heflin, and West; and Senators Ratliff, Duncan, Fraser, Moncrief and Truan.
New school finance legislation passed out of the Education Committee this week. The bill allots more money for teachers and less for property tax cuts. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 4 increases the minimum teacher's salary by $4000 dollars a year, but only teachers who are below the new minimum salary would be guaranteed a pay raise. An amendment to the bill requires schools to give at least 60% of funds to teachers. Another amendment added a program to train teachers in reading instruction. The Master Reader Teacher Program rewards teachers with bonuses for voluntarily participating in the program and is a priority for Perry. The bill also provides an extra $50 million for fast growing school districts and $750 million for all districts to finance new buildings and old debt. These funds could help school districts limit property tax increases.
Legislation creating more tax credits for Texas businesses passed out of the Senate. Supporters say the more than $132 million research and development tax break will encourage economic growth across the state. CSSB 5, sponsored by Waco Senator David Sibley, designates strategic investment areas which have high unemployment and low per capita income. The areas included are generally located along the Rio Grande and in deep East Texas. Corporations will get the break for creating jobs and investing in those economically distressed areas or by investing in research and development statewide. Attempts to extend the tax breaks to other areas were hotly debated, with some senators arguing the state does not have the money to include the entire state. Senators did adopt two floor amendments; the first to help Texas agriculture by expanding job creation and investment credits to agriculture processing anywhere in the state and the second allows tax credits for businesses investing in urban areas.
The Senate also voted in favor of tax credits for businesses that finance before and after school programs. Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 9 and says children need more activities after school ends. "I think the bill makes a lot of sense, it's good public policy and something we should have done a long time ago," said Duncan.
Legislation restricting telephone services passed out of the Senate on Tuesday, April 20. This includes CSSB 1251, sponsored by West, which prohibits a phone service provider from cutting off basic local service due to an unpaid long distance bill. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh sponsored SB 1020, which requires pre-paid calling cards offered in Texas to provide more and clearer information about rates and terms of service under legislation passed this week.
Colonias would have greater access to vital services such as water, sewer and electricity under legislation passed out of the Senate. CSSB 1421 includes a series of measures that are designed to improve living conditions in the Border areas. The bill is authored by senators representing areas along the Rio Grande. The Special Committee on Border Affairs also passed legislation to speed up and fund transportation improvements between Texas and Mexico.
In other floor action, vital donor organs recovered in Texas would be offered to other Texans first under legislation passed Friday, April 23. CSSB 862 is sponsored by Galena Park Senator Mario Gallegos Jr.
People with mental retardation would be exempted from the death penalty under legislation passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, April 21. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sponsors SB 326 which would offer life in prison instead of execution.
Ohio U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn spent Thursday, April 22, at the State Capitol to help promote the benefits of space technology. Glenn urged the Senate Subcommittee on Technology and Business Growth to adopt a bill creating the Business Technology Outreach Program. SB 976 by Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson promotes the use of NASA technology in private business. "That's what NASA is all about. We're not just up there enjoying ourselves because somebody thought it would be nice to go up and enjoy yourself. We're up there to do basic, fundamental research," said Glenn.
A Local and Uncontested Calendar will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, April 26. The Senate will reconvene Monday at 1:30 p.m.
Nominees Confirmed This Week
___________________________________________________________________________ THE FOLLOWING NOMINEES WERE REPORTED FAVORABLY: Texas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners Richard L. Gillespie, D.C. Appointed 07-08-97 for a Armbrister Hays County term to expire 02-01-03 Cynthia S. Vaughn, D.C. Appointed 07-08-97 for a Barrientos Travis County term to expire 02-01-03 Texas Growth Fund Board of Trustees J. Michael Bell, Sr. Reappointed 04-12-99 for a Wentworth Gillespie County term to expire 02-01-05 Catherine S. Woodruff Appointed 11-13-97 for a Lindsay Harris County term to expire 02-01-03 Texas Racing Commission David C. Garza Appointed 01-21-98 for a Lucio Cameron County term to expire 02-01-03 Terri Lacy Appointed 01-21-98 for a Brown Harris County term to expire 02-01-03 College Opportunity Act Committee Laura H. Bley Appointed 07-21-97 for a Moncrief Tarrant County term to expire 02-01-03 Texas Energy Coordination Council Glenda L. Callaway Reappointed 01-12-99 for a Gallegos Harris County term to expire 12-31-00 Kathleen E. Magruder Reappointed 01-12-99 for a Brown Harris County term to expire 12-31-00 Donald W. Niemiec Reappointed 12-04 98 for a Harris Tarrant County term to expire 12-31-00 Michael D. Spence Appointed 12-04-98 for a Shapiro Collin County term to expire 12-31-99 James A. Tramuto Appointed 12-04-98 for a Lindsay Harris County term to expire 12-31-99 Robert L. Wright Reappointed 12-04-98 for a Armbrister Victoria County term to expire 12-31-99 Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners Joan J. Culver Appointed 01-14-98 for a Barrientos Travis County term to expire 02-01-03 Jeannie M. Heller Appointed 04-16-98 for a Ogden Brazos County term to expire 02-01-03 Dorothy "Dee" N. Stewart Appointed 01-14-98 for a Harris Tarrant County term to expire 02-01-03 Judge of the 309th Judicial District Court, Harris County Eva M. Guzman Appointed 04-13-99 until Lindsay Harris County the next general election Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board Ben E. Barnett Reappointed 02-06-98 for a Carona Dallas County term to expire 01-31-00 Jacqueline G. Humphrey Reappointed 02-06-98 for a Bivins Potter County term to expire 01-31-00 Debra S. Runyan Reappointed 02-06-98 for a Wentworth Bexar County term to expire 01-31-00 Angelina Velarde-White Reappointed 02-06-98 for a Shapleigh El Paso County term to expire 01-31-00 ___________________________________________________________________________
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