What's new . . .
The second special session of the 79th Texas Legislature ended on August 19. In the end, neither school finance nor property tax reform legislation was enacted. With the expectation of the Texas Supreme Court ruling before October 1 on the state's appeal of Judge Dietz's district court ruling that the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional, the Governor, as of this date, has not called a third special session. I am disappointed, frustrated, and angry that we were unable to pass school finance and property tax reform legislation. As I have stated many times, I believe it is the Legislature's responsibility to act on these issues and am dismayed to find us in the position of waiting on a court decision to "make" us address them.
Since the conclusion of the second special session, the Governor has issued an Executive Order to try to accomplish one of the reforms included in some versions of the school finance legislation-- to require that 65 percent of local school district budgets are spent on "instructional costs." The Governor also submitted a request to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) to redirect $295 million in the state budget to fund the new health, foreign language, and art textbooks that are in warehouses and ready to be shipped to local districts and to increase the teacher minimum salary schedule. The request also includes additional funding for nursing homes, trauma centers, a Texas Tech Medical School at El Paso, construction debt at The University of Texas at Dallas, an increase in the personal needs allowance for poor nursing home residents, and funding for a Texas A&M pharmacy school in Kingsville. Such budget redirection can be done by the LBB when the Legislature is not in session under budget execution authority. More information on the LBB and budget execution authority can be found at: http://www.lbb.state.tx.us.
The Legislature did pass three measures during the second special session of the 79th Legislature. SB 5 allows companies that want to offer TV services to get a statewide franchise rather than go to each city to get a franchise. SB 7 limits state and local governments from taking private property if the primary purpose is for economic development. HB 11 gives state judges a pay raise and increases the retirement benefits of legislators, whose retirement plans are linked to state district judges' salaries. The Governor has signed SB 7 into law and has until September 9th to sign, veto, or allow the other two measures to become law without his signature. In addition, the Governor did sign HB 1 (79th Legislature First Called Session) which re-enacts the state's two-year budget for public education, the portion of the state budget which he had vetoed after the regular session. HB 1 went into effect on August 9, 2005.
While the Texas House and Senate will continue to work on school funding and property tax relief measures, it will also begin the process of studying issues to be considered in the next regular session in 2007. The members have been asked to submit ideas for interim committee assignments to the Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker. Within the next few months, the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker will issue assignments to the committees of the House and Senate and the committees will begin holding hearings and developing legislation for the 2007 session.
Focus. . .
Several new laws went into effect on September 1. Following are summaries of some that might affect you and your family.
HB 183 requires all children younger than five and less than 36 inches tall to ride in child safety seats in autos. The previous law applied to children younger than four.
SB 1257 prohibits the use of wireless communications devices (including cell phones) for the first six months after teenagers get their driver licenses. The bill also prohibits passenger bus drivers, who are transporting minors, from using wireless communications devices, except in emergencies or when the bus is stopped.
HB 1357 creates a six-month driver license suspension for a person convicted of providing alcohol to a minor (one year for second offense) and increases the driver license suspension to one year for minors who are convicted of a second alcohol offense.
HB 1481 makes it a Class B misdemeanor if a person drives around a barricade where a warning sign or barricade has been placed because water is over any portion of a road, street, or highway.
SB 1005 provides that if a driver younger than 25 years of age commits a traffic offense classified as a moving violation, the judge must require the driver to complete a driving safety course. If the driver holds a provisional driver license (under 18 years of age), the driver must also submit to a Texas Department of Public Safety road test.
HB 1484 specifies that a person commits a traffic offense if they are involved in a crash on the main lane, ramp, shoulder, median, or adjacent area of a freeway and do not move their vehicle to an area that minimizes interference with freeway traffic (assuming the vehicle is drivable).
SB 1670 requires the Texas Department of Insurance, in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation and other agencies, to establish a verification program for vehicle insurance in order to try and reduce the number of uninsured drivers.
HB 120 creates an organ donor education and registry program. Soon, Texans will once again be able to indicate their wish to become an organ donor when they are issued or renew their driver license or ID card.
HB 836 requires pharmacists to offer a patient the choice of paying the actual price of the prescription instead of the insurance co-payment amount if the cost of the actual prescription is lower than the insurance co-payment amount.
HB 853 prohibits the collection of identifying information such as a social security number when a person is returning merchandise.
Did You Know. . . ?
The Texas Adopt-A Beach Program will be hosting its 20th Anniversary Cleanup on Saturday, September 17, 2005, at 28 sites along the Texas coast. This program, which is sponsored by the Texas General Land Office, is an all-volunteer effort to remove trash from Texas beaches and to increase public awareness of the problems of marine debris and beach litter. Since the first cleanup in 1986, more than 328,000 volunteers have removed more than 6,200 tons of trash from Texas beaches. For more information on the cleanup, please call 1-877-TXCOAST or visit the website at www.texasadoptabeach.org.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsors an annual program, Texas Aerospace Scholars, an education program that offers high school juniors the opportunity to participate in a science-, math-, and engineering-based online learning program, and features an all-expenses paid, week long summer residential experience at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Students are recommended for the program by their state legislator. Eligible students are required to meet the following criteria:
- U.S. Citizen
- At least 16 years of age
- Texas resident
- Currently a high school junior
- Interested in science, math or engineering
- Able to commit to a relationship with the Johnson Space Center, including a one-week residential experience during the summer
- Access to the Internet and email (home, school, or public library)
As a State Senator, I can place only two qualified students in the program and one alternate. However, I will forward all complete applications for qualified students to the Texas Aerospace Scholars program for consideration. For more information, visit the Aerospace Scholars website, or you can download an application. Submit your completed application to my office no later than October 14, 2005 for consideration. Mail your application to my Austin office at P.O. Box 12068, Austin, Texas 78711.
In Closing . . .
For the past week we have all been consumed by the devastation to our Gulf Coast neighbors caused by Hurricane Katrina. Texas has welcomed an estimated 200,000+ refugees and a large portion of these have come to our North Texas communities. Many of you may have already responded by volunteering and donating - Thank you!
Click on the following links to view information about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Texas, and local responses in the aftermath of Katrina.
Following are contacts for the various organizations that are supporting the refugees, rescue workers and clean up efforts:
American Red Cross 1-800-435-7669 or www.redcross.org
Volunteer Center of North Texas 1-866-797-8268 or www.volunteernorthtexas.org
Dallas Emergency Center Operations 214-670-4277 (command center)
The American Red Cross is in need of cash donations. Click here for locations to donate needed items for refugees in our area.
Any contribution that you can make, no matter how large or small, is greatly appreciated.
State Senator - District 16