What's new . . .
Monday, November 13, was the first day legislators could pre-file legislation for the 80th Regular Session. As I did last session, I filed two pieces of legislation that would require recorded votes. The first, SJR 7, would amend the Texas Constitution to require that all non-ceremonial votes be recorded and available on the Internet, while the second, SB 102, would amend the Government Code to enact this requirement. I will also be filing a wide variety of bills related to transportation and homeland security.
Earlier this week, the State Board of Education voted on the new math and science requirements, which were passed by the Legislature in the most recent special session and require four years of the math and science to graduate. At issue was which classes would fulfill requirement for the fourth year of math and science; the Board voted to allow "Math Models" and "Integrated Physics and Chemistry" to fulfill that requirement. The Board will take a final vote on the new rules today.
The Task Force on Appraisal Reform held a public hearing this past Thursday, November 16, at the Bill Priest Institute in Dallas. Governor Perry created the task force to address what he calls the "silent tax hike of rising appraisals." Their goal is to create independent recommendations on how the Legislature can best address the issue. If you were unable to attend but would like to submit comments, click here.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the release of Texas Debit Card, which gives parents a new way to receive child support. Now parents do not have to wait for checks to arrive in the mail or to be sure a deposit has cleared. The card can be used at any store that takes Visa debit cards. Those parents who do not receive child support through direct deposit should have been sent a letter within the past month informing them of the Texas Debit Card. Those parents who did not respond will be automatically enrolled in the program. Any parents who have questions can call: 866-729-6159.
Following the tragic deaths of three Houston area football players, the University Interscholastic League, the state association governing high school athletics, voted to require all high schools to have an automated external defibrillator by August 1, 2007. Following the passage of the proposal, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst announced that he would support a state law requiring automated external defibrillators in all Texas public schools and would seek federal, state, and private funds to pay for them. Numerous bills (SB 25, SB 82, HB 92, SB 87) have already been filed relating to automated external defibrillators at public schools.
The Texas Education Agency will award $95.5 million in Texas Educator Excellence Grants to over 1,100 schools throughout the state. Eligible schools are ranked in the top half of the state in the percentage of educationally disadvantaged students and were rated exemplary or recognized or ranked in the top quartile performance level for improvement in math and reading. A unique feature of the grant is each campus determined how the grant will be distributed among its employees. For a complete list of schools that received the grants click here.
Focus . . .
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, I am focusing this month on the chief issues the committee will address during the 80th Legislative Session, as well as an explanation of the role of committees and committee chairs in the legislative process.
This only scratches the surface. Heavy trucks, driver and passenger safety, and many other issues demand our attention and challenge us to provide safe, quality transportation for the lowest cost possible.
Committees are an essential part of the legislative process; the Texas Constitution, as well as House and Senate Rules, require that each bill be referred to a committee The committees serve as the preliminary screening process and give the public an opportunity to testify and share their views on legislative proposals. Most bills that are filed are never reported out of the committee to which they were referred. There are forty standing committees in the House and fifteen in the Senate, along with four standing subcommittees. The Lt. Governor appoints the chairs and vice chairs of all Senate committees and the Speaker of the Texas House appoints the chairs and vice chairs of all House committees.
The chair of a committee has a great deal of control over the proceedings of a committee hearing. In addition to setting the bills for hearing, no member may make a motion on a bill without being recognized by the chair. The chair may also delay further consideration of a bill, once testimony has been taken, by postponing it or leaving it pending. It is also the chair's prerogative when to bring a bill up for a vote. These responsibilities allow the chair to exercise a great deal of influence in the shaping of legislation. A common example of this influence is hearing a bill toward the end of session. Often times, the end-of-session hearing has the effect of killing a bill, since there is not enough time for the bill to complete the lengthy legislative process once it is finally out of committee. Another more overt example of a chair exercising authority over legislation in their committee occurred last session in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Aware that state prisons were reaching capacity, the committee chair did not let any bill out of the committee that had the potential to increase the overall prison population, since such measures could have necessitated the construction of more prisons. A chair may also request the inclusion or exclusion of specific language before granting the bill a hearing or allowing it to be voted out of committee.
I hope this has given you a better understanding of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and the committee process. I look forward to working with the Lt. Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature through the committee process in the upcoming session.
Did You Know . . . ?
As the Dallas area moves closer to a fully deregulated electric market, consumers will be able to select the electric provider of their choice. The Public Utility Commission has developed a website to help consumers find the best deal for themselves. By going to www.powertochoose.org, you will be able to see the latest rates from our area's providers, and find answers to any questions you may have about the newly deregulated electric market.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department along with Wildlife Forever, a non-profit conservation organization, are sponsoring an art and writing contest for children in grades 4 through 12. Students may draw or paint any state fish and then write about the fish, its habitat, and conservation. Winning entries will be forwarded to Wildlife Forever and will compete with winners from across the country to be featured on Wildlife Forever's conservation stamp. For more information on the contest go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishart.
In Closing . . .
If you are traveling over this Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that you and your families will be safe. Let us be thankful for what we have and share what we can with others. Happy Thanksgiving!
State Senator - District 16