Senator Carona's Email Update
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February 28, 2007

What's New . . .

The House and Senate passed SJR 13, which is a constitutional amendment that extends the school property tax relief enacted in 2006 to senior citizens and disabled Texans. The Texas Constitution allows these individuals to have their property taxes frozen; therefore, an amendment to the Texas Constitution is necessary for them to receive the property tax relief passed during last spring's special session. Texans will have an opportunity to vote on the constitutional amendment on May 12, 2007. It is important for the voters of Texas to pass this amendment to ensure that our senior citizens and disabled Texans receive the same relief from local school property taxes as other Texans.

Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, released House Committee assignments shortly after I sent out the January Email Update. House rules dictate that all substantive committees, which are those that consider legislation, half of the membership, excluding the chair and vice-chair, is determined by seniority with the remaining half appointed by the Speaker. Seniority appointments do not apply to the Appropriations Committee, to which the Speaker appoints all members. For a complete list of House committee assignments click here.

On February 2, 2007, Governor Perry issued an executive order requiring school-aged girls to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prior to entering sixth grade. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country and is a contributing factor to the development of cervical cancer. The executive order does allow parents to opt out of the mandatory vaccination. Although I recognize the devastating effects of cancer and am supportive of measures that could reduce its impact on young women, I believe this issue deserves thoughtful consideration by the Legislature and public input. For those reasons, I am co-authoring SB 438, which would pre-empt the Governor's executive order.

On February 20, State District Judge Stephen Yelenosky ruled that Governor Perry's Executive Order that directed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to fast-track hearings on permitting numerous coal plants throughout the state was unconstitutional, and he directed the administrative law judges hearing the case to reconsider the hearing schedule. In response, the administrative law judges who are hearing the case delayed hearings until June 27.

The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees are in the midst of hearings for the state budget. The budget is the only bill the Legislature is required to pass. Additionally, many state programs and initiatives are dependent upon state funding so it affects every area of state government. For example, caseloads for many health and human service programs are determined in the budget, since those are dependent upon state funding. In related news, the House and Senate have passed SCR 20, which authorizes the state to exceed the constitutional spending cap when the Legislature writes the state's budget, which is required for the state to honor its commitment to increase its share of public school funding pursuant to the reduction in local school property taxes.

On February 6, 2007, Governor Rick Perry, addressed the Texas Legislature in his State of the State speech. Among items included in the presentation was a package of higher education reforms. Highlights of his proposal include: increase higher education funding by $711 million and financial aid by $362 million, allocate $350.2 million to create an incentive program that rewards institutions for graduating students on time, and require exit exams of baccalaureate graduates. He also called for the creation of the Texas Nursing Excellence Initiative, which is a $56.8 million effort to address the nursing shortage in Texas. These recommendations will be considered by the Legislature during the coming months.

Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst has announced a series of legislative initiatives over the past month. These have included legislation to toughen Texas child predator laws (SB 5, called Jessica's Law), strengthen and protect the state's water supply (SB 3), require Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in all Texas public schools (SB 7), and reform and improve the quality and performance of Texas charter schools (SB 4). Each of these measures is expected to be considered in committees in the Texas Senate over the next few weeks.

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, the committee I chair, was one of the first committees to begin considering legislation, holding a hearing on January 31 that focused on state preparations for disasters. Several important pieces of legislation have already been approved by the committee, including SB 60 (clarifying when children must be in a safety seat), SB 153 (requiring the adult accompanying a student driver to be awake and alert), and SB 248 (providing a safe distance between bicycles and vehicles). Because of my concerns about toll policy, public private partnerships, and the Trans Texas Corridor, the committee will hold a special hearing on March 1 to take public testimony on transportation policy. The hearing will be held in the Extension Auditorium of the State Capitol in Austin from 8:30 AM until 6:00 PM. More information on the hearing, click here.

Legislation I have filed has also been recommended favorably by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and is on the way to consideration by the full Senate. For example, SB 112 (legal possession of firearms during an emergency), SB 255 (requiring the Texas Department of Transportation to make more information available), and a series of bills addressing unsafe trucks were all reported from committee without any opposing votes SB 327, SB 328, SB 329, SB 330, SB 332,and SB 333). In addition, you may have heard about a bill I filed having to do with elderly drivers, SB 180. When my mother, who is not able to drive, received an automatic driver license renewal in the mail, I knew the system was broken. Tragically, an elderly driver who should not have been on the road took the life of a student in my district, Katie Bolka. The bill now bears her name as Katie's Law and will require anyone aged 79 or older to have a vision test before getting a license renewed at the regular renewal time. At age 85, they must take a vision test every two years, and the testing officer may require them to take a driving test as well. I don't want to stop anyone who is capable of driving from doing so, but we have seen enough to know that we need to take action. Consideration of SB180 is pending before the full Senate.

Focus . . .

There are numerous key dates and deadlines during the 140-day legislative session. These deadlines can be found in the Texas Constitution and Statutes, as well as in the House and Senate Rules. Following is an overview of these dates with an explanation of their impact on the legislative process and why they were adopted by the Legislature.

Most of today's legislative deadlines were adopted at the beginning of the 73rd Legislative Session in 1993, following the election of former Representative Pete Laney as Speaker of the House. During the previous interim, the House Select Committee on Rules studied the House rules and made numerous recommendations designed to, as then Speaker Laney said, "ensure that the legislative process is open and above board." Prior to the adoption of legislative deadlines, more than half of the bills passed by the House were adopted in the final three days of the session. The most cited example of this was a comprehensive ethics bill that was considered only minutes before the end of the 72nd Legislative Session, absent any meaningful debate by the members of the House. The effect of the deadlines has been a progressive restriction of legislative action as the session closes and a more even distribution of the workload throughout the session, allowing for more a thoughtful and deliberate consideration of legislation.

The first key date is the 31st day of session (February 8, 2007). This is the first day committees may hold hearings to consider legislation, unless it has been declared an emergency item by the Governor. The second key date is the 60th day of session (March 9, 2007), which is the final day legislation may be introduced and the first day bills may be considered on the floor of either chamber; both of these deadlines can be overturned with a four-fifths vote of members present and are dictated in the Texas Constitution. These deadlines are routinely suspended in the Senate and usually suspended in the House. However, the House failed to suspend these rules this session. As a result, to hold hearings on bills in House committees, the House had to vote on a bill-by-bill basis to allow the hearings prior to the 31st day of session. And, since the only bills that can be heard in the House during the first 60 days of this session are those declared an emergency by the Governor, the Governor has made several issues emergency items. Among the emergency items are: legislation relating to appropriations for the 2008-2009 biennium; making appropriations to the Texas Education Agency for the purpose of school district property tax rate reductions, making supplemental appropriations and reductions in appropriations; the management of water resources in the state; the allocation of sporting goods sales tax revenue to fund state and local parks; and the prosecution, punishment, and supervision of sex offenders.

The remainder of the deadlines are toward the end of session and can be found in the House and Senate rules. Although most participants feel that the deadlines have had a positive impact on the legislative process, they are a source of considerable frustration in the closing days of session. For instance, the 122nd day of session (May 10, 2007) is the last day the House can consider house bills on second reading. Since there are often well over a hundred bills on the House calendar (which is a list of the bills that will be considered that day) by the 121st day and those bills are considered in their order on the calendar, any bills that are not considered by midnight of that day are effectively dead for the session.

In the Senate, bills are brought up for consideration by individual members, provided four-fifths (during the first 60 days of session) or two-thirds (during the rest of the session) of the body agree to hear the bill; so this end of session crunch is usually avoided. However, the 134th day (May 22, 2007) is the last day the House may consider Senate bills on second reading, many of which die on the House Calendar.

Prior to 1993, the final days of legislative sessions were filled with numerous and often lengthy bills to be voted on, sometimes without an opportunity to review them. In contrast, during the 80th Legislative Session, the 135th day (May 23, 2007) is the last day that the House and Senate can consider bills on third and final reading. The 137th day (May 25, 2007) is the last day for the House to consider Senate amendments (concur or go to conference) and for Senate copies of Conference Committee Reports on tax, general appropriations, and reapportionment bills to be printed and distributed. The 138th day (May 26, 2007) is the last day for the House and Senate (other than tax, general appropriations, and reapportionment bills) to print and distribute copies of all Conference Committee Reports, and the 139th day (May 27, 2007) is the last for the House and Senate to adopt Conference Committee Reports. On the 140th (and last) day of session (May 28, 2007), the only business allowed is corrections to House and Senate bills.

Did you know . . . ?

The Texas Historic Sites Atlas features nearly 300,000 historic and cultural sites throughout Texas. With everything from Texas Historical Markers and courthouses to museums and sawmills, the Atlas is an invaluable resource in discovering all Texas has to offer. One may search by keyword, county, or historic designation. You can also enter an address to find nearby historic locations. To access the Atlas click here.

Student Opportunities . . .

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is accepting applications for its Conditional Grant Program. The program is open to students who are economically disadvantaged and interested in pursuing a degree in civil engineering, computer science, management information systems, or computer information systems. Grant amounts are up to $3,000 per semester. Recipients are required to maintain a 2.5 GPA, carry and pass a minimum 12 hour course load, and agree to work for TxDOT for two years after graduation. The deadline for applying is March 1, 2007.

In Closing . . .

This session of the Texas Legislature is off to a nice pace and I expect to accomplish several major changes in the area of transportation policy among other important issues. Working through proposed legislation, your views on these issues are of the utmost importance to me. As I endeavor to personally respond to your contacts, sometimes the volume can be overwhelming. Please know that every call, letter, email, and fax with your views are tracked in my office and used by me in a timely manner. I will always appreciate hearing from you.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16

Capitol OfficeDistrict Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-3135 (fax)
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-953-1886 (fax)