What's New . . .
On Friday, January 30, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst released his Senate committee assignments for the 81st Session. I am pleased that I was reappointed Chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and to the Criminal Justice, Jurisprudence and State Affairs committees. This session, Governor Dewhurst elevated three sub-committees from last session and gave them full committee status. Those committees are Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Economic Development and Higher Education. Speaker Joe Straus announced his House committee assignments for the session on Thursday, February 12. Newly-elected Speaker Straus consolidated the number of committees in the House of Representatives from 40 to 34.
On February 3, 2009, Governor Rick Perry declared emergency items for the 81st Legislative Session. Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature is prohibited from debating bills the first 30 days of session. However, when the governor designates an item as an emergency, it can be considered within the first 30 days of the legislative session. Among several issues, Governor Perry included legislation that would improve state schools. The same day, Chairwoman Jane Nelson of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services, filed SB 643, to protect the developmentally disabled. This bill includes language to allow fingerprint and drug checks of employees, video surveillance of state schools, and would create an Office of Independent Ombudsman to conduct an annual audit of each state school. The Ombudsman would also serve as an intermediary for parents, clients and guardians. You can find the press release for SB 643 here. I am a co-author of this important legislation.
Other legislative items given emergency status:
- providing supplemental appropriations to state agencies and institutions related to hurricane response and recovery for 2008 hurricanes
- assisting public and private entities with recovery from the hurricanes of 2008
- reforming the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA)
- funding the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund related to TWIA
- funding appropriations for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to purchase screening and detection devices, as well as improved security equipment
The Senate Committee on Finance began public hearings to consider the method of payment for state services during the current national economic recession. The Finance Committee is being briefed by different experts to better understand how to stimulate the Texas economy in the upcoming biennium. You can find the schedule of upcoming committee hearings here. In an effort to cut costs and save money this biennium, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a joint letter to state agencies on February 2, asking them to cut their budgets this fiscal year by 2.5%. The request excluded education, health care and criminal justice.
I mentioned in my January Email Update that the Legislature might consider a uniform GPA for high school students. In the 2007 Session, the Legislature passed HB 3851, which mandated the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) study and create a uniform method to calculate GPA. THECB had been set to vote on a GPA standard on January 29, 2009, but at that time decided to delay this particular vote until April 30th. As this issue continues to be postponed by the board, we do not expect the decision to affect the Fall 2009 class.
Focus . . .
For several sessions now, many of us from North Texas have been working towards creating a local option financing mechanism for funding rail and other mobility projects. I strongly believe this is the session that the Legislature must make the step towards local option funding. Our region is simply too congested and without any other means of financing relief from Austin; the outlook is grim. Therefore, your elected officials must act now.
On Monday, February 16, I filed SB 855 and SJR 24, the Local Option Transportation Act, creating county option funding for the DFW region for rail and other mobility projects. Other areas of the state, including the San Antonio and Austin regions, will join us in the fight to relieve congestion in their respective communities and it is my expectation that this will eventually become a statewide mechanism for urban funding. SB 855 is not only supported by much of the North Texas legislative delegation, but has also been publically supported by over twenty cities, four counties, and countless Chambers of Commerce and transit authorities in the Metroplex. Dallas County is a supporter, along with the cities of Richardson, Mesquite, and Dallas whose city councils have all signed resolutions in support of the program.
SB 855 not only creates funding mechanisms through transportation-related fees, but also allows for those who truly cannot afford to pay these fees to have their fees waived. This is not the local option sales tax that was proposed last session; in contrast, this legislation has the support of many DFW business leaders.
North Texas has the unique opportunity to be a leader in local transportation funding. It is my hope and belief that we will prevail in this role, and that one of this session's greatest accomplishments will be a consensus bill that relieves congestion in our region, as well as other urban regions throughout the state.
Did You Know . . . ?
Did you know that the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Dallas County offers practical, how-to education based on university research? It's available to any resident of Texas. Visit the Extension website for a wealth of free information and resources on lawn and garden, insects and pest management (in the urban environment) to family and consumer sciences to natural resources and the environment.
And, did you know that the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has added a link on her website to track the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as it applies to Texas? You can Track the Texas Stimulus and sign up to receive email updates from the Comptroller about the Texas Stimulus.
Student Opportunities . . .
The Top 10 Percent Scholarship is a newly created financial aid program available for high school students graduating this spring. The scholarship was created to help financially needy students who graduate in the top 10% of their class attend a Texas institute of higher education. Students are eligible to receive $2,000 if they enroll full-time at a Texas public college or university and show qualifying financial need.
To apply, students must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by April 1, 2009.
In Closing . . .
I continue to appreciate hearing from you as bills are filed and we work through this legislative session. If there is a particular piece of legislation that concerns you, please call my office and let me know. I always appreciate your involvement and value your thoughts and opinions.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205