Senator Carona's Email Update
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EMAIL UPDATE

March 31, 2011

WHAT'S NEW . . .

On March 11, the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature reached its 60th day, which is the deadline for filing regular bills and joint resolutions. This session, 5,873 House and Senate bills and joint resolutions were filed, which is down from 7,325 in 2009. While there have been fewer bills filed, most likely because of the focus on the budget and redistricting, this session is one of the more difficult sessions the Legislature has faced.

The first part of this update I will discuss the budget and some of the ways it will impact current services. Following that I will highlight other bills of interest that the Legislature is considering this legislative session. As always, I hope this information is helpful to you and that you will contact my office with any questions or concerns.

Budget

Representative Jim Pitts, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced HB 275, which would use a portion of the Economic Stabilization Fund (commonly called the Rainy Day Fund), to close the budget deficit from the current 2010-11 biennium. In January, the Comptroller estimated that the deficit for the current biennium would be approximately $4.3 billion. While the original bill called for the full $4.3 billion to be used from the Rainy Day Fund, on March 15, Governor Rick Perry and Chairman Pitts reached an agreement to use $3.2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to close the current deficit. The remainder of the deficit will be funded by $800 million in cuts, as well as an additional $300 million Comptroller Susan Combs has identified in additional revenue. The revenue comes from increased sales tax receipts from the 2011 fiscal year. Chairman Pitts also filed HB 4, which revises agency appropriations requests fro the 2010-11 biennium based on revised revenue or supplemental needs. This bill is often called the "supplemental" appropriations bill. HB 275 and HB 4 both passed the House Appropriations Committee and are being debated in the House starting today.

Chairman Pitts has also filed HB 1, the General Appropriations Act, which will serve as the budget for the 2012-13 biennium. Chairman Pitts drafted the original bill using only available revenue as certified by the Comptroller. This proposed budget makes severe cuts to nearly every aspect of the budget. Following are some of the cuts the Legislature is considering.

Although negotiations to use the Rainy Day Fund to close the current biennium ease some of the cuts that will be made to the budget, the House bill still calls for $6 billion less than the current funding for Medicaid, including about a 10% cut in reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers. HB 1 passed out of committee on March 23 and has been placed on the House Major State Calendar for debate on April 1.

There have been bills filed which could potentially bring in more revenue to the state, but they are politically contentious and will be extremely difficult to pass. As I mentioned in my last Email Update, we have seen a number of gaming bills filed in an effort to bring in additional revenue. The proposals vary, from language that would allow video gambling at charitable bingo locations, to those bills that would expand gaming at racetracks or those that would allow a certain number of destination casinos within the state. A proposal such as video lottery terminals at charitable bingo locations could bring in up to $500 million in revenue for the state.

A less controversial proposal would allow the state to claim bank accounts, un-cashed checks or security deposits if they were left untouched for three years, which shortens the current threshold of five years. This change could generate $72 million in revenue.

Business and Commerce/Economic Development

I am pleased to continue my work as Chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. We have already heard a number of bills of significance to business, consumers and the economy.

Public Education/Higher Education

Health & Human Services

Natural Resources

Family Issues/Jurisprudence

Over the interim, the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence heard testimony relating to concerns about guardianship issues. Senator Chris Harris has filed two bills which offer increased protections for wards and their families.

Both of these bills have passed the Senate and were received in the House on March 24. SB 286 has been referred to the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

Transportation & Homeland Security

Criminal Justice

Emergency Items

As you may recall, Governor Perry declared five items emergency items. An emergency item is legislation that may be considered by the House and Senate prior to the 60 days most bills must wait to be heard. Here is an update on those items:

  1. Legislation to abolish sanctuary cities in Texas. HB 12 by Representative Solomons and SB 11 by Senator Williams would prohibit cities or counties from ignoring federal or state laws regarding immigration. HB 12 was reported favorably from the House State Affairs Committee and sent to the House Calendars Committee on March 23. SB 11 is waiting for hearing in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.
  2. Legislation to protect private property rights and address eminent domain issues. The Senate passed SB 18 by Senator Estes, which would limit eminent domain authority in the state. The House Land & Resource Management Committee passed it out favorably as substituted on March 22.
  3. Legislation to require a voter to present proof of identification when voting. The Senate passed SB 14, by Senator Fraser, which would require that a voter present photo identification when voting in person. The House has passed an amended version that was received back in the Senate on March 24. Next, the Senate will either accept the amended version of SB 14 or a conference committee will be appointed if the Senate does not concur with the changes made in the House.
  4. Legislation to provide for a federal balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. SJR 1 by Senators Shapiro and Ogden has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Select Committee on State Sovereignty.
  5. Legislation that requires an abortion provider to offer a sonogram to women choosing to end a pregnancy. SB 16 by Senator Patrick passed the Senate and HB 15 by Representative Miller passed the House and each chamber has received the other bill. Because these were different bills to start with, this issue may be at a stand-off unless and until one chamber agrees to take up the other's bill.

Update on Redistricting

I am pleased to continue my work as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. The U.S. Census Bureau released the detailed census numbers for Texas. This means data is now available to begin the redistricting process and redistricting plans are now being prepared. Of interest to District 16 is the relative loss of population in the district. When compared to all other Senate districts, District 16 grew by the least amount in the state. To meet the equal population requirement, which I discussed under Redistricting in my last Email Update, the population in District 16 must increase by approximately 170,000. This also means that Dallas County will lose at least one, and possibly two, House seats. I will keep you apprised as the process moves forward.

In Closing . . .

I continue to appreciate hearing from the constituents of Senate District 16 about the issues highlighted here, as well as many others. Please do not hesitate to contact me and share your views by phone, mail, fax or email – be sure to include your name and address. We still have a lot of work to be done before Sine Die on May 30.

Sincerely,

John Carona
State Senator - District 16
http://www.carona.senate.state.tx.us/

Capitol Office District Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-0116
800-662-0334
512-463-3135 (fax)
john.carona@senate.state.tx.us
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5751
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-521-3884
214-953-1886 (fax)

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