The Texas State Senate: John Carona Press Release
EMAIL UPDATEMarch 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.
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.
- While HB 1 calls for $9.3 billion in education cuts, the Senate Finance Committee is considering about $4 billion at this time.
- The Senate Subcommittee on Medicaid has met to consider $9.9 billion in Medicaid cuts, as well as cost cutting for all health and human services programs. Critics of these cuts believe the state could end up spending twice as much because of the loss of matching federal Medicaid funds.
- There is currently a state grant in place to fund full-day pre-kindergarten for $104.3 million. This grant is targeted toward bilingual learners and economically disadvantaged students. Currently, Dallas ISD receives enough money to serve about 5,000 students a year. Under current proposals, this grant would either be zeroed-out or severely reduced.
- In the area of higher education, budget proposals could reduce major state aid by $467 million, or 43%. Its programs include the TEXAS Grant program, the Be-On-Time Loan and work study programs.
- The Texas Education Agency recently began to lay off employees of the agency. At this time, TEA has laid off about 91 employees and 10 contractors, amounting to about 10% of their workforce.
- The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will cut 555 jobs with 400 of those jobs coming from administration and support, while the other 155 will come from Project RIO (Re-Integration of Offenders). At this time TDCJ will not cut prison guards or parole officers.
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.
- Companies which service mortgages are currently unregulated on both the state and federal level. SB 17 by Carona would require registration of certain mortgage services and establish a clear way for consumers to make complaints. SB 17 was reported out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on March 24 and passed in the Senate on March 29.
- As I mentioned in my last Email Update, the Legislature is considering making major changes to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency (TWIA). Two major TWIA bills have been filed in the House, HB 272 by Representative Smithee and HB 2818 by Representative Taylor. Both bills have been heard and left pending in the House Insurance Committee. It is likely that the two bills will be merged into a single TWIA omnibus bill. Authors are considering changes including mandatory flood coverage and language to limit arbitration, such as restricting a policyholder's ability to sue over claims disputes.
- SB 1340 by Senator Carona is an energy efficiency omnibus bill. This bill would increase energy efficiency goals and create a separate energy efficiency agency or coordinating council. This bill has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee and is waiting for a hearing.
- I am working on two bills that would increase public education about the deregulated electric market by enhancing the Power to Choose website, SB 1219 by Senator Carona (heard in public hearing on March 29, Senate Business & Commerce Committee) and creating a coordinating council for energy efficiency measures, SB 552 (referred to Senate Natural Resources Committee, waiting for hearing).
- SB 330 by Senator Watson would address Renewable Portfolio Standards. Renewable Portfolio Standards set goals for the state to achieve certain amounts of renewable energy. This bill has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee where it is waiting for a hearing.
- SB 595 by Senator Ellis would allow package stores, wholesalers and local distributors to sell and deliver liquor on Sundays. Proponents of this legislation believe it could bring in anywhere from $7-12 million in new tax revenue over the next two years. However, many groups, including industry groups, oppose the passage of this legislation. This bill had a hearing in the Senate Business & Commerce Committee on March 8 and is still pending.
- SB 251 by Senator West, SB 253 by Senator Davis and SB 1862 by Senators Davis and West, would establish a regulatory structure for payday lending through means such as establishing rate caps and limiting rollovers by requiring that part of the principal of a loan must be paid along with any interest owed to ensure that the loan doesn't keep rolling over without ever paying off the principal of the loan. SB 521 and SB 253 have had initial hearings and are still pending in the Senate Business & Commerce Committee. SB 1862 was just referred to committee.
- SB 141 by Senator Eltife would establish a state regulatory scheme for debt settlement companies. Under current law, debt management companies are regulated. This legislation would bring debt settlement companies under the same regulatory scheme as debt management companies. This bill has passed the Senate and was referred to the House Pension, Investments and Financial Services Committee on March 29.
Public Education/Higher Education
- SB 912 by Senators Shapiro, West, Davis and Duncan would make a temporary modification and extend the deadline under which teachers may request a hearing after receiving a notice of non-renewal. Under current law, teachers have 15 days to request a hearing; SB 912 will temporarily extend the 15-day deadline to a 30-day deadline. Because districts may not have all the budget information they need for impending layoffs, this measure will give teachers and districts more time to consider possible layoffs. This bill has passed the Senate and was received in the House on March 10.
- SB 3 by Senator Shapiro would make a number of changes to give schools and school districts more flexibility. One notable change would repeal the requirement that school districts have to pay teachers at least the same salary they received in the 2010-2011 school year. This change would allow school districts to make an across-the-board reduction in pay in order to decrease the budget while maintaining as many staff as possible. The bill would also increase access to the Virtual School Network and remove the 10 students per teacher requirement for remedial courses. This bill has had a hearing in the Senate Education Committee where it is still pending.
- SB 443 by Senator Patrick would change the current hard cap of 22 students per classroom in grades K-4 and instead require a 21 to 1 average with a hard cap of 24 students per classroom in grades K-4. Additionally, SB 443 would allow school districts to take up to seven unpaid furlough days and extends the deadline under which a district may issue a non-renewal of contract. This bill is pending in the Senate Education Committee.
- SB 28 by Senator Zaffirini would eliminate the eligibility of community and technical colleges students to receive TEXAS grants. This bill would also change how the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board allocates funds among students and ensures that those students entering military service retain their TEXAS Grant eligibility for the year following their honorable discharge from military service. This bill was reported out of the Senate Higher Education Committee and is now eligible to be considered by the full Senate.
- In an effort to streamline reporting requirements for institutions of higher education and eliminate any duplicative reporting, SB 200 by Senator Zaffirini would require the Higher Education Coordinating Board to evaluate the necessity of reporting requirements. This bill has been referred to committee and is waiting for a hearing.
Health & Human Services
- SB 23 was filed by Senator Nelson in an effort to make the varied services related to health and human services more streamlined and cost efficient. This bill would make a number of changes, such as reducing costs for medical equipment and laboratory work, evaluating the consolidation of state health plans for children's health, increasing preventive care and ensuring the state is maximizing its use of federal waivers and matching federal funds. While it is difficult at this time to determine how much implementation of SB 23 would save the state, according to the Legislative Budget Board, it could be significant. This bill is being considered in the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Medicaid.
- SB 355 by Senator Ellis would prohibit smoking in all indoor public places in Texas. Last session, this bill passed the Senate but died in the House. This bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and is now eligible to be considered by the full Senate.
- SB 7 and SB 8, both by Senator Nelson, seek to curb preventable complications and readmissions for the same medical issue. SB 7 would lower reimbursements for doctors who treat patients for the same issue or those that could be prevented. SB 8 would require public reporting of preventable complications and readmissions so patients are aware when choosing providers while providing for incentives for doctors and facilities to provide the best outcomes. Both bills have had initial hearings and are still pending in committee.
- SB 263 by Senator Carona, would close the loophole that allows doctors who have been placed on deferred adjudication for child molestation to still practice medicine. This bill passed the Senate and was received in the House and referred to Public Health Committee on March 30.
- In my last update, I discussed the ongoing dispute between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Senator Fraser has filed SCR 20 which would prevent the EPA from regulating green house gases in Texas. This resolution was reported favorably from the Senate Natural Resources Committee on March 23 and is now eligible to be considered by the full Senate.
- SB 332 and SB 667, also by Senator Fraser, involve a property owner's vested interest in groundwater (below the surface of the property owner's property) and the interests of the state in managing water resources for all the state's residents. SB 332 has passed the Senate on March 30 and was received in the House on March 31.
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.
- The first, SB 286, would ensure that if family members are litigating over guardianship that the ward would not necessarily be responsible for paying those litigation costs.
- The second, SB 481, would address the removal of a guardian, ensuring that the guardian is aware of their right to appeal for reinstatement and that a hearing on an application for reinstatement be held no later than the 60th day after removal.
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
- SB 161 by Senator Shapiro would alter the way the Texas Department of Transportation allocates funding for highway projects and take into account factors such as population and congestion. This bill has had an initial public hearing and is still pending in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.
- SB 1860 by Senator Wentworth would give local municipalities the option of calling an election to raise additional revenue for transportation needs. This bill was referred to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on March 24 and is waiting for a hearing.
- HB 243 by Representative Craddick, et al, would create an offense for texting while operating a motor vehicle, unless that vehicle is stopped. While some communities around Texas have adopted local ordinances, the state has not yet adopted a statewide measure. This bill was reported out of the House Transportation Committee on March 23.
- SB 9 by Senator Williams is a border security omnibus bill that would address homeland security in a number of ways, such as driver's license insurance checkpoints, the use of mobile tracking devices, increasing the amount of fines for drug offenses and ensuring the state knows how many people in Texas jails are claiming foreign citizenship. This bill has had an initial public hearing in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and is still pending.
- SB 1254 by Senator Carona is an immigration bill which would provide criminal penalties for businesses that knowingly and intentionally hire illegal aliens. This bill was referred to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and is waiting to be scheduled for hearing.
- SB 315 by Senator Carona would clarify the responsibilities of each criminal justice agency relating to the Texas Gang Database and invite certain federal counterparts to join the Texas Violent Gang Taskforce to combat gang violence. This bill was reported favorably out of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on March 30 and has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar.
- Under current law, concealed handguns are prohibited on college and university campuses. SB 354 by Senator Wentworth would permit persons that are licensed to carry a concealed weapon to do so on a college campus. This legislation was drafted last session in response to shootings on college campuses and other life-threatening situations in which a concealed weapon could be used as a means of self-defense. SB 354 was reported out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is now eligible to be considered by the full Senate.
- SB 121 by Senator Ellis would require law enforcement agencies to adopt written eyewitness identification policies. These policies would be based on best practices developed from research and would model those practices that have been effective at law enforcement agencies in other parts of the country. SB 121 has passed the Senate and was referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 29.
- SB 1116 by Senator Whitmire would address an issue the Senate Criminal Justice Committee studied during the interim between sessions. Under current law, students can be ticketed with a Class C misdemeanor for certain offenses at a primary or secondary school. SB 1116 would refer these issues to juvenile court so they may later be expunged. This bill has had an initial hearing and is still pending in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
- SB 1843 by Senator Carona would provide resources to be used to combat crimes against children, especially crimes regarding child exploitation and child pornography trafficking involving the Internet. This bill is known as "Alicia's Law." Watch the March 31 press conference. This bill has been referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is waiting for a hearing.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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