Senator Carona's Email Update
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July 29, 2011

Because of some unfinished business, members of the Legislature were called back into a special session (referred to as the First Called Session) starting on May 31, and 30 days later, on June 29, they once again adjourned "sine die." In this update, I will give a brief overview of some of the major legislation considered in the First Called Session of the 82nd Legislature.

What Passed . . .

SB 1 (Duncan) / SB 2 (Ogden) - The failure of SB 1811 during the Regular Session largely triggered the need for the First Called Session. SB 1 contains the school finance plan, which was necessary for the state to allocate money to school districts around the state. SB 1, in addition to SB 2, are also the Legislature's "fiscal matters" bills or bills that create non-tax revenue and permit certain deferrals of payment to supplement and help balance the budget. The passage of these bills is expected to generate around $3.5 billion over the 2012-13 biennium.

SB 6 (Shapiro) - This bill establishes an instructional materials allotment to require the State Board of Education to set aside 50% of distribution from the Permanent School Fund and Available School Fund into an instructional materials fund. This system will allow school districts flexibility in purchasing instructional materials and technological equipment.

SB 8 (Shapiro) - Referred to as both the "school mandate relief" bill and the "school flexibility" bill. Not without controversy, this measure allows school districts some flexibility in order to save money. This includes options such as allowing teacher furloughs and reducing minimum salary requirements. It also gives the Texas Education Agency additional authority to grant waivers for the current 22:1 student-teacher ratio.

SB 7 (Nelson) - Although this bill did not receive as much attention as SB 1, many also considered it necessary to supplement the passage of the budget. SB 7 was the omnibus health care bill in the First Called Session, aiming to save the state around $400 million in the next biennium through measures of quality and efficiency.

SB 4 (Seliger) - During the Regular Session, members of the Legislature passed both state House and Senate redistricting plans; however, a Congressional plan was not passed. During the First Called Session, members passed the Legislature's Congressional redistricting plan. In District Viewer it is PLANC185.

HB 3 (Smithee) - This bill dealt with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), and I was the Senate sponsor. Last summer, the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce held hearings and found that the state's windstorm insurance program was not meeting expectations. After much discussion, the Legislature passed HB 3, which makes the windstorm insurance system more financially sound and keeps rates low at the same time. HB 3 authorizes the issuance of bonds prior to the occurrence of a hurricane or actual event. This enables the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) to issue immediately up to $1 billion in bonds to start paying down its existing debt and provides the association with immediate access to excess reserves. HB 3 also addresses concerns about excessive lawsuits by restructuring the procedure for bringing a claims suit against TWIA and limiting damages recoverable against the association. Questions about conflicts with other statutes are now resolved, time frames for bringing an action are clear and penalties recoverable against TWIA are appropriate. You won't be made rich, but you will be made whole. In addition, HB 3 addresses oversight and governance concerns. It gives sufficient authority to the Department of Insurance and the Commissioner of Insurance to obtain necessary information from TWIA to perform audits, determine if follow up or other action is needed and take appropriate and timely action to correct missteps. Importantly, HB 3 also subjects TWIA to the Public Information and Open Meetings Acts making it more open and transparent than ever before.

What Failed . . .

Both of the bills proposing bans on sanctuary cities, SB 9 (Williams) and HB 9 (Solomons), failed during the First Called Session. These suggested a number of measures to curb illegal immigration, such as allowing law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of a person legally detained, as well as tightening some driver's license requirements. These bills were highly controversial among not only minority populations, but also within the business community, and compromise language was not reached in time to pass either bill.

SB 28 (Ellis) - This bill would have implemented a smoking ban statewide in public places. Proponents of this bill believe it would have saved the state millions in Medicaid money, while opponents believe it would have hurt the revenue of establishments that are friendly to smokers.

HB 41 (Simpson) - This bill was more often referred to as the "TSA bill" or the "anti-groping bill." This legislation would have banned invasive pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents in the state. Although there was vocal support for this legislation, there was widespread concern the bill as drafted would violate federal law. Although the companion bill, SB 29 (Patrick), passed the Senate, it died in the House on the last day of the First Called Session.

In Closing . . .

Though the sessions are over, I have already begun to research issues for the next legislative session and in anticipation of the interim study charges that will be assigned this fall. We are on track for record heat and drought conditions across the state. Please conserve energy and water within reason, and be sure to check on pets, elderly loved ones and your elderly neighbors who may not have family to check on them.

And, don't forget to take advantage of the Sales Tax Holiday, August 19-21!


John Carona
State Senator - District 16

Capitol Office District 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)