What's New . . .
On October 4, 2011, the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, which I chair, will meet in Austin. In this hearing, we will receive updates from the Public Utility Commission, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, Texas Real Estate Commission, Texas Department of Insurance and Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. The hearing will be held in the Capitol Extension, Room E1.016 at 10:00 AM. I believe in transparency - you can read the background and link to the live broadcast at the committee's blog site. From there you can look at the same documents the Senators are seeing.
On September 21, 2011, I participated in a hearing of the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence & Transparency. The Committee heard testimony from a number of national experts in Higher Education governance and policy, as well as representatives from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The next meeting of the Committee will be on October 17 in Austin.
As you know, Texas has faced extreme drought conditions this summer that have led to extreme wildfire danger across the state. We have already seen the damage these wildfires can cause in the North Texas area and need to take every precaution possible to decrease the risk of further fires. To learn more about wildfires, please visit the website for the Texas Forest Service where you can learn more about burn bans, wildfire prevention tips and up-to-date information on existing fires.
Update on Redistricting. . .
During the 2011 Regular Session, the Legislature passed redistricting plans for the State Board of Education, the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. Those plans became law at the end of the Regular Session and were effective on August 29, 2011. During the First Called Special Session, the Legislature also passed the last of the required redistricting plans - a Congressional plan, which was signed into law by the Governor on July 18, 2011, and became effective on September 28, 2011.
Because Texas is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, redistricting plans are required to go through a process called "preclearance" before they can be implemented. Preclearance determines whether the change may negatively impact voting rights on the basis of race, color or language group. This process requires submission of any election change (in this case, redistricting plans) to either the U.S. Department of Justice (Department) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Court) for approval.
On July 19, 2011, the Texas Attorney General submitted Texas' four redistricting plans to the D.C. Court asking for a declaratory judgment validating the plans under Section 5. On September 19, 2011, the Department of Justice, which is a party in the suit, took the position that it would not object to preclearance of the Senate and State Board of Education plans and would leave the determination of their validity to the D.C. Court. Since then, the D.C. Court has precleared the State Board of Education plan, but the state has not yet received word on the Senate plan. The Department did enter an objection to preclearance of the Congressional plan and the plan for the Texas House of Representatives, and the D.C. Court is expected to begin the preclearance case on the these plans sometime in early November. If the Senate plan is not precleared by the D. C. Court, the D. C. Court will likely begin the case in this matter as well. Any plan not receiving preclearance will be required to be redrawn by a federal court in San Antonio where all of Texas' redistricting cases have been consolidated for trial. Any new plans resulting from this process would also need to go through the preclearance process. Preclearance for all plans must be accomplished quickly because election deadlines are looming; the 30-day filing period for the 2012 elections is less than two months away.
In addition to preclearance hurdles, legal challenges to Texas' redistricting plans have also been filed in various courts across the state. The cases have been brought by individuals, candidates for office, officeholders and organizations representing various interest groups and have been consolidated for trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. Most of the challenges allege the plans violate the Voting Rights Act by negatively impacting minority voting rights under Section 2 or Section 5 of the Act. A three judge panel has presided over a ten-day trial, which concluded on Friday, September 16, 2011. The panel has indicated that it will wait for resolution of the preclearance issues before announcing its ruling in the case, and, on September 29, issued a procedural order postponing certain deadlines pending the outcome of the preclearance case. The panel also has the authority to extend candidate filing and other election deadlines if necessary.
The term of office for a state senator is four years, which means that senators run for office in alternating two-year election cycles. However, this time, because redistricting has created new districts, candidates for all state senate districts, including myself in District 16, will be on the ballot. Even though there is a possibility that District 16 could change as a result of the preclearance process or legal challenges to the plan, I am conducting my reelection campaign on the assumption that the newly-drawn Senate District 16 will not change. I am very much looking forward to representing all constituents in District 16, old and new.
Focus. . .
Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature may propose amendments revising the Texas Constitution with a 2/3 vote of approval from both the House and Senate. Any proposed amendments are then put before voters for adoption by a majority vote. Below, I have provided a brief analysis of the ten propositions passed by the Legislature during the most recent legislative session and some of the positions for and against. More detailed information is available on the Texas Legislative Council website. Voters will have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of these measures on the November 8, 2011, ballot.
Amendment No. 1 (S.J.R. 14)
In 2009, the Legislature passed H.B. 3613, which authorized a 100% property tax exemption for 100% or totally disabled veterans. This amendment would extend that exemption to the surviving spouse of a 100% or totally disabled veteran.
For: Proponents of this amendment believe it would ensure that surviving spouses of veterans currently receiving this benefit would not be taxed out of their homes after their spouse passes away. This measure additionally recognizes and honors the sacrifices made by service members and their families.
Against: Opponents of this measure argue that extending this tax to spouses will reduce the amount of revenue local governments receive from property taxes.
Amendment No. 2 (S.J.R. 4)
Would allow for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds, not to exceed $6 billion, by the Texas Water Development Board.
For: Proponents of this measure note that due to Texas' ever-increasing population and the current and continuing threat of drought, the state must have the ability to further issue bonds in order to plan for the state's future water needs. The bonds would be self-supporting and not cost the state any money from general revenue funds.
Against: There is no known opposition to this amendment.
Amendment No. 3 (S.J.R. 50)
Would allow the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students.
For: Because of reductions in federal aid and state grant programs, there will likely be an increase in demand for student loans on a state level. Those created under the Hinson-Hazelwood Student Loan Program have traditionally held low default rates and competitive interest rates. Additionally, students issued loans under this program have a good rate of both repaying their loans and graduating.
Against: There is no known opposition to this amendment.
Amendment No. 4 (H.J.R. 63)
Currently, the Constitution provides for the Legislature to authorize incorporated cities or towns to issue bonds for the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted area. This amendment would allow the Legislature to authorize a county to issue such bonds.
For: This amendment would provide a method to finance structural improvements without authorizing a tax increase giving counties the same opportunities for development as those given to cities and towns.
Against: Some opponents believe that although this would not authorize a higher tax rate, tax increment financing could create an incentive to appraise property in a reinvestment zone at a higher value.
Amendment No. 5 (S.J.R. 26)
Current constitutional provisions require a city or county to impose a tax or create a sinking fund prior to incurring any debt. This requirement has impeded the ability of municipalities to consolidate long-term programs, services and projects. This amendment authorizes a city or county to enter into an interlocal contract with another city or county without the imposition of a tax or the provision of a sinking fund.
For: This amendment would allow for increased government efficiency due to the consolidation of programs, services and projects.
Against: There is no known opposition to the amendment.
Amendment No. 6 (H.J.R. 109)
Would expressly allow the General Land Office the authority to distribute revenue from Permanent School Fund land or other properties to the Available School Fund for the purposes of providing additional funding for public education and providing for an increase in the market value of the Permanent School Fund.
For: This authorization would provide an infusion of funds into the Available School Fund, allowing schools to benefit from the investment returns earned by the General Land Office.
Against: Opponents to this measure believe the purpose of the Permanent School Fund is for long-term investment purposes.
Amendment No. 7 (S.J.R. 28)
Would authorize El Paso County to issue bonds supported by ad valorem taxes to fund the development and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities.
For: Supporters of this measure believe the El Paso park system is underfunded and would like to give the system an opportunity to accrue additional funding. This amendment would not automatically create new parks and facilities or implement a new tax, but would allow county residents to vote on whether or not to issue bonds for these purposes.
Against: Opponents to this measure expressed concerns about the possibility of giving El Paso County additional taxing authority.
Amendment No. 8 (S.J.R. 16)
The Texas Constitution currently allows certain types of land to be appraised for the purposes of ad valorem (property) taxes on the basis of productive capacity rather than full market value. Land devoted to farm, ranch or wildlife purposes are currently included under this provision. This proposed amendment would allow open-space land devoted to water stewardship purposes to be included in properties that may be appraised based on their productive capacity.
For: The state's water plan currently endorses voluntary water stewardship. This measure would encourage voluntary water conservation without further state regulation. This amendment would be revenue neutral because those eligible would already be receiving the agricultural-use exemption.
Against: Opponents have voiced concern that this amendment will undermine the agricultural-use exemption.
Amendment No. 9 (S.J.R. 9)
The governor currently has the authority to pardon a person convicted in all criminal offenses except treason and impeachment, but not the authority to pardon a person who has completed a term of deferred adjudication. This amendment authorizes the governor to issue a pardon to a person who has successfully completed a term of deferred adjudication community supervision.
For: Because of the above inconsistencies in the Constitution, a person convicted of a violent crime may have the opportunity to be pardoned, while a person who has served a term of deferred adjudication for a non-violent crime does not have the opportunity to be pardoned.
Against: There is some concern that allowing a person that has served a term of deferred adjudication to be pardoned would not be an efficient means to achieve the goal of the expunction of criminal history record information. The pardon process involving the Board of Pardons and Paroles is not considered efficient and has historically produced a minimal number of pardons.
Amendment No. 10 (S.J.R. 37)
During the most recent legislative session, the Legislature passed S.B. 100 to meet the requirements of the federal Move Act. This legislation changed the candidate filing deadline. An unintended consequence of this bill forces many local officeholders to resign their current office if they announce for a different office because of the "resign-to-run" provision in the Texas Constitution. This provision states that officeholders with more than one year remaining in their term automatically resign from office when they file for another office.
For: Because of the changes in filing deadlines in S.B. 100, this amendment is necessary to retain the original intent of the "resign-to-run" provision and possibly prevent additional special elections at taxpayer expense.
Against: There is no known opposition to this amendment.
In Closing . . .
Remember to vote on November 8, 2011! The last day to register to vote for this election is October 11. Early voting starts on October 24 and concludes on November 4. If you are not yet registered to vote, please visit the Secretary of State for more information. Here you will also find more information about what is on the ballot. The Dallas County Elections Department also provides a sample ballot and early voting locations, dates and times.
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