Senator Carona's Email Update
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E-MAIL UPDATE

April 5, 2013

Mid-Session Update
On March 8, 2013, the 83rd Session of the Texas Legislature reached its 60th day, which is the deadline for filing regular bills and joint resolutions. This session, 5,955 bills and joint resolutions were filed, which is slightly less than the 6,003 filed in 2011. With just 52 days remaining in the 83rd Session, many of the more important, high profile bills are beginning to move out of the legislative committees and to a vote on the floor of the Senate and House chambers.

I continue to hear from constituents sharing their views on a wide variety of issues. This mid-session update is not comprehensive but is intended to highlight some of the more significant issues facing the Legislature and provide you with information about the status of bills that address those issues. I hope this information is helpful to you and, as always, I welcome your questions, comments and concerns.


Finance
Business & Commerce / Economic Development
Education
Higher Education
Health and Human Services
Transportation
Criminal Justice

Finance
The Budget
SB 1 is the General Appropriations Act, or more simply, the 2014-15 budget. The budget is the only item that the Texas Constitution requires the Legislature to pass each Session. SB 1 was reported favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee with a unanimous vote on March 13, 2013, and it was adopted by the full Senate on March 18 with a vote of 29-2.

SB 1 appropriates $195.5 billion in state and federal funds for the 2014-15 budget. Although in her Biennial Revenue Estimate, Comptroller Susan Combs authorized the state to appropriate up to $101.4 billion of the state's general revenue funds, SB 1 authorizes the appropriation of only $94 billion of the funds. The Supplemental Appropriations bill, HB 10, allocates an additional $6 billion of general revenue to pay for expenses deferred in 2012-13 budget. HB 10 passed early in the Session and was effective on March 13, 2013, the day it was signed by the Governor.

Here are some highlights of SB 1 as adopted by the Senate:

Just yesterday, the House passed its version of the budget which makes a number of changes to the Senate budget. Now that the House has amended SB 1, the bill will be considered by a conference committee made up of five House members and five Senate members. The conference committee members will work together to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill before it is finally passed.
Status:
   SB 1 passed as amended (House) 4/4/13
   HB 10 signed by Governor 3/13/13

Funding The Water Plan and future transportation projects
SB 1 leaves two important funding concerns somewhat unresolved: The Water Plan and future transportation projects. Providing funding for these items is critical to the continued economic development of the state. However, because of the limited availability of budget funds over the long-term, providing the needed funding will require separate legislation outside the budget. To address The Water Plan, the House recently passed HB 4, which creates the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT). As it is currently written, HB 4 and its companion bill HB 11, will direct funds from the state's Rainy Day Fund and proceeds from bonds, which were authorized by voters in November of 2011, to SWIFT.
Status:
   HB 4 received from the House (Senate) 4/2/13
   HB11 left pending in subcommittee (House) 3/11/13

Some increased funding for transportation projects was included in SB 1. This was accomplished largely through an increase in the availability of federal funds and an allocation in general revenue for debt service payments for bonds. This will allow the Texas Department of Transportation to continue projects as planned in 2014-15. However, after 2015, all existing bonding programs will be exhausted and bond funds and toll-project funding will be substantially lower. At that time, new road construction is projected to drop to levels not seen since 2002. The Legislature may decide not to address this issue in the coming months, and if that is the case, I expect transportation funding to be a preeminent concern in the 2015 Session.

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Business and Commerce/Economic Development
SB 10 (Van de Putte) creates the Veterans' Employment and Business Opportunity Act, which is designed to improve employment opportunities at state agencies and increase state purchasing and contracting opportunities for veterans. SB 10 will additionally allow veterans to maximize their military training and experience by allowing it to be credited toward various civilian certifications.
Status:   scheduled for public hearing (Senate) 4/10/13

SB 241 (Carona) allows consumers to opt out of smart meter installation. Smart meters transmit real time information to electric providers and consumers without physical meter reading. Some consumers prefer not to have the smart meters for a variety of reasons including privacy concerns.
Status:   referred to Business & Commerce (Senate) 1/29/13

SB 247 (Carona) institutes a wide variety of consumer protection reforms in the property tax lending industry. SB 247 ensures that good actors in the industry can continue to operate while also ensuring that property owners and communities are better protected from fraudulent, risky, or predatory behavior.
Status:   received from Senate (House) 3/13/13

SB 1247 (Carona) is intended to create a comprehensive regulatory program for payday and auto title lenders. The Business and Commerce Committee, which I chair, recently held a public hearing on SB 1247 and it was reported favorably from the Committee. The negotiated bill reflects input from many stakeholder groups, including consumer advocates and city officials, and represents a balanced, statewide solution to end the "cycle of debt" often created by these loans.
Status:   pending in committee (Senate) 3/19/13
Note: Although this is the status reflected online as of this writing, in fact SB 1247 was reported favorably from the Committee on 4/2/13

SB 583 (Carona) reforms the structure of the Texas Universal Service Fund ensuring fair rates among telecommunication consumers. Every telecommunications consumer in the state pays fees into the Universal Service Fund, which is meant to promote access to telecommunications service for all Texans, especially those in rural areas where providing service can be more costly.
Status:   considered in public hearing (Senate) 4/2/13
Note: Although this is the status reflected online as of this writing, in fact SB 1247 was reported favorably from the Committee on 4/2/13

SB 515, SB 516, SB 517, and SB 518 (Eltife), along with SB 639 (Carona), collectively represent the most comprehensive reforms in regulation of the beer industry in recent history. These measures address several issues including allowing brewpubs to contract with distributors, which will allow them to market their products to retailers. The bills will also allow small breweries to operate "tap rooms", which means that when consumers tour a brewery, they will be able to purchase beer on site. The bills will also put an end to the practice of reach-back pricing, which occurs when a manufacturer -- after the fact -- increases the price charged to a distributor based on the price charged by the distributor to a retailer. This practice inevitably raises the prices paid by consumers for beer.
Status:
   SB 515 received from Senate (House) 3/26/13
   SB 516 received from Senate (House) 4/1/13
   SB 517 received from Senate (House) 4/1/13
   SB 518 received from Senate (House) 3/26/13
   SB 639 received from Senate (House) 3/26/13

SB 18 (Carona) addresses significant issues with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), which is the insurer of last resort for windstorm insurance along the Texas Coast. The current funding model for TWIA is unsustainable, leaving coastal residents vulnerable in the event of a storm just as we are heading into hurricane season. I am currently working with stakeholders, including legislators from coastal counties, to create a solution that will ensure adequate property insurance coverage for coastal residents.
Status:   pending in committee (Senate) 3/12/13

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Education
HB 5 (Aycock) significantly changes the number of courses a student must complete to receive a high school diploma by creating a foundation diploma program that would require students to earn four credits in English, three credits in math, three credits in social studies, and two credits in science. A distinguished diploma program would also be available to students, which would require an additional credit in math or science.
Status:   referred to Education (Senate) 4/2/13

SB 2 (Patrick) lifts restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, which is currently capped at 215. Although the introduced version of the bill lifts the cap entirely, it is likely that the bill will be amended to allow for a capped but still higher number of charter schools. SB 2 will additionally make a number of changes in the way charter schools are authorized, established, and governed.
Status:   committee report printed and distributed (Senate) 4/3/13

SB 135 (Patrick) repeals the current requirement in law that end-of-course examinations must count toward 15 percent of a student's grade allowing districts to make this determination. SB 135 will also allow local school districts to determine how much an end-of-course exam will count toward a student's grade, up to 15 percent.
Status:   received from the Senate (House) 2/7/13

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Higher Education
SB 15 (Seliger) addresses the authority and powers of university governing boards requiring that regents undergo training in ethics and their role in governance over institutions. This issue has received a considerable amount of attention, particularly due to allegations of mismanagement by the University of Texas Board of Regents in recent months.
Status:   considered in public hearing (Senate) 4/3/13

SB 26 (Zaffirini) authorizes the use of tuition revenue bonds to fund certain capital projects at public universities.
Status:   referred to Finance (Senate) 1/28/13

HB 29 (Branch) is an effort to keep tuition rates down by requiring general academic institutions to offer a four-year, fixed-rate tuition. Proponents of this measure believe it will provide an additional incentive to students to graduate in four years while opponents believe institutions will increase tuition rates for each freshman class.
Status:   committee report sent to Calendars (House) 3/19/13

HB 30 (Branch) is intended to ease students' transition when transferring between institutions by codifying requirements for transfers. This would be particularly beneficial for students transferring from institutions like community colleges that grant associates degrees to universities that offer four-year degrees.
Status:   reported favorably as substituted (House) 4/3/13

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Health and Human Services
SB 7 (Nelson) will increase healthcare for Texans with disabilities by expanding long-term and acute care services. These changes will improve long-term services and support by expanding quality-based payments and improving coordination of services. SB 7 is aimed to save the state $8.5 million in Medicaid expenses by increasing managed care services.
Status:   referred to Health & Human Services (House) 4/2/13

SB 8 (Nelson) addresses recent concerns of fraud within the Medicaid system. SB 8 is intended to ensure that public money is being spent efficiently and effectively by implementing measures that will detect and prevent fraud and abuse within the Medicaid system and other health and human services programs provided by the state.
Status:   committee report printed and distributed (Senate) 2/26/13

SB 11 (Nelson) requires drug testing prior to receiving welfare benefits. The bill has been passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and awaits a vote by the full Senate. The bill provides a "protective payee" arrangement, which means that if a parent tests positive for drug use, family benefits can continue for children.
Status:   reported favorably as substituted from committee (Senate) 4/2/13

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Transportation
SB 1029 (Campbell) prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) from putting tolls on any existing non-tolled lanes.
Status:   pending in committee (Senate) 3/27/13

SB 1253 (Zaffirini) prohibits TxDOT from providing disincentives such as reduced speed limits on non-tolled lanes adjacent to tolled lanes.
Status:   considered in public hearing (Senate) 4/3/13

HB 3157 (Harless) ensures a portion of the receipts from the motor fuels tax will go directly toward funding for highways. HB 3157 also phases in an increase in automobile registration fees and provides for a ten cent increase in the motor fuels tax.
Status:   scheduled for public hearing in subcommittee (House) 4/10/13

SB 28 (Zaffirini) and HB 63 (Craddick) create a ban on texting while driving. A similar measure, HB 41 (Menedez), bans the use of wireless devices in a car unless the car is parked.
Status:
   SB 28 referred to Transportation (Senate) 1/28/13
   HB 63 considered in Calendars (House) 4/2/13
   HB 41 pending in committee (House) 2/26/13

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Criminal Justice
SB 182 (Birdwell) allows individuals with a concealed carry handgun license to carry handguns on the campuses of public universities.
Status:   referred to Criminal Justice (Senate) 1/29/13

SB 825 (Whitmire) changes the statute of limitations for a person that has been wrongfully convicted so that it begins upon release from confinement rather than at the time the wrongful conviction is discovered. This will allow persons that have been wrongfully convicted additional time to pursue a grievance.
Status:   referred to Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence (House) 4/2/13

SB 1611 (Ellis) creates a uniform discovery statute in criminal cases. Uniform discovery will ensure that discovery obligations are consistent statewide and that a defendant in a criminal case will have access to relevant evidence held by the state and prosecutors. The bill creates a reciprocal obligation for the defendant.
Status:   placed on Intent Calendar (Senate) 4/3/13

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In Closing . . .
I continue to appreciate hearing from the constituents of Senate District 16 about the issues highlighted here, as well as any others. Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime to share your views by telephone, mail, fax, or email. There is still much work to be done before Sine Die on May 27 and your input is invaluable.

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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