The Texas State Senate - Troy Fraser: SD 24 - Capitol Update
From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser
For Immediate Release
February 14, 2007
FEBRUARY CAPITOL UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan--
Since my last update, the Legislature is in full swing. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor have been sworn in for another term, committee appointments have been made, and the Governor has delivered his biannual state-of-the-state address.
Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst announced his committee assignments on Friday, January 12th. I was delighted to be reappointed Chairman of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce and I look forward to continuing the work of the committee through the session.
In addition to Business and Commerce, I was also appointed to the Senate Finance Committee and reappointed to the Senate Committee on State Affairs as well as the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade. For a full listing of each Senate committee, please click here. For a listing of each House committee, please click here.
The Senate Finance Committee has been meeting every day to hear testimony from state agencies on their budgets. Each day we hear from executive directors and boards to bring us up to speed on current budgets as well as what they are requesting in the next biennial budget.
We recently heard from all of the Article 6 agencies--which include Natural Resources agencies, Article 5--including Department of Public Safety and Criminal Justice, as well as Article 7--which include TXDOT and all business and economic development agencies. This week we will hear from the state supported universities as well as the remaining health and human services agencies.
For a complete guide to the Texas budget writing process, check out this helpful guide created by the Senate Research Center.
For a complete list of agencies that have testified and for future committee agenda's, visit the Senate Finance Committee website.
- Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit with many of you about the rising rate of electricity prices. On Wednesday, February 7, I filed four bills to help ensure the competitive electric market is working, help lower rates and encourage consumer choice of retail providers.
Since 1999 Texas has been held up as the national model for implementing electric deregulation. We have experienced success throughout the commercial and industrial market, but that success has not translated to the residential side. The legislation filed today will strengthen competitive forces and improve the residential electric market.
The multi-bill package includes a measure to prohibit a utility from exercising market power in a region, as well as a provision which gives the Public Utility Commission (PUC) the ability to make adjustments to assure that residential rates are reasonable. Issues also addressed include the System Benefit Fund and the development of generation that is reliable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly.
Over the last two years we have been monitoring the status of the Texas electric market and have become concerned at the level of competition available to residential consumers. Our goal is to expand competition in the marketplace by providing choices and lower prices for consumers.
The legislative package also provides that the PUC can issue a ballot to help consumers choose a more competitive offer; requires that a company refund ratepayers any money received as a result of market power abuses; and requires the System Benefit Fund to be used for its original purposes -- low-income customer assistance and consumer education.
- Health and Human Services Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson filed legislation on Thursday (February 8) that would increase the rigor of physical education at public schools, as well as commission a study on the state of childhood obesity in Texas. Nelson said that physical fitness is intrinsically tied to other important education issues, such as academic success and discipline. She added that for too long physical fitness has taken a back seat to other educational priorities.
"Teaching our students about nutrition and ensuring they get daily exercise is as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic," said Nelson. Her bill, Senate Bill 530, would require "moderate or vigorous" daily exercise for grades K-12, and would direct the Texas Education Agency to conduct a physical fitness assessment of the Texas student body twice a year, and report those findings to the Legislature and the public.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video webpage.
- Governor Rick Perry laid out his priorities for the 80th Legislative session in his bi-annual State of the State address on Tuesday, February 6. Education, health care and border security were the central themes of his speech, but he also called for more money for cancer research, childhood obesity reduction, and a possible sale of the state lottery to a private company. He also asked both Republicans and Democrats to set aside past differences and to work together to achieve necessary goals for the state. "Before us is a unique opportunity to address great challenges," he said. "We can either dissolve into partisan disputes that leave Texas no better off for the 140 days that we are here, or we can join together in a spirit of bipartisan unity for causes greater than self - greater than political party."
One of Perry's major priorities for the regular session is to find a way to get health insurance to the 5.5 million Texans without coverage. He advocated taking some of the money Texas receives from the federal government for indigent health care, and, supplementing that with some state money, creating a funding pool to help pay insurance premiums for the 2 million Texans living below the federal poverty limit. With respect to Medicaid, Perry said the federal government should give states the flexibility to customize benefits packages for differing populations. He also wants to create a multi-billion dollar cancer research program to improve treatment and prevention here and across the nation.
Perry outlined several education reforms in his speech. He wants to put $80 million towards the Early Start Pre-Kindergarten program, and also to increase funding for higher-education financial aid by $360 million. Perry also proposed $50 million for a program to increase the number of nurses in Texas through better recruiting of students and a more streamlined approach to the licensing process. His budget also includes full funding for the El Paso Medical School and the Irma Rangel Pharmacy School in south Texas.
Perry said the state should spend more money on border security, in order to put more manpower and technology along the Rio Grande. The state should end the practice of collecting fees for one purpose, and then spending that money on another purpose, such as balancing the budget.
Much of the money needed for Perry's initiatives would come from a potential sale of the state lottery to a private company. Perry said that with more and more states trying to sell their lotteries, Texas must move quickly in order to get the best deal. He estimates selling the lottery could net as much as $14 billion. Of that money, Perry said he would put $2.7 billion for an indigent healthcare fund, $3 billion for cancer research, and the rest of the money towards an endowment that could supply up to $800 million each year for public schools.
The governor's speech was very aggressive and almost every issue requires spending money, and being a member of the Senate Finance Committee requires me to look at that very closely. We will continue to review all of the governor's proposals as we move through the legislative process.
- Following an extensive renovation, the Old Nimitz Hotel will reopen as the Admiral Nimitz Museum on Sunday, February 25th. Located in downtown Fredericksburg, the museum has undergone a $3 million transformation which began in 2004 and will culminate with rededication ceremonies scheduled to begin at 1:30 pm on the front portico of the museum. The rededication ceremonies coincide with the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz for whom the museum is named.
The Admiral Nimitz Museum is part of the National Museum of the Pacific War complex, a Texas Historical Commission (THC) property operated by the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. The foundation is headquartered in Fredericksburg and has raised millions of dollars over the past few years to support the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is the only institution in the continental United State dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific Theater battles of World War II. Originally housed solely in the historic Nimitz Hotel, the complex has developed into a six-acre site which includes the George Bush Gallery, the Admiral Nimitz Museum, the Plaza of Presidents, the Veterans' Walk of Honor and Memorial Wall, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the Pacific Combat Zone and the Center for Pacific War Studies.
Boasting 34,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space, the museum's collection includes an impressive display of U.S. Allied and Japanese aircrafts, tanks, guns and other large artifacts. An additional 40,000 square-foot expansion is planned for the George Bush Gallery.
For more specifics visit www.nimitz-museum.org or call (830) 997-4379. For additional information contact the THC's History Programs Division at (512) 463-5853.
- The Texas Historical Commission recently announced a new internship opportunity, the Preservation Fellow Program, created to build interest in and awareness of historic preservation among college-aged young adults, specifically those who are of diverse cultural backgrounds.
The program targets talented undergraduate and graduate students to encourage their interest in pursuing fields of study in history, preservation, architecture, archeology, landscape architecture, downtown revitalization and heritage tourism. They will also learn about eh impact historic preservation programs have on a community's economic development. By working with THC staff for eight weeks during the summer, students will be exposed to various and exciting vocational opportunities in the field of historic preservation, with the goal of encouraging more students from underrepresented ethnic groups to pursue careers in historic preservation upon gradation.
Two students will be selected to intern during the summer of 2007. The award winners will be announced on March 26, and will be honored at the THC's Annual Historic Preservation Conference in Lakeway April 12-14.
The application deadline is March 1, 2007. For more information and to download an application form, visit www.thc.state.tx.us or call Toni Turner, THC Development Officer, at (512) 936-2241.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance with a state agency or wish to voice an opinion on any matter before the Texas Legislature. I always appreciate hearing from you.
I hope to see you soon.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR TROY FRASER
Austin Capitol Office
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX: (512) 475-3732
Marble Falls District Office
607 B Highway 281 North
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
FAX: (830) 693-9603
Abilene District Office
500 Chestnut Street, Suite 810
Abilene, Texas 79602
FAX: (325) 676-8060
Belton District Office
1920 North Main Street
Belton, Texas 76513
FAX: (254) 939-7611