The Texas State Senate - Troy Fraser: SD 24 - Capitol Update
From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser
For Immediate Release
April 10, 2007
APRIL CAPITOL UPDATE
Dear Fellow Texan--
Spring is definitely in the air--or it was before this past weekend. As the Legislature took an extended break over the Easter holiday, the state enjoyed one last winter spell and set record low temperatures for April. As temperatures come back to normal, the Legislature is about to shift into high gear. April is one of the busiest months of the session as committees will begin to meet twice during the week and we will debate more bills on the floor of the Senate each day.
Several bills have already made it to the Governor's desk--the first bill of the Legislature to be passed and signed into law by the Governor was HB 2061. HB 2061 addresses the common practice of County Clerks using Social Security numbers for purposes of identification in documents publicly available on the Internet. The Governor has also signed SB 378, the so-called "Castle Doctrine" bill. This bill would expand the circumstances in which an individual is allowed to use deadly force against another individual and remove the duty for an individual to make a reasonable effort to retreat before using deadly force.
The Senate Finance Committee will take up the Senate's version of the state budget today. We are set to substitute our version of the budget into HB 1 and send it to the Senate Floor for debate. After passage by the Senate, the bill will then be sent back to the House; the House can either accept the Senate's changes or request a conference committee. The House will almost certainly request a conference committee where appointed members from each chamber will discuss and amend only the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. It is interesting to note that the budget is the only bill that the Legislature is required to pass during a regular session.
- On March 20, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 1031. The bill would replace the current standardized testing system with end-of-course exams. The state's Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test has been criticized for its limitations, such as failing to prepare students for college, and forcing instructors to teach to the test rather than focusing on content. SB 1031 would phase out the TAKS test, replacing it with four end-of-course exams, beginning in the 2009 school year. Bill Sponsor and Committee Chair Florence Shapiro says these kinds of tests serve students and teachers better than the current system of standardized tests.
The first class to take these exams would be the 2009 incoming freshmen class. These tests would be offered for the four core curriculum areas, Math, Science, English and Social Studies, and would make up 15 percent of a student's final grade. In order to graduate from high school, students would need to score at least 70 points out of 100 on all 16 of the end-of-course exams taken over the course of their high school careers.
The TAKS test has also been criticized for an increase in "testing irregularities" that may indicate cheating. SB 1031 also includes provisions for increased security surrounding these end-of-course exams, directing the Education Agency Commissioner to develop new security standards, and authorizing random audits of school districts to ensure compliance. It would also make leaking test information a class-C misdemeanor.
SB 1031 has been left pending in the Senate Education Committee.
- On March 27, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday aimed at preparing the state for increased water demand as the Texas population continues to grow. Senate Bill 3 begins the process of that preparation. Senators expressed wide support for the bill as a comprehensive approach to water policy in the state. In addition to the water conservation measures, the bill also provides for future sources of water and maintains balance in addressing the environmental needs of our state.
SB 3 seeks to increase water supply by addressing conservation as well as new supplies of water in the form of reservoirs. The bill designates 18 locales as future reservoir sites. While the bill does not permit licensing or construction at these sites, some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the effect these designations could have on private property owners. The bill also contains provisions for environmental concerns.
It would create a science-based approach to freshwater flows, which are a vital component of the state's bays and estuaries. It would also stress conservation, requiring water utility providers to formulate and submit plans to decrease water use through conservation. It would also enhance conservation education for the public.
- The Senate passed two bills on April 3 aimed at a very controversial issue--the Trans Texas Corridor. Senate Bill 718, by Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan, would require the Texas Department of Transportation to utilize existing routes for Trans Texas Corridor projects whenever possible. If TXDOT must use another route, the bill would require them to notify the Legislature within ten days.
The second bill, Senate Bill 1795, is not necessarily directed at Trans Texas Corridor construction, but would give the state more room to issue bonds for future transportation projects. One of the most divisive issues surrounding the Trans Texas Corridor is the use of public/private partnerships that critics say are not appropriately accountable or transparent and that give away state control of public projects. SB 1795 would double the amount of bonds, from $3 billion to $6 billion that the Texas Transportation Commission could use in order to build new roads.
These bills provide TXDOT other options when it comes to the funding for transportation projects. If the problem is not enough state funding--as TXDOT will sometime argue--then this bill sends a strong message to TXDOT that we have additional revenue here in the state and we should make sure to use state funds and build highways as economical as possible.
Additionally, the Senate passed SB 995 by Senator Nelson. The bill is also aiming to increase the transparency for public/private partnership contracts for toll roads. It would require toll project contractors to disclose the financial details of the contract in the newspapers in the areas around the project, and also to hold public hearings before finalizing the contract.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video webpage.
- Recently, the Texas Hospital Association launched a new, consumer-friendly Web site, Texas PricePoint (www.txpricepoint.org), that will make hospital-specific inpatient charges and quality information more transparent and accessible. The Web site uses hospital data reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services, as well as other sites. Texas PricePoint compiles the data in a single source and translates it into helpful, understandable information. This resource is intended to help consumers make more informed decisions about their health care providers.
Texas PricePoint includes charge data on inpatient services, links to quality data, and general and contact information on all Texas hospitals. Through basic and advanced queries, users can request information on a single hospital or from several to allow comparisons. Once a hospital's information is displayed, users have the option of clicking on a link to the hospital's own Web site if one exists, where they can find more specific information on hospital billing policies, and a patient rights and responsibilities.
If you would like a personal demonstration of Texas PricePoint, contact the Texas Hospital Association at (512) 499-0979.
- Texas weather is active this time of year, so we frequently hear about tornado watches or warnings. Do you know what they mean and what the difference is?
A Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable to produce a tornado. A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been spotted visually or on radar. Seek cover immediately.
As you listen to your radio or watch TV for updates, be alert to what is happening outside as well. If you see a tornado and it is not moving to the right or to the left relative to trees or power poles in the distance, it may be moving to you!
Remember that although tornadoes often move from southwest to northeast, they also can and do travel in any direction. Tornadoes can strike at any time of the year but are most prevalent in Texas from March through June.
- Rural counties gained 1.1 million people between 2000 and 2005, about a 2.2 percent increase in population. But that's about one-third less growth than during the previous five years. And about half the rural counties lost population since 2000, mostly in the Great Plains states.
Several states posted gains in their rural populations. North Carolina saw the largest gain, as did the Sun Belt states of Florida, Georgia and Texas. Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and North Dakota, however, lost people in their rural areas.
In the Midwest, all the growth in the rural population came from immigration. States in the Midwest have seen a surge of Hispanics to their rural areas to work in the agricultural economy, and the South is seeing gains as well. Indiana had the largest gain in its rural immigration population, but Oklahoma and Alabama were not far behind. New Mexico and California also saw increases.
Overall, the South saw the largest increase in its rural population. Metro counties in every part of the country, however, gained people far faster than their rural counterparts.
RURAL POPULATION CHANGE, 2000-05
North Carolina 111,308
FASTEST GROWTH RATE (PERCENT)
North Dakota -17,866
Source: National Conference of State Legislature
- Belton: Office furniture maker izzydesign says the future is bright for its local factory. The company currently employs 110 workers and is expecting to build a new plant in Belton by 2010.
- Temple: Jupe Feeds Inc. is expecting to double production at their plant by forming a new alliance. The company will tap into marketing, research resources as they partner with Archer Daniel Midland (ADM).
- Copperas Cove: Land exchange between the city and Fort Hood offers a win-win situation. Local leaders envision a major retail development on 125-acres of property they are obtaining. 110-acres given to Fort Hood will assist in the future encroachment next to the airfield. Additionally, construction will start this month on a three-story, 62-room Days Inn and Suites.
- If you are looking to find the best spots for wildflower viewing, the Texas Department of Transportation's Wildflower Hotline (800-452-9292) and website will give you information on the best spots to find wildflowers along the Texas highway system. The wildflower hotline, available as part of the menu for the road conditions hotline is active through early May. To make it easier to find wildflowers in bloom, hotline callers may request information by seven regions of the state: Big Bend, Gulf Coast, Hill Country, Panhandle, Piney-Woods (East Texas), Prairies and Lakes (North Central Texas), and Southwest Texas.
- Student Opportunities...Texas Online Preparation for College Admissions Tests (TOPCAT) provides free online SAT and ACT test preparation materials in English and Spanish to Texas middle and high school students and adults preparing to enroll in college for the first time. Many scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid are awarded based on a student's scores. By utilizing TOPCAT, every student in Texas has access to test prep tutorials, practice sessions, timed sample tests, a vocabulary builder, and test-taking tips. TOPCAT can be found on the College for Texans website.
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