News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 19, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

My five cents...

a few important things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol.

In classrooms across Texas, teachers and students are counting down the days until summer vacation. In an almost identical countdown here at the Capitol, legislators are marking the days left to reach an agreement on how to fund those schools. Despite the fact the Senate and House have both passed budgets, the differences between those two versions must be worked out and agreed to by each chamber. Neither budget creates new taxes or spends from the Rainy Day Fund. The Senate budget, however, allocates $4 billion more for education. If the budget issues are not resolved soon, we may face special sessions into the summer.

While budget leaders are hammering out these issues, other action continues to pass in the final two weeks of session. Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

1. Announcing new budget estimates

Based on increased economic activity in the state, Comptroller Susan Combs certified that another $1.2 billion dollars is available for the state budget. While this good news will help legislators develop a budget deal, it is not a complete answer. It does, however, signal growth and improvement for the Texas economy.

2. Preventing Medicaid fraud

The House passed my bill to help prevent Medicaid fraud. Sponsored by Rep. Brandon Creighton, Senate Bill 688 increases the statute of limitations on Medicaid fraud from three to seven years, allow Medicaid fraud to be prosecuted as organized crime, and increase penalties for those convicted. Medicaid fraud is a crime against every taxpayer who pays into the system. Last year, the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit identified $71 million in Medicaid overpayments. By giving the division even better legal avenues to prevent fraud, I believe our state will save even more. It now heads to Gov. Perry for final approval.

3. Reauthorizing the Texas Forest Service

The governor signed Senate Bill 664 to continue the Texas Forest Service. As an agency subject to the Texas Sunset process, the Texas Forest Service must be continued in legislation after a comprehensive review by the Sunset Commission. As the author of the bill, I am proud to continue an agency that not only helps landowners and communities with the management of forests and trees but also helps prevent and manage wildfires.

4. Protecting insurance for dependents of state employees

The Senate approved a bill which allows dependents of employees to maintain insurance coverage when their parents change from a job covered by one of the state's retirement system to another of the state's retirement systems. While this would only apply to a small number of cases, I felt it was important to sponsor this bill because it affected a family in Senate District 3. In the Legislature we sometimes pass bills that matter to every Texan, and sometimes we have the honor to directly help an individual or family we represent.

5. Allowing Noodling

Catching catfish with your hands is a recreational activity known as noodling, and it is illegal in Texas. On Thursday, the Senate passed legislation that would allow individuals with a valid fishing license to practice noodling. While this is not a practice I would necessarily recommend, those with valid fishing licenses should not be prevented from enjoying this activity. To limit individual pursuit of happiness in such a way would be a little fishy.

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