News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 26, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

My five cents...

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

The Texas Legislature is a two-chamber body that can resemble a three-ring circus. In the last days of session, there is so much action in both houses it can be hard to keep up. Keeping bills alive feels like a plate-spinning act, everyone is distracted by the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and there are a few freak show bills on the side. As chaotic as the process can seem, most of it is the final product of thoughtful consideration and review over the 140 days of the session.

Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

1. Education funding debate continues

The question of how to fund education in Texas is still up for debate. As the deadline for a deal on the state budget approaches, it becomes more and more likely the Legislature will have to go into special session this summer. I would like to have a budget by the end of session so school districts can accurately plan for the next academic year. However, I am more than willing to keep working on this issue to make sure schools get the funds they need to educate Texas' future. Additionally, I will work to make sure that schools already on the low side of funding do not have to bear a greater burden than their well-funded counterparts.

2. Eminent domain reform signed into law

On Monday, Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 18 into law to further reform eminent domain use in Texas. The bill, of which I am proud to be a co-author, makes significant reforms to the use of eminent domain. It requires a governmental entity to make a good faith offer in writing that at least meets the appraised value of the property, and it requires governments to make the decision to take a property a public recorded vote. It also permits an owner to purchase back the land at the original price if the government does not begin using it for the intended purpose in 10 years. While there is still more work needed to reform the use of eminent domain, Senate Bill 18 is a good next step.

3. Water utility reforms

The House passed my Senate Bill 573 which lays out a way for landowners to find a new water and waste water provider if the current utility refuses to provide service. After I was first elected, I started learning about problems with water service from some utilities who hold certificates of convenience and necessity (CCN). These are basically state-granted monopolies that are issued as a way for providers to bring water service to underserved areas. Most of these water providers do a good job and serve the communities in their area well. However, there is no recourse for individuals whose utility will not provide water and wastewater service. In fact, some landowners have been held hostage and asked to pay very large amounts of money to get out of a CCN. Senate Bill 573 provides landowners an expedited method to break away from water utilities which refuse service and contract with utilities that will.

4. Ban on texting while driving passed the Senate

The Senate passed a ban on texting, emailing and instant messaging while driving, an effort I voted against. While I believe texting while driving is dangerous behavior, I worry about the government's intrusion on our personal lives. There are many distractions for drivers such as, adjusting the radio, eating, having a conversation, and putting on makeup. Our law enforcement officer have many serious criminal actions to pursue, and a ban on texting could create a distraction from them. Instead of passing a law, I encourage everyone to pay attention to the road and not drive distracted. The bill must return to the House for approval of the Senate changes.

5. Animal House in the Senate

Continuing the circus theme, there were a lot of animal related bills in the last few days. There were bills about lizards, puppies, chickens and cows. Sometimes the Senate floor sounded more like Old McDonald's farm. While animal bills often lead to colorful debate on the floor, it reflects our state's deep ties to agriculture and natural resources.

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