News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

My five cents...

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

The most exciting sporting events are those that go into overtime. The basketball championship settled by a single three-point shot or a football game that comes down to one final drive adds to the drama of sports. The Legislature found itself in a similar situation this last week when time ran out and bills were left without final approval, including legislation to determine education funding.

We are now in legislative overtime to resolve some of these issues. Unlike a game, however, there is much more at stake than a trophy and bragging rights. My goal during this special session is to help all of Texas win with the best policies possible to resolve our current funding issues.

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

1. Special session called

Monday was the last day of the regular legislative session, but Gov. Rick Perry called legislators back the next day to finish work on education funding and Medicaid reforms necessary to enact the state budget. Perry later added Congressional redistricting to the agenda. The Governor may add other issues as the session progresses. A special session can last up to 30 days, but the governor may call additional special sessions as needed.

2. Bill to protect water ratepayers hits a roadblock

Sometimes bills die because they cannot pass the Senate. Sometimes they die because they cannot pass the House. Unfortunately, some bills are passed overwhelming by both chambers but die because they are caught behind other legislation at the end of session.

That is what happened to my Senate Bill 635 which created policies and protections to help ratepayers paying excessive water and wastewater bills. Senate Bill 635 would have transferred ratemaking from the Texas Department of Environmental Quality to the Public Utility Commission. The bill would allow the executive director of the PUC to establish an interim rate to provide relief to ratepayers and allow for the Office of Public Utility Council to represent the interests of residential and small commercial consumers during rate cases. Because I believe these reforms are needed as soon as possible, I am asking Gov. Perry to add this issue to the call for the legislative session.

3. Second Amendment rights for employees driving to and from work protected

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 321 which will prevent employers from adopting policies that deny Second Amendment protections to their employees who wish to store legally owned firearms in their locked vehicles while at work. Millions of Texans spend hours each week in their cars and trucks as they commute to and from work. Unfortunately, many Texans are prohibited from storing their legally owned firearm in a locked vehicle on company property.

Senate Bill 321 balances the rights of both the employer and employee. Under the new law, employees will regain their express right to store legally owned firearms and ammunition in their vehicles at their place of work, and with it, the ability to protect themselves as they travel to and from their jobs. Employers will be protected from any lawsuit resulting from the use of a firearm stored on their property, and they can still forbid an employee from carrying a firearm in company owned vehicles.

4. Local control for transportation projects

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 19 which is a continuation of the work I started with the moratorium on private toll roads four years ago. This bill guarantees that not only will local entities always have the first opportunity to decide if a transportation project will be tolled it gives them the first opportunity to execute the project.

5. Remembering Texas' Heroes during Memorial Day Weekend

Despite the hectic end-of-session schedule over Memorial Day Weekend, the Legislature took time out to honor and remember the military men and women who lost their lives during the last two years. Two families from Senate District 3 who lost loved ones participated in the ceremony. As an elected official, I sometimes get to meet distinguished people, but there is no act more humbling than thanking these Texans who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

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