My five cents...
a few important things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol.
A couple of weeks ago, I compared the regular legislative session to a three-ring circus. Special session, however, feels more like a playground. Some bills are stuck on the merry-go-round not making any progress. Other bills are headed down a slide never to be heard from again. The most pressing legislation is on a see-saw as it quickly goes from one chamber to the next and then back again.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Funding bill passes Senate
It was a filibuster of a funding bill that created the need for a special session, but the same bill passed the Senate last Friday. It is the final piece for passing a balanced budget with no new taxes. The budget is billions less than the previous two-year state budget, and it continues for two more years the business tax exemption for companies with less than $1 million in sales. The new budget protects the integrity of the state's Rainy Day Fund, using only a portion of it to make up a shortfall in the previous budget. The House is currently debating the funding bill.
2. Sanctuary cities added to the call
During special sessions, the Legislature can only consider legislation relating to issues on the call, which is controlled by the Governor. The governor may call a special session for one or more particular issues but then may add other issues to the agenda for the 30-day session. This week Gov. Perry added outlawing sanctuary cities to the call. Sanctuary cities is the term used for municipalities that prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about the citizenship status of an individual. The legislation to ban sanctuary cities, Senate Bill 9, is co-authored by every Republican in the Senate.
3. Flexibility for education mandates given to school districts
Before each legislative session, I try to meet with the more than 80 superintendents for school districts in Senate District 3. Before this last session, I heard one thing from these superintendents over and over again. They stressed that if budget cuts had to happen, giving the schools more flexibility and relief from unfunded mandates would help them make the most of limited education dollars. Senate Bill 8, which was passed by the Senate this week, helps give school districts some flexibility. It allows school districts to require a limited number of furlough days and removes the minimum salary requirements for teachers. While these solutions are less than ideal, they are temporary solutions to a temporary problem. School districts only have this flexibility when school funding is less than current dollar amounts.
4. Congressional redistricting map approved by the Senate
On Monday the Senate approved a map for Congressional districts in Texas, business that was left undone during the regular legislative session. In addition to establishing new lines for current districts, the new map includes four new districts which Texas gained after the last census. One of those new districts is significant to East Texas. The proposed District 36 is made up of several East Texas counties and a small part of Harris County. The map has been approved by the Senate and the House Committee. It now goes to the full House for consideration.
5. Health bill approved by the House and Senate
The House passed Senate Bill 7, which improves efficiency for Medicaid and is expected to save the state more than $400 million during the next two years. The bill allows doctors and other health providers to partner with hospitals to achieve better health outcomes. The House added several amendments including a measure to prevent taxpayer money from paying for abortions. The bill, having passed both chambers, now goes to conference committee to work out the differences in the two versions.