My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
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 until the end of session. As I write this, we are at 18.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1) School testing relief
On Monday, as students around the state were taking the STAAR test, the Senate was debating the future of such exams. We voted unanimously in favor of HB 5 to cut the number of tests required to graduate from 15 to five.
I have consistently heard from an overwhelming number of parents, teachers and school administrators that believe our kids are being over-tested. My hope is that this bill will allow teachers more time to teach, and will allow students more time to learn.
Because the Senate version of the bill is slightly different than the version the House passed in March, there will likely be a conference committee to hash out the differences over the coming weeks.
2) Governor signs TxDOT safe passage bill
Governor Perry recently signed my TxDOT safe passage bill into law. You may remember me telling you about SB 510 earlier in the legislative session. This bill requires motorists near stopped highway or construction vehicles- with lights activated- to either vacate the lane closest to the highway maintenance/construction vehicle or slow down. It is intended to create safer highways for both motorists and workers.
As a former Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Commissioner, I believe that safety should be a top priority. These men and women are at risk every time they put on their orange vests and work on our roads.
Even one preventable death is too many. In my opinion, this legislation is past due and I am pleased to see it signed into law.
3) Senate protects teacher pensions
On Wednesday the Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 1458 to assure the soundness of the Teacher Retirement System through a compromise agreement supported by Republicans, Democrats, teacher groups and other stakeholders. We were able to keep the $116 billion fund stable by instituting slight, phased-in contribution increases by teachers, school districts, and the state without changing the retirement age. In addition, the bill will allow a 3 percent benefit increase for many retired teachers.
4) New heart screening for Texas babies
In 2005 the legislature passed legislation to expand newborn screening in Texas from seven disorders to 29. Since that time, 746 newborn Texans have been saved from debilitating complications or death from genetic disorders due to early detection.
This week I was proud to vote for SB 740 to add Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) to the list of disorders for which newborn Texans are screened. The screening test for CCHD is non-invasive and uses equipment that is already standard in almost all hospitals. It is my hope that this new test for CCHD will help to save even more babies, allowing them to have healthy, productive lives.
5) Kree Harrison comes home to East Texas
Are any of you American Idol fans? Well my family is, and we have really enjoyed following East Texan Kree Harrison on this season's episodes. Kree is an extremely talented Woodville native who got her start as a child singing in local churches, rodeos, weddings and competitions. She has since captured the hearts of people across the country with her undeniable talent.
After making it into the "Top 3" on last week's episode, each remaining contestant was able to have a hometown visit in the place they grew up. Every viewer in America was able to watch as Kree went home to Woodville for a parade, concert, and other activities in her honor. This young lady from East Texas has made us proud. Well done, Kree.