My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
As the world waited expectantly this week for the royal baby's arrival, we have been waiting almost as expectantly inside the Capitol for a chance to address transportation funding. With less than two weeks left in the special session, we are finally focusing attention on this important issue.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Texas vs. the Federal Government
You have probably heard about various lawsuits filed by our state against the federal government, but did you know we have 18 still currently pending? This is more than at almost any time in state history. Among those 18 are suits you may be familiar with such as Texas' voter ID law and Texas' redistricting maps.
There are also challenges to a portion of Obamacare which requires employers to provide contraception health benefits to employees, and to the Dodd-Frank Act, which allows for the liquidation of large financial institutions.
Of the 14 remaining pending lawsuits against the federal government, all in some way deal with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
2. Possible new buildings for Texas colleges
Tuition revenue bonds (TRBs) are something with which few Texans are familiar, but which are important to Texas universities and colleges. These special financial arrangements allow public universities to build new buildings with low financing costs covered by the state. They finance teaching and research facilities for engineering, medicine, and more.
With a growing state economy and financing costs at historic lows, many expected the regular legislative session to produce several such bond opportunities for colleges across the state. However, the two legislative chambers could not come to an agreement on how much funding to authorize, and time ran out before any consensus could be reached.
Now university leaders and many legislators are hoping Gov. Perry will add the topic to the second special session agenda. Institutions across the state stand to benefit, including Stephen F. Austin State University, Lamar State College - Orange, University of Texas, Texas A&M and more.
3. Electric brownouts
As the Texas summer continues to sizzle, so does a debate over how to provide electricity in future summers when the state's growth will begin to test the limits of electric generation capacity. The simple fact is our electric supply will soon not be able to keep up with demand. Over the past year the Texas Public Utility Commission has discussed how to adjust regulations and incentivize construction of new power plants to help.
One option would be to move to a system in which generators are paid to build and maintain excess capacity for peak energy use times. However, opponents argue this would basically amount to a subsidy for facilities that are rarely used and that those costs could ultimately be passed on to consumers. No doubt the debate will continue, and the fact remains that something will have to change in order to prevent sudden outages as our state continues to grow.
4. The rulemaking process
After the legislative session is over and the dust has settled, the state's focus turns to implementation of passed bills. This cannot occur without a process called rulemaking in which public input is sought by state agencies to help determine the best way to put bills into action.
A weekly publication called the Texas Register includes proposed rules and serves as the state's journal of agency rulemaking. It can be accessed through the Secretary of State's website at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/texreg/index.shtml and is a great tool to help you stay involved and let your opinion be heard.
5. Audie Murphy
Most of us are familiar with Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII who happened to hail from Kingston, Texas. He earned multiple medals for his valor on the battlefields of Europe, including the U.S. Medal of Honor. However, despite this recognition and even having his portrait hanging in the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Legislature has never managed to award him the state's highest military award.
Thankfully, on Thursday we seem to have taken a step in that direction when the House passed HCR 3, a resolution urging Gov. Perry to award the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Captain Murphy posthumously. The resolution makes its case by stating that Murphy "repeatedly risked his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers and to help advance their mission, and for his remarkable heroism he is most assuredly deserving of this state's supreme military award." I could not agree more.