Sine Die -- Without Another Day
By Senator Craig Estes
The 78th Legislative Session has adjourned Sine Die, a Latin term meaning "without another day." For 140 days, Legislators gathered under the Capitol Dome to face the challenges to our state, communities and neighborhoods. Major issues including balancing the budget, affordable healthcare, public education, homeowners' insurance reform and other important issues were considered, debated and addressed.
Balanced Budget - By far the biggest achievement of the 78th Legislature was balancing the budget with no new taxes, controlling the growth in the size and scope of government while preserving our commitment to protecting essential services to help those greatest in need. To achieve this goal, state leaders ignored the pundits demanding higher taxes, threw out the old budget model and started over from zero, demanding that each state agency present their case for every dollar they wanted to spend. The debate over the budget centered largely on a philosophical disagreement. Big government advocates measure compassion in terms of dollars while limited government advocates measure compassion as a helping hand toward independence from government.
Affordable Healthcare - With more than two million Texans without access to affordable healthcare, the Texas legislature took a three-pronged approach at reducing the cost of healthcare. First, significant civil justice reform addresses medical malpractice lawsuits with a cap on non-economic damages. Second, small companies will now be able to form healthcare cooperatives to receive the same benefits of lower cost health care obtained by large companies. And, third, insurance companies can offer plans not loaded down with costly government mandates giving consumers the option to choose a lower cost health care plan. Also, the Children's Health Insurance Program was fully funded to provide services for low-income families with incomes up to 200 percent above poverty level.
Public Education - One of the most important issues facing the future of Texas is the education of our children. Despite the massive budget shortfall we maintained our commitment to public education and added an additional $1.2 billion in funding directly benefiting students and teachers. To seriously begin the debate on public school financing, the Senate presented a comprehensive plan reducing property taxes by up to 50 percent, reforming the sales tax and increasing the state responsibility for public school funding in accordance with the State's Constitution.
Homeowners' Insurance Reform - The dream of homeownership is as old as the Republic itself, but skyrocketing insurance premiums threaten that dream. The homeowners' insurance reform bill authorizes rate rollbacks, restricts rate increases, and regulates the use of credit scoring. Though not guaranteed or required by law, initial estimates project that a comprehensive review of insurance rates and policies will lead to decreases of up 18 percent in homeowners' insurance rates. To help keep rates under control, insurance companies will be required to submit proposed new insurance rates for approval. The insurance reform measure also regulates the practice of credit scoring with protections against unfair discrimination and considerations for extraordinary credit events and disclosure before its use.
Civil Justice Reform (Stopping Lawsuit Abuse) - In addition to medical malpractice reform, the Legislature passed sweeping civil justice reforms to reduce expensive lawsuit abuse that is damaging to both our economy and our family incomes. Newly passed measures will now encourage out of court settlements in an effort to avoid protracted and costly court battles. The tort reform bill passed by the legislature protects harmless retailers from product liability lawsuits unless they are actually responsible for the product defect. And those class action lawsuits where a handful of lawyers get rich while the actual injured class gets coupons, well now the lawyers will get coupons too under new rules requiring class action attorney fees to be commensurate with the settlement or judgment awarded the injured parties.
Not all challenges were settled during the Regular Session. Important issues such as the precarious Robin Hood school funding program currently under assault in the courts and government reorganization necessary to controlling state spending remain on the table and will probably be addressed during Special Sessions likely to occur over the remaining months of the summer and perhaps later this fall.
While big government advocates lament the lost opportunities to raise taxes and expand the size of the government, the people of Texas can be proud of the work accomplished on their behalf.