The Texas State Senate News
AUSTIN - Lt. Governor Rick Perry gaveled the Senate to order today for the first time as the President of the Senate. Perry was elected last November to preside over the 31 member body as Texas' 39th Lt. Governor. As the Senate's presiding officer, Perry appoints committee membership; and controls the flow of legislation in the Senate. Senators congratulated Perry on his new position, recognizing the presence of his family, including his wife, Anita, his parents, her parents and others.
Debate over the new Senate Rules dominated the session. Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio proposed an amendment requiring the director of the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) to review bills and joint resolutions for provisions restricting public access to government information, instructing them to notify the legislature and prepare a government impact statement. Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant spoke in opposition arguing the new provision was not necessary. The Senate amended Wentworth's amendment, waiving the LBB requirement if legislation does not impact open records law.
The Senate then adopted Senate Resolution (SR) 40, which lays out the rules under which they will conduct business this session. SR 40 names the Senate's standing committees and number of members on each of them. The number of members on some committees was reduced due to the heavy workload created by committee schedules. Some committees were eliminated. Another was split into two separate committees.
Standing committees stated in the resolution and the number of seats on each committee include the Committee on Administration with five members, formerly seven members; Committee on Criminal Justice with seven members; Committee on Economic Development with seven members, formerly eleven members; Committee on Education with nine members, formerly eleven members; the Committee on Finance with eleven members, formerly thirteen members; the newly created Committee on Health Services with five members; the newly created Committee on Human Services with five members; the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations with five members, formerly eleven members; the Committee on Jurisprudence with five members, formerly seven members; the Committee on Natural Resources with seven members, formerly with eleven members; the Committee on Nominations with seven members; the Committee on State Affairs with nine members, formerly thirteen members; and the newly created Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations with five members.
Other business today included the appointment of members to the Special Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring. The committee is an extension of the interim committee that traveled throughout Texas during the 75th interim examining the issue of competition in the Texas electric market. Committee membership includes Senators David Sibley of Waco, serving as chair; David Cain of Dallas, serving as vice-chair; Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, and Troy Fraser of Burnet County.
The decisions of this committee could affect many Texans and their electric bill. Sibley and Armbrister filed Senate Bill (SB) 7, calling for the restructuring of electric utilities. The bill would freeze electric rates September 1, 1999 for customers who are serviced by an investor-owned utility. There would be a rate reduction of 5% immediately upon the opening of electric competition in 2002. Rate cuts are not mandated for customers of municipally owned systems and electric cooperatives. Those businesses can decide whether or not to open their markets to competition. Senators sponsoring the legislation hope competition will produce savings to consumers.
The Senate stands adjourned until 1:30 pm Monday, January 25, 1999