The Texas State Senate News
AUSTIN - This week began on Monday, January 18, with a joint session held in the House Chamber to canvass the votes for November's general election. Canvassing is the process of officially accepting the election results. Senators on the canvassing committee were Rodney Ellis of Houston, Mario V. Gallegos of Galena Park, Chris Harris of Arlington, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Drew Nixon of Carthage, and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso.
Downtown Austin was draped in Texas spirit, including a barbeque, a parade and a crowd of thousands, for the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, January 19. The Senate convened in the chamber briefly before meeting the House of Representatives in front of the Capitol for a joint session.
A 19 gun salute marked the beginning of the inauguration ceremony at noon. President Pro Tempore Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center called the Legislature to order in front of a large crowd, including a former president, an international ambassador and thousands of Texans.
Former President Bush and Former First Lady Barbara Bush were there to celebrate their son's second term in office. Governor George W. Bush became the first Texas governor sworn in for consecutive four-year terms.
Lt. Governor Rick Perry replaced Lt. Governor Bob Bullock as the presiding officer of the Senate. He stressed his dedication to education, improving the criminal justice system and cutting taxes in his inauguration speech.
"Once our basic education, criminal justice, infrastructure, and human service priorities are met," said Perry, "we should give the people of Texas some of their money back in the form of tax cuts."
Perry gaveled the Senate to order for the first time on Wednesday, January 20. An amendment to the Senate rules resolution, proposed by Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, sparked a debate. The amendment requires 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. The Senate amended Wentworth's amendment, waiving the LBB requirement if legislation does not impact the open records law.
Perry got down to business quickly, announcing committee appointments on Thursday, January 21. These include 13 standing committees, four subcommittees, and two special committees. The Senate now has more committees with less members to consider legislation. Other changes include dividing the Committee on Health and Human Services into two separate committees, making last session's Special Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations a standing committee, and dissolving two other committees.
The membership of one of the new special committees was announced earlier this week. The Special Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring, chaired by David Sibley of Waco includes the same senators that studied the issue during the interim. This is a committee to watch because its decisions could affect electric bills across Texas.
This week Senator Sibley introduced Senate Bill 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 for consumers.
Now that senators have been assigned to committees the legislation process has nothing else blocking its path as the session begins to roll. Keep reading for the latest on legislation that could affect your life.
The Senate stands adjourned until 1:30 Monday.
1/25/99, Monday - Open Meeting, Special Committee on Administration at 1:45 p.m. or upon adjournment in the Capitol Extension, room E1.714
1/25/99, Monday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. or upon adjournment in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
1/27/99, Wednesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
1/27/99, Wednesday - 'State of the State' address by Governor George W. Bush at 11:00 a.m. in the House Chamber
1/28/99, Thursday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036