The Texas State Senate News
AUSTIN - Governor George W. Bush marked limited government, education, and tax cuts as his goals this session in his State of the State Address. A joint session of the Legislature convened in the House Chamber for the event on Wednesday, January 27th.
Bush's priorities were echoed in the state budget he submitted the next day, sending nearly $1.6 million to local school districts and proposing $2 billion in property tax cuts. Lt. Governor Rick Perry believes it can happen and is ready to work with the Legislature towards that goal.
"I'm going to be sending a clear message to the people of the State of Texas, to the senators that indeed I think it's possible to have a substantial tax relief for the people of the State of Texas," Perry stated.
Perry referred over 100 bills, many on the governor's priority list, to committees on Tuesday, January 26th. The bill to end social promotion, Senate Bill (SB) 1, is in the hands of the education committee chaired by Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo. Later in the week Perry sent two bills to assist businesses to the Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. The corporate franchise tax bill sponsored by Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay and legislation providing a research and development franchise tax credit or refund, both part of the governor's agenda.
The Senate Democratic Caucus, chaired by Senator Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, supports the governor's focus on education, with the exception of school vouchers. Democratic senators agree that issues like health care, teacher pay, and transportation are a higher priority than tax cuts.
"If you can't get to work in Houston, Texas because the freeway is inoperable, if you can't keep competent school teachers because you can't adequately pay them, a tax relief of $150 per household doesn't mean anything," said Houston Senator John Whitmire.
Other senators express concern that the governor's property tax cut plan will not benefit many citizens who are renters rather than owners. There is also speculation among senators that providing funding for education and other basic needs will not leave much for tax cuts of any form.
Other legislation gaining attention this week attacked fraudulent telemarketing and hate crimes. Barrientos filed legislation to fight telemarketing fraud and unwanted telephone solicitation with a "Do Not Call" list. SB 120, and its companion, House Bill (HB) 537 carried by Debra Danburg of Houston, gives the Public Utility Commission (PUC) enforcement authority.
"There is a more serious side than having your dinner interrupted," said Barrientos. "While we recognize telemarketing is a legitimate business, fraudulent telemarketers are scamming Texas consumers out of millions of dollars."
Representatives of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) pledge their support. More than half the victims of telemarketing fraud are 50 years of age or older.
Senator Rodney Ellis joined Representative Senfronia Thompson, both of Houston, in filing hate crime legislation named for James Byrd Jr., the victim of a brutal murder in Jasper. Legislators say SB 275, the James Byrd, Jr. Act, broadens and clarifies hate crime laws already on the books, making those crimes easier to prosecute. House Bill 148, by Thompson, is the companion bill.
The Texas Senate honored Dr. Michael DeBakey of Houston on Monday, January 25th for fifty years of service as a surgeon and educator at Baylor College of Medicine. DeBakey assisted in setting up medical programs around the world.
This week the Senate had two visitors familiar with the chamber. Lt. Governor Perry introduced former Texas Governor Preston Smith on Tuesday, January 26th. He was in town for Lubbock Day festivities. Smith served as Governor from 1969 to 1973 and as Lt. Governor from 1963 to 1969. Later in the week former Senator Bill Sims of San Angelo made an appearance with his wife, Sue.
With committee assignments, hundreds of bills waiting for committee consideration, and knowledge of the governor's agenda, the Senate is in the beginning stages of legislating for the turn of the century in Texas.
The Senate reconvenes at 1:30 p.m. Monday, February 1.
2/1/99, Monday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
2/1/99, Monday - Special Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. or 30 minutes upon adjournment in the Senate Chamber
2/1/99, Monday - Special Committee on Administration Open Hearing at 2:00 p.m. or 20 minutes upon adjournment in the Capitol Extension, room E1.714
2/1/99, Monday - Texas Integrated Enrollment and Services (TIES) Legislative Oversight Committee Open Meeting at 4:00 p.m. or upon adjournment of the Budget Hearing in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
2/2/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
2/2/99, Tuesday - Natural Resources Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. in the Senate Chamber
2/3/99, Wednesday - Human Services Public Hearing at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Chamber
2/3/99, Wednesday - Intergovernmental Relations Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.028
2/3/99, Wednesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
2/3/99, Wednesday - Criminal Justice Committee Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.016
2/4/99, Thursday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036