Texas Senate Review
AUSTIN - The Texas Senate passed legislation providing a temporary severance tax exemption for small oil and gas producers on Tuesday, February 9. Keeping oil wells pumping, jobs intact and money flowing toward schools were the main reasons 25 Senators supported the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 290. Four senators--Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Steve Ogden of Bryan and John Whitmire of Houston--abstained from voting because of conflicts of interest. Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso voted against the measure.
Lake Jackson Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown, the bill's sponsor, argued that oil wells are a major source of revenue for the State of Texas. Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo cited statistics from school districts in South Texas that receive as much as 75% of their local school tax from the industry. Brown said that when a well is shut down, the property value drops, and schools lose out on those funds. Some supporters of the bill feared that the wells shutting down now while oil prices are low could potentially stay out of production when and if prices bounce back without this relief. This exemption will expire on the earlier of September 1, 1999 or on the last day of the month in which the total taxes exempted equal $45 million.
Lt. Governor Rick Perry predicted it would pass easily. "This is not some welfare program for rich oil, big oil," said Perry. "There are real faces, real men and women all across the state of Texas."
Governor George W. Bush and Lt. Governor Perry strongly support the bill.
The bill ending social promotion, another one of the Governor's legislative priorities, will probably reach the Senate floor next week. Education Committee chair and SB1 sponsor Teel Bivins of Amarillo stated, "I believe this bill will accelerate closing that gap through early intervention and state-funded remediation to get at the children who are now in my mind falling through the cracks." Social promotion is the practice of promoting students to the next grade although they have not shown proficiency in their current grade level.
Senators are also discussing whether teacher training should be a requirement. SB 1 offers voluntary reading expert training and encourages teachers with a financial incentive of $150 per day. Schools must provide the accelerated reading instruction programs to students included in the bill, whether the teachers have completed training or not.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Education Committee with an amendment by Dallas senator and co-sponsor Royce West on Wednesday, February 10. West offered the amendment because he feared SB1 would specifically hurt minority students if the Legislature did not promise future funding. The amendment requires the Legislature to continue to provide sufficient funding for the programs included in the legislation.
Perry has concerns about the language in the amendment, pointing out that what is considered sufficient funding is different to each legislator. Perry thinks the problem can be worked out on the Senate floor before sending the bill to the House of Representatives.
Perry spoke against requiring schools to only hire teachers who have been trained, "All too often we get into problems here trying to make a shoe that fits all feet, a piece of legislation that fits every school district and it causes more problems than it cures."
Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano announced her plan to fight teen drug use in a press conference on Thursday, February 12. Senators Shapleigh, Lucio, Corona and Lt. Governor Perry were there to show their support. Her program includes parent initiated drug testing, tracking overdoses, enhancing criminal penalties for some drug offenses, and prevention and treatment.
Shapiro said drug use is a problem throughout the state and is getting worse because drugs are cheaper, more potent and more easily accessible. Shapiro says more drugs are coming from Mexico and wants additional federal funds to help the state deal with drug-related border issues. Senators on the Special Committee for Border Affairs discussed drug trafficking from Mexico in a public hearing held Thursday.
Committee Chair Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville says, "We don't want to be known as a feeder state for the rest of the nation. We want to be a state that deters drug traffickers, make them go around the State of Texas."
The Senate will reconvene Monday at 1:30 p.m.
For more information on the Senate, including committees, senators, daily updates of Senate activity, and legislation please visit our website at www.senate.state.tx.us.
- 2/16/99, Tuesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
- 2/16/99, Tuesday - Economic Development Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in room 2E.20/Lt. Gov. Cmte. Rm.
- 2/16/99, Tuesday - Health Services Committee Public Hearing 1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment in the Capitol Extension, room E1.016
- 2/16/99, Tuesday - Natural Resources Committee Public Hearing at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Human Services Committee Public Hearing at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Chamber
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Intergovernmental Relations Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.028
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Education Committee Public Hearing at 11:00 a.m. or upon adjournment of the Senate in E1.012
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Nominations Committee Public Hearing at 1:00 p.m. in 2E.20/Lt. Gov. Cmte. Rm
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Criminal Justice Committee Public Hearing at 2:00 p.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.016
- 2/17/99, Wednesday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
- 2/18/99, Thursday - Finance Committee Public Hearing at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.036
- 2/18/99, Thursday - Subcommittee on Agriculture Public Hearing at 1:00 p.m. in the Capitol Extension, room E1.012