Lively Session Heads
Active Day in the Senate
AUSTIN - The Senate voted final passage of fifteen bills in session on Wednesday, but the most action centered around nominee confirmations.
Senate Nominations Committee Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound presented a report recommending approval of several of Gov. Rick Perry's appointees to state agencies and boards. Among the appointees was R.B. "Ralph" Marquez, reappointed for a second term as a commissioner of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC). Former Gov. George W. Bush appointed Marquez in 1995 to fill an unexpired term.
Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, a member of the committee, responded to the report by citing a list of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) statistics that show Texas is the No. 1 producer in the nation of hazardous waste, among other dubious distinctions.
"Numero uno (number one) is not good enough here," Barrientos said.
But Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson pointed out that Texas, the nation's top petrochemical producer, has improved its water and air during the past ten years.
"I'm not arguing with you, but ... when you cite those facts, those are unacceptable and we're doing what we can to try to bring that down," Brown said.
"Is that good enough for Texas?" Barrientos asked in response.
The Senate did vote to confirm Perry's appointments, including Marquez, but not before a warning from Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos, who grew up near the Houston Ship Channel and now represents the area in the Senate.
"I just want to make sure that Mr. Marquez knows that we're serious -- that the Texas Senate is serious -- about this issue and obviously our constituency," Gallegos said. "Especially, Senator Nelson, those of us that live around those petrochemical plants (and) have to smell and breathe those emissions."
Earlier in the day, San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte joined a group of parents and educators from the Edgewood Independent School District (ISD) in San Antonio to voice opposition to any legislation that would create a state-funded school voucher plan.
"These folks are in a unique position, because we do have a voucher program in San Antonio, Texas. It's a private program," Van de Putte said. "And so if you want to find out firsthand what happens to a school district when dollars -- needed dollars -- are taken away, then listen to these folks."
The Edgewood ISD group told reporters that the voucher program did not help the children in the district and that money should not be taken from the state education budget to fund vouchers.
"Common sense tells you that we (school districts) need additional resources, not fewer resources," said Edgewood ISD Superintendent Noe Sauceda. "And so if we begin to take from the existing pool of resources that now are going to public schools and dilute them by sending them somewhere else through vouchers, then we're going opposite of where we need to be."
In other Senate news, the Electric Utility Restructuring Legislative Oversight Committee held a hearing Wednesday afternoon as part of an ongoing examination of Texas' utility deregulation plan. Industry executives, analysts and Texas Public Utility Commission Chair Pat Wood testified before the panel.
The Senate is adjourned until 11 a.m. Thursday.