Austin (Jan 17, 2003) - Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn warned Monday that there will be $7.4 billion fewer dollars available to the upcoming 78th Legislature. Included in that number is a $1.8 billion shortfall for this fiscal year 2003 ending August 31. Figuring in $2.5 billion for teachers health insurance and Health and Human Services funding for the next two years, this leaves the Legislature with a total shortfall of $9.9 billion if it wants to meet the obligations of the remainder of this fiscal year and complete a new biennial budget maintaining current programs and obligations.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003, the 31 Texas Senators, accompanied by their family and friends, convened to start the 140-day 78th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. On this day, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville was elected and sworn-in as President Pro-Tempore. Senator Kenneth Armbrister of Victoria did his appointed duty as head of the committee to notify the Governor and the House of Representatives that the Senate is ready to transact business. The 31 Senators then randomly drew lots to determine who will serve a 2-year term and who will serve for 4 years. Due to redistricting, this process was necessary to ensure that there cannot be a Legislature entirely made up of Freshmen.
Immediately following the second day's session of the 78th Legislature, Lieutenant Governor-Elect David Dewhurst held a press conference to discuss the budget situation. He is confident that they will be able to balance the budget, keep taxes low, and address other challenges, such as school finance reform. He promised not to reduce essential services that the people of Texas need and deserve and to provide these services more efficiently and economically.
Thursday, the Senators passed Senate Resolution 12, paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honored the great civil rights leader with speeches of their own. The Senate will not hold Session Monday in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday.
That same day, the Senate made their way to the House of Representatives in a Joint Session to count the votes cast in the election for Governor and Lieutenant Governor and officially declared Rick Perry and David Dewhurst the winners of the election.
Also that day, the Senate adopted the same permanent rules from the 77th Legislature with a few modifications. Bills or resolutions must be submitted by 3pm, an hour earlier than the previous rules stated, in order to be placed on the Intent Calendar. Also, a bill or resolution cannot be taken up until it has been posted on the Intent Calendar for two days. Bills may now come out of committee and be presented to the Senate as late as three days before the end of the Session on June 2nd. During the last session, that deadline was 17 days.
Changes were also made to abolish the Special Committee on Redistricting, to add the Committee on Government Organization, the Committee on Infrastructure Development and Security, and the Committee on International Relations and Trade, and to alter the membership of some of the Standing Committees.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 11 a.m. and David Dewhurst will be inaugurated as Lieutenant Governor that same day at noon.