Senate Approves Budget Compromise On Last Day to Pass Legislation
Austin - The Senate met early this Sunday to approve of House amendments to Senate bills and adopt legislation passed out of conference committees. Today was the last time this regular legislative session those bills could be approved.
The Senate approved the $117.4 billion budget, HB 1, for 2004-05 after some objection this afternoon, as several Senators continued to argue for higher revenue instead of cuts to social service programs.
Crafting a budget was one of the toughest tasks the legislature faced this session due to a $10 billion deficit announced by the comptroller in January. Funding for education and social services were the most deliberated issues.
The provisions of the bill were laid out during a Capitol press conference on Monday, May 26, 2003.
Several Senators took the opportunity to speak out against the bill.
" It does a lot of damage to Texans," said McAllen Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa.
Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio said that the bill may meet the shortfall and balance the budget, but, he asked, "at what price? At what cost to human life? What will is cost us in the long run?"
Several Senators spoke in support of the appropriations bill, including Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, who played a major role in balancing the budget as vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Zaffirini said the Senate did the best it could and accomplished much even though the state did not have enough money to fund all its priorities.
An appropriations bill is the only piece of legislation that the Senate is required by the Constitution to pass during session.
The Senate also approved of the conference committee report on the supplemental appropriations bill, HB 7, which helps the state get through the revenue shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends August 31.
Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson's legislation that restructures social service agencies to streamline their functions was also passed by the Senate and is on its way to the governor. HB 2292 would consolidate the state's fourteen health and human service agencies into four departments: Aging and Disability Services, State Health Services, Assistive and Rehabilitation Services, and Family and Protective Services.
Nelson called HB 2292 a critical component of the budget because of the savings involved.
The Senate passed HB 4 today, the tort reform legislation aimed at lowering doctors' insurance rates by capping damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. The conference committee had announced the agreement earlier this week in a Capitol press conference.
State universities would be free to set their own tuition rates under a measure sanctioned by the Senate. Under the agreement reached in conference, HB 3015, sponsored in the Senate by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, would create a higher education oversight committee that would report to the legislature every two years.
The tuition deregulation legislation was passed by a 17-14 vote of the Senate.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, June 2, 2003 at 10:00 am.