The Senate Finance Committee today approved a completed version of the state budget that increases state spending by 10 percent and sends more money to public education, health and human services, and state employee salaries. "The Senate Finance Committee passed out, in a bipartisan vote, a lean but caring budget," said Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. "A budget that protects our essential services here in Texas, puts more money into education, puts a lot more money into higher education, and takes care of the vulnerable in our society." Overall, the budget for the 2006-2007 biennium is about $11 billion more than the Legislature allotted for the 2004-2005 biennium.
Education and Health and Human Services saw the largest funding increase in this session's budget. Public Education was granted $1.8 billion more under the Senate's budget, with an additional $836 million going to state higher education. The Senate budget would restore mental, dental and vision coverage to the Children's Health Insurance Program, and would eliminate waiting lists for a number of state health services, including services for the blind and deaf. The budget also contains provisions to eliminate waiting lists for all health and human services agencies within ten years. Following recommendations from the Adult and Child Protective Services reform bill SB 6, the budget would increase funding to APS/CPS by $236 million.
The Senate budget would also increase state employee pay by 4.5 percent in 2006, and then by another 4.5 percent in 2007. There are provisions to give a large increase in pay to Department of Public Safety officers, intended to make them the highest paid law enforcement officers in the state. "We were losing quality and professional DPS officers to our better paid city departments. That will no longer be the case," said Senator John Whitmire, who led the budget efforts with respect to criminal justice issues. The Senate appropriations bill, in the form of Senate Bill 1, will likely come up before the full Senate for approval on Wednesday.
The Senate passed two bills in regular session today. The first of these is SB 571, by Senator Frank Madla. SB 571 would allow wineries in the state to set different hours for consumption and sale of alcohol, permitting wineries to sell alcohol from 8 a.m. to midnight every day except Sunday, where wineries could not sell alcohol until 10 a.m. The Senate also passed SB 316 by Senator Eddie Lucio. SB 316 would attempt to reduce the number of infant deaths in the state caused by shaken baby syndrome. The bill would require the Health and Human Service Commission to create a brochure about the causes and dangers of shaken baby syndrome, post that brochure on its website, and make it available at all hospitals and birthing centers.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 22nd, at 11:00 a.m.