Lt. Governor David Dewhurst delivered an update today on the progress of the state budget currently in conference committee. Five members of each chamber are comparing the House and Senate versions of the budget in order to come to an agreement on the final appropriations bill. One major difference between the two versions is that the Senate bill would grant $400 million more over the next biennium to higher education than the House bill would. Dewhurst said the Senate wants to ensure that a state university education remains affordable. "I think a lot of us feel very strongly in the Senate that we want to make sure that higher education is adequately funded so we're not pushing that burden of cost on to students and increase designated tuition," said Dewhurst.
He added that nearly all of the differences between the House and Senate budgets are nearly resolved, and that the conference committee is very close to finalizing a budget. This biennium's budget represents a modest increase, said Dewhurst, over last biennium's, up about $6 billion from 2003-2004.
Late this afternoon, the State Affairs Committee was to hear testimony regarding HJR 6, the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages in Texas. The measure had been before the committee on Tuesday, but testimony was postponed until today upon request of Senator Rodney Ellis. HJR 6 would go before the full Senate should it be passed out of committee.
The Senate passed a bill today that would add two new vaccines to the required list for children whose parents want them in daycare. House Bill 1316, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Bob Deuell of Greenville, would require that all children receive vaccinations for pneumococcal disease and hepatitis A before they can enter daycare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more Americans die each year because of pneumococcal disease than any other vaccine-preventable disease, and children in daycare are three times more likely to contract pneumococcal disease than other children. Deuell, who is a registered physician, says the benefits in vaccinating children against these diseases outweigh the potential cost of the vaccines. "The money that would be required to immunize these children would be more than saved by preventing these diseases," said Deuell. "I can tell you it's a lot cheaper to do this."
Also today, the Senate approved a measure that would increase the penalty for tampering with electronic voting machines. HB 56, sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston, would make it a first degree felony to tamper with touch-screen voting machines. Current statutes are unclear as to whether or not interfering with electronic voting is subject to the same penalties as tampering with traditional paper ballots. This bill would clarify that issue.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 20, at 11 a.m.