Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, along with Senate members of the conference committee on House Bill 2, held a press conference today to announce that the negotiations over the education reform bill have effectively ended. "At about 11:00 last night, through the good work of the Governor, we reached an agreement on the principles, on the outstanding issues open on HB 2," said Dewhurst. "At about 11:05, Governor Perry walked over to the Speaker's office, and that's all we know. The process has stopped."
Members of the House and Senate have spent the last weeks negotiating the outstanding differences between the two chambers on legislation that would have lowered property taxes, increased teacher pay, changed the state's tax structure, and put millions of additional dollars into public education. Today's announcement means that passage of any such legislation is nearly impossible. Midnight tonight marks the deadline for consideration of conference committee reports, which are finalized bills that members of both chambers have approved.
Dewhurst said that even though time remaining for the 79th Session was waning, conference committee members continued negotiations in the hopes that an agreement could be reached. Then, he added, a special session could be called, and the Legislature could pass out sweeping education reform in three or four days. He said today that there would be little sense in calling a special session unless the chambers could come to an agreement in principle.
Senator Florence Shapiro, who chaired both the Education Committee and the conference committee on House Bill 2, said that she is disappointed that an agreement could not be reached. "This is a tremendous disappointment to all of us," she said. "I was absolutely convinced that we were going to reach where we wanted to go and where the House wanted to go."
Also today, the Senate approved the conference committee report on HB 7, which seeks to reform the state's workers' compensation system. The bill retains most of the provisions from Senate Bill 6, the Senate's version of HB7, including a restructuring of the administration of the workers' comp system in the state, and creates the Texas Workers Compensation Commission within the Texas Department of Insurance. The bill retains the Senate's plan for a managed network system for rehabilitation and treatment, intended to make access to doctors easier and more affordable. The bill would also increase the weekly cap on benefits by 15 percent, and would cut in half the time an injured worker would have to wait before he or she could receive benefits.
Senator Todd Staples, who authored SB 6 and carried HB 7 in the Senate, said this bill will significantly improve workers comp in Texas. "This conference committee report is a tremendous opportunity to transform our workers' comp system from one of the most expensive and ineffective in the country into one that serves our workers and employers well," he said.