Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick held a joint press conference today to weigh in on the success of the 79th Legislative Session. The Legislature adjourned sine die Monday, ending a session that saw the passage of many important bills, but one in which a compromise on school finance could not be reached. Perry said that lawmakers made key reforms to many state agencies, including sweeping changes to protective services and the workers compensation system. He added that the work on school finance is not over, and hinted that a special session could be called if lawmakers can reach a compromise. "My only interest is in continuing to bring people together to overcome differences, create an agreement that will increase teacher pay, reduce property taxes, and reform our schools," said Perry. I believe that if everyone rises above past disputes, we'll get a deal done. If that happens, then I'll certainly consider bringing legislators back to finish the job."
The disagreement over school finance between the House and Senate revolved around proposed changes to the tax structure. Both chambers had agreed on the amount of the property tax cut and were near a deal on school reform, but could not come to a consensus on how to pay for lower property taxes. The Senate plan relied more on expanded taxes on business to cover the cost, while the House insisted on a one-cent increase in the sales tax. In spite of this difference, Dewhurst said negotiators in both houses were near a deal. "We have done some very important work for the people of Texas, but our work is not over," he said. "And we can do it, we're there, we're real close, and we can do it," he added, referring to a compromise on school finance.
In addition to protective service and workers comp reform, the Legislature passed many other bills that will impact the lives of Texans. The governor has already signed a bill that would reform the asbestos-litigation process in Texas. Under the law, someone who has been exposed to asbestos would have to wait until a demonstrable impairment develops before they could sue for damages. The intent of this legislation was to ensure that those who are actually sick get their day in court. People who have been exposed but are not yet sick would not feel as much pressure to file for damages, as the two-year statute of limitations has been eliminated.
The Legislature also passed bills defining marriage as between one man and one woman, subject to voter approval, as well as a bill requiring minors to get parental consent before terminating a pregnancy. Also on the Governor's desk is a transportation bill that clarifies jurisdiction over toll roads and protects the property rights of private citizens as relates to eminent domain.