TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE HEARS ROAD FINANCE BILLS
|Members considered a bill by Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, that would give local voters the option of increasing certain fees to pay for transportation projects.|
(AUSTIN) — With Texas expected to nearly double its population in the next 25 years, transportation needs and funding have taken prominent positions in the last few legislative sessions. This session is no different, and members of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee considered several bills Wednesday dealing with transportation funding. Committee member Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said at the meeting that the Legislature must act to fix the transportation funding system in Texas. "We have got an incredible transportation problem, particularly in the urban areas," he said. "I know that many of us, for years, have tried to figure out when the Legislature is actually going to step up and try and come up with something to come up with the revenue to help resolve that." The bills considered at Wednesday's meeting look to accomplish that goal.
Committee Chairman Senator John Carona of Dallas laid out a plan to give counties the authority to raise funds for various transportation projects, subject to voter approval. SB 855 would permit large metropolitan county commissioners courts to hold local option elections to create special fees dedicated to funding a variety of transportation projects, including highway projects, bridges and mass transit. The ballots in these elections would have to list each project under consideration, its cost and projected completion date. Money earned from fees could only go toward transportation projects, and county courts would have discretion to waive or lower fees for economically-disadvantaged citizens.
|Senator and former Texas transportation commissioner Robert Nichols is one of the members working toward practical transportation funding in Texas.|
Carona said that given the contentious nature of transportation funding, his bill has appeal because of its transparency. "There are very few things that we can do that we can garner political support for in sufficient amounts to make a meaningful difference," he said. "This, I believe, is one responsible way to get there, because it is voluntary and it does allow voter involvement." As considered before the committee, the bill would relate only to the 12 county North Texas area in and around the Metroplex, as well as Bexar and Travis counties, but Carona did say that Houston and El Paso officials have expressed interest in joining in.
The Senate passed several bills Wednesday, and one of these would increase penalties for illegally parking in a handicapped spot. SB 52, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would raise the fine for first time offenders from a maximum of $500 to a maximum of $750. The fines would increase for subsequent offenses, and would add community service for multiple offenders, up to $1,100 fine and 50 hours of community service for a fourth offense.
The Senate also granted tentative approval to a bill that would create a needle-exchange program for syringes used for illegal drugs. Bill author Senator Bob Deuell of Greenville argued on the floor that Texas is the only state that prohibits such programs. His bill, SB 188, would permit certain organizations to operate needle-exchange programs, as well as provide education on prevention of communicable diseases and substance-abuse treatment. Deuell, who is a practicing family physician, said these programs have been proven to reduce transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. The bill will likely see a final vote Thursday.
The controversial Voter ID bill received final passage Wednesday. This bill will now head to the House for consideration.