WEEK IN REVIEW
GOVERNOR LAYS OUT PRIORITIES IN STATE OF THE STATE
(AUSTIN) — Governor Rick Perry told lawmakers he wants to use money from the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for water and transportation infrastructure in this year's budget. During his biennial State of the State address Tuesday, Perry said that he is in favor of taking nearly $4 billion from the $12 billion emergency stabilization fund to ensure that these critical services keep up with population growth. This signals a change in policy for the Governor, who in the past has stridently opposed taking money from the fund. Legislators left the fund untouched last session, despite a budget shortfall. Perry also proposed a number of other ideas, from a constitutional spending cap to a mechanism to use surplus funds for tax relief, but it's up to the House and Senate to pass laws to achieve those goals.
Senate committees were hard at work this week, as more than 200 bills were referred to committee. The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security Committee held a joint meeting Monday to consider the issue of school safety. The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December has made school safety a priority in Texas and nationwide, and the joint committee heard from five districts about how they plan to ensure safety on campus. Harrold ISD superintendent David Thweet told Senators how his small rural district has used employees armed with concealed weapons since 2007 in order to respond to any active shooter events at the single campus serving just over 100 students grades kindergarten through 12th. The committee also heard from the superintendents of both the Van and Union Grove school districts, who testified that their school boards have approved using armed employees in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, and that implementation is beginning. The committee also heard from the Austin and Dallas school districts, where officials testified that both districts planned to ensure safety through better security measures, like cameras and electronically locked doors, and increased police patrols of campuses.
The Finance Committee this week took up Article II of the budget, which deals with health and human services spending. The state cost of Medicaid has risen an average of 14 percent every year, and Committee Chair Senator Tommy Williams of the Woodlands told members that type of growth is unsustainable. "If we don't find a way to serve these populations at a price that we can afford, pretty soon all we're going to do is write the health and human services budget," he said. After hearing budget requests from all state agencies over the next two weeks, members of the committee will break into work groups to begin the markup process, incorporating what they learned from agency and public testimony to adjust the base budget filed at the beginning of session.
Thursday, the Education Committee approved a bill that would give school districts more flexibility to determine how much of a student's final grade is affected by the state mandated end-of-course exam. Current law puts that figure at 15 percent of a student's final grade, but SB 135, by Committee Chair Dan Patrick of Houston would let districts allow that test to make up anything from zero to 15 percent of that final grade. The bill passed unanimously and will now head to the floor for a vote.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 4 at 2 p.m.