SENATORS GREET GOVERNOR OF TAMAULIPAS
Texas' Senators met in Austin with Tomas Yarrington, newly elected Governor of Tamaulipas, Mexico. The Mexican state of Tamaulipas lies directly south of Texas' southern most region along the Gulf of Mexico. Yarrington served in the Mexican Congress, as Mayor of Matamoros, and most recently as State Treasurer of Tamaulipas prior to his term as Governor. Yarrington is committed to ensuring his region's success as a global partner, and providing quality education for young people to ensure their future and strengthen the future of the region.
Texas Senate Review
AUSTIN - The Legislature's primary task, the state budget, is moving through the legislative process. The Senate unanimously passed its version of the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 1 Friday, April 23. Education will receive the biggest increase in funding from the last budget; three billion dollars of the more than $98 billion budget will go toward education. The appropriations bill also includes a state employee pay raise including non-faculty college employees. Some asked whether Governor George W. Bush would be disappointed that the budget did not reach the two billion dollars in tax cuts he promised. But Lt. Governor Rick Perry says the focus was in the right place. "I think Governor Bush would like to see substantial work toward the continuation of creating the best schools in America. And I think this budget does that," said Perry.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant says the budget is conservative but they opened their pocketbooks to help Texas children. "If there is an overall emphasis in this budget, it is children. Not only education but if you look at all the tobacco money, we're looking at a lot of programs for children," said Ratliff.
The House did not concur with the changes the Senate made to CSHB 1. Both chambers appointed members to a conference committee to work out the differences between each version of the bill. Conference committee members include Representatives Junell, Coleman, Gallego, Heflin, and West; and Senators Ratliff, Duncan, Fraser, Moncrief and Truan.
New school finance legislation passed out of the Education Committee this week. The bill allots more money for teachers and less for property tax cuts. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 4 increases the minimum teacher's salary by $4000 dollars a year, but only teachers who are below the new minimum salary would be guaranteed a pay raise. An amendment to the bill requires schools to give at least 60% of funds to teachers. Another amendment added a program to train teachers in reading instruction. The Master Reader Teacher Program rewards teachers with bonuses for voluntarily participating in the program and is a priority for Perry. The bill also provides an extra $50 million for fast growing school districts and $750 million for all districts to finance new buildings and old debt. These funds could help school districts limit property tax increases.
Legislation creating more tax credits for Texas businesses passed out of the Senate. Supporters say the more than $132 million research and development tax break will encourage economic growth across the state. CSSB 5, sponsored by Waco Senator David Sibley, designates strategic investment areas which have high unemployment and low per capita income. The areas included are generally located along the Rio Grande and in deep East Texas. Corporations will get the break for creating jobs and investing in those economically distressed areas or by investing in research and development statewide. Attempts to extend the tax breaks to other areas were hotly debated, with some senators arguing the state does not have the money to include the entire state. Senators did adopt two floor amendments; the first to help Texas agriculture by expanding job creation and investment credits to agriculture processing anywhere in the state and the second allows tax credits for businesses investing in urban areas.
The Senate also voted in favor of tax credits for businesses that finance before and after school programs. Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 9 and says children need more activities after school ends. "I think the bill makes a lot of sense, it's good public policy and something we should have done a long time ago," said Duncan.
Legislation restricting telephone services passed out of the Senate on Tuesday, April 20. This includes CSSB 1251, sponsored by West, which prohibits a phone service provider from cutting off basic local service due to an unpaid long distance bill. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh sponsored SB 1020, which requires pre-paid calling cards offered in Texas to provide more and clearer information about rates and terms of service under legislation passed this week.
Colonias would have greater access to vital services such as water, sewer and electricity under legislation passed out of the Senate. CSSB 1421 includes a series of measures that are designed to improve living conditions in the Border areas. The bill is authored by senators representing areas along the Rio Grande. The Special Committee on Border Affairs also passed legislation to speed up and fund transportation improvements between Texas and Mexico.
In other floor action, vital donor organs recovered in Texas would be offered to other Texans first under legislation passed Friday, April 23. CSSB 862 is sponsored by Galena Park Senator Mario Gallegos Jr.
People with mental retardation would be exempted from the death penalty under legislation passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, April 21. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sponsors SB 326 which would offer life in prison instead of execution.
Ohio U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn spent Thursday, April 22, at the State Capitol to help promote the benefits of space technology. Glenn urged the Senate Subcommittee on Technology and Business Growth to adopt a bill creating the Business Technology Outreach Program. SB 976 by Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson promotes the use of NASA technology in private business. "That's what NASA is all about. We're not just up there enjoying ourselves because somebody thought it would be nice to go up and enjoy yourself. We're up there to do basic, fundamental research," said Glenn.
A Local and Uncontested Calendar will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, April 26. The Senate will reconvene Monday at 1:30 p.m.