Austin (Jan 31, 2003) - The 78th Session of the Texas Senate literally hit the ground running this week with Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst assuring Texans that the budget will be balanced this year despite a $1.8 billion shortfall, and Governor Rick Perry addressing a letter to the Senate urging consideration of healthcare and insurance regulation as emergency matters, to be acted on immediately.
On Wednesday, Senator Troy Fraser from Horseshoe Bay announced the filing of Senate Bill 310, requiring residential property insurers to immediately file rates and supporting data on a one-time basis with the Commissioner of Insurance. The Commissioner will then prepare a summary report to submit to the 78th Legislature. "We need to know that the rates being charged for homeowners insurance are just, reasonable, adequate, not excessive, and not unfairly discriminatory," said Fraser.
The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce met Thursday to consider Chairman Fraser's proposed legislation, as well as Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Senator Mike Jackson from Pasadena. SB14 would require insurers writing homeowners and personal auto insurance in Texas to supply rates, rating manuals, supplementary supporting data, and policy and service fees for approval by the Commissioner of Insurance.
The fifteen members of the Senate Finance Committee met earlier in the week with Billy Hamilton, Deputy Comptroller of Public Accounts, and John Keel from the Legislative Budget Board to discuss the $1.8 billion shortfall in the current state budget. The committee has several options to come up with a solution to the shortfall, such as reductions in spending and inter-fund borrowing. According to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, there will be an emergency appropriations bill in March to certify the reductions so that the budget will be balanced for fiscal year 2003.
Chairman Teel Bivins from Amarillo, along with the other members of the Senate Finance Committee, filed Senate Bill 1, which presents a "zero-based" budget for the 2004-05 biennium. The legislation is based on a bill written in 1991, when Bob Bullock was Lieutenant Governor of Texas and had the goal of building a budget from zero based upon core essential services.
In anticipation of this measure, the Legislative Budget Board sent out a letter on January 28, 2003 asking all state agencies to analyze their budgets "in terms of what are core functions and essential agency services, how these services can be provided more efficiently, and what these services cost." The Lieutenant Governor said he prefers to let the agency heads determine where they can come up with the savings, rather than "micro-manage the process."
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 3, 2003, at 1:30 p.m.