Environmental and Economic Legislation Highlight Session
Austin - The Senate unanimously passed legislation aimed at putting Texas in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act by 2007. The 77th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 5 to create the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), as required by federal law, but the plan's main source of funding was eliminated when it was ruled unconstitutional in a legal challenge in 2002. Arlington Senator Chris Harris, sponsor of the legislation, said that if this problem is not addressed, it will shut the state of Texas down. If funding is not restored by September 1, 2003, Texas will be in violation of federal law and the Environmental Protection Agency will be required to implement more intrusive measures. The state will also stand to lose highway funding if it has not demonstrated that it will use those dollars to clean up the air or improve safety.
The Senate Committee Substitute to House Bill (HB) 1365, proposes three main funding mechanisms for TERP that, according to Harris, cannot be challenged in court. The new funding sources include an increase in title fees for vehicles, a change in a surcharge on construction equipment, and a change to the surcharge on on-road diesel motor equipment. These changes should generate an estimated total of $642 million to fund TERP over four years, or an average of $160 million a year.
Another important piece of legislation, passed by a voice vote of the Senate today, would create the Texas Enterprise Fund. The Committee Substitute to SB 1771, sponsored by Fort Worth Senator Kim Brimer, would set up the fund as an account in the general revenue fund to be used for economic development, infrastructure development, community development, job training programs, and business initiatives. Under the bill, the Texas Department of Economic Development would be responsible for the coordination of economic development efforts. Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan spoke out against SB 1771, calling the bill "bad public policy" that would create a system of government subsidies for special interest groups.
Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso presented legislation before the Senate that he said would enhance the value of Texas' 18 military bases for the upcoming 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) selection process aimed at trimming excess domestic base infrastructure. SB 652, also know as the Texas Military Preparedness Act of 2003, would assist local defense communities in identifying and resourcing cooperative economic development initiatives that enhance the real military value of their installations. The act would also provide important cost saving options to reduce overall base operating costs, increase funds for training and mission needs, and institutionalize the process of investing in Texas' military bases.
Other legislation approved by the Senate today includes:
- SB 309, by Houston Senator Mario Gallegos, would authorize certain entities to use local money to provide health care services and assistance to a person regardless of a person's immigration status. The bill would also require the establishment of a cost share system for persons receiving health care services.
- SB 467, by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, would expand the list of covered health insurance policies issued by health insurance companies that would require them to contribute funds to support the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool.
- SB 488, by Ogden, clarifies that the Texas Department of Public Safety can assess penalties for overweight trucks on roads that have weight limits.
- SB 687, by West, would amend the Education Code to include political subdivision corporations as an additional method for school districts to receive the best value on contracts valued at $25,000 or more for the purchase of electricity.
- HB 804, sponsored by Lindsay, would ensure the uniform application of the federal minimum wage in private employment at the local level by prohibiting a municipality from establishing its own minimum wage.
- SB 1374, by Armbrister, would set forth state policy regarding waters of the state, create the Study Commission on Water for Environmental Flows, and make provisions regarding water rights permits for instream flows.
- SB 1601, by Ellis, relates to funds left over after distribution of an award from a class action lawsuit settlement or judgement. The unclaimed funds would be designated to the Texas Supreme Court for use in funding civil legal services for the poor.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, May 6, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.