The Senate of the State of Texas wasted no time in the first three days of the 79th session, unveiling landmark bills reforming the state's public education finance and workers compensation systems. Wednesday, all 31 senators supported Senate Bill 2, which seeks to change the way Texas pays for public education. The bill would lower property taxes by one-third, from $1.50 per $100 valuation to one dollar, saving taxpayers an estimated $5.56 billion. It would close the franchise tax loophole that currently excludes the state's service industries in order to make up for this lost revenue. It would also permit individual districts to levy a fifteen cent enrichment tax, providing an additional six billion dollars in revenue. The plan could also increase cigarette, alcohol, and motor vehicle taxes.
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst praised both the plan and the Senate. "The Senate is once again united," said Dewhurst, "all 31 Senators have signed on." SB2 would attempt to improve the public education system, by raising teacher salaries to the national average, creating textbook and technology endowments, and gearing curriculum to prepare students for post-secondary education. The Lieutenant Governor pointed out that the provisions of SB2 are not final, and will be subject to revision over the upcoming months. "This is a starting point, our feet are not in concrete, " said Dewhurst, "Our number one goal is the best education for our children and to provide our homeowners and businesses with the property tax relief they need."
Thursday, Senator Todd Staples of Palestine presented Senate Bill 5, which would overhaul the states beleaguered Worker's Compensation program. "In Texas, we spend far more to treat on-the-job injuries, but we get far worse results," said Staples, "At the same time, our injured employees are off work longer, are less likely to return to work and are often less satisfied with the care they receive." According to Staples, workers comp in Texas costs 25% more than the national average, with poorer results and lower patient satisfaction. SB 5 would reorganize the state's system, creating a single commissioner to oversee the department, making it more flexible and able to respond to market changes. The bill attempts to increase patient satisfaction by increasing the weekly benefits cap and shortening the wait period before injured workers can apply for benefits from four weeks to two.
The Senate also agreed on changes to their voting rules, in order to increase transparency of the Senate's voting process. According to the new rules, all bills of a substantive matter must be decided by a record vote, rather than a voice vote. Also, the rule changes will make voting records more accessible via the Internet.
The Senate will stand in recess next week, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and also as many lawmakers travel to Washington for the Presidental Inauguration January 20th. The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 24th, at 1:30 P.M.