The commanding officer of Fort Hood and a number of soldiers who recently returned from Iraq were on hand in the Capitol today to be honored by the Legislature. Fort Hood Day is an annual tradition for the Legislature, but security concerns required that the venue be moved from Fort Hood to Austin. Major General James Simmons was joined by four veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom to brief the Senate and the House as to the status of Fort Hood operations and the welfare of Texas soldiers currently serving in Iraq. More than 47,000 soldiers from the base located in Killeen are participating in coalition operations in the Middle East, representing a number of different divisions and specialties. Simmons said that during the fighting in Iraq, 2,500 soldiers from Fort Hood have been wounded and 247 soldiers have been killed in action. Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, who represents Fort Hood and carried the resolution honoring the installation in the Senate, said he was deeply proud of all the men and women deployed from Texas. "We stand in the shadow of freedom," said Fraser, "The reason that we can sit here today is because of the efforts of these brave men and women, who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep this country free." Gen. Simmons said that many soldiers from Fort Hood are already in transit back to the United States, and that the bulk of Fort Hood-deployed forces are expected home by April.
The Business and Commerce Committee held its first meeting of the 79th Legislature today, taking up Senate Bill 322, which seeks to deregulate the telecommunications industry in Texas. SB 322, by Business and Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Troy Fraser, would put authority to deregulate telecom markets in the hands of the Public Utilities Commission. "This is one more step in the orderly transition Texas has made of the past decades to move the communications industry from a monopoly to a fully competitive market," said Fraser. The proposed legislation would permit the PUC to determine which markets in Texas could support deregulation, and then deregulate those markets by August 1, 2007. Also in the bill is a reduction of state telephone access fees. The bill would use the federal example of deregulation as a model for the state's own transition. Fraser admitted that any bill passed by the Senate is likely to be very different from the language proposed in SB 322, and that he hopes the committee process will help to create a bill on which everyone in the Senate can agree.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, February 16th, at 11:00 A.M.