SENATE UNANIMOUSLY PASSES APPROPRIATIONS BILL
The Senate has unanimously passed the general appropriations bill, Senate Bill 1, approving a plan that will allow more than $139 billion to fund all state services and agencies. This marks the first time in recent history that an appropriations bill has been voted out of the Senate 31-0. "I have not seen a budget which brings the views and builds the consensus of all 31 Senators like this budget does," said Senator John Whitmire, who has served the longest tenure of any current Senator.
Nearly 80 percent of the $139 billion budget goes to pay for health and human services and fund public education. SB 1 would increase the state's education budget by some $1.8 billion, with an additional $836 million going to fund state colleges and universities. This amount should be increased to $6.7 billion if the Senate passes its school finance reform bill, Senate Bill 2. SB 1 includes $150 million to cover district debt service costs and more than $300 million to fund textbook purchases.
Under the Senate appropriations bill, enough money is provided to eliminate the waiting lists for Texans who need mental health services, or services for the blind or deaf. It also includes money to reduce all health and human services waiting lists by 5 percent over the next two years, with a goal of eliminating all waiting lists within 10 years. The bill follows the recommendations made in Senate Bill 6, the Adult and Child Protective Services reform bill, by allocating an additional $236 million to APS/CPS to reduce case loads.
The Senate budget addresses the capacity shortage in state prisons by setting aside enough money to lease 3,000 additional beds from county jails. It also creates a new probation-offender program, where probationers who make a technical violation would be remanded to a community rehabilitation facility rather than being sent to state prison. SB 1 also includes pay raises for all state employees, which would give state workers a minimum 9 percent pay increase or $100, whichever is greater. The Office of the Attorney General would get an additional $5.7 million to ensure that it can pay its attorneys a more competitive wage. Other provisions would also increase the pay of Department of Public Safety troopers in an effort to stop turnover.
The budget now travels across the Capitol for consideration by the House. After the House passes an appropriations bill, members of both chambers will come together in a conference committee to hammer out the differences.
The Senate also addressed the issue of school violence this week. Senator Todd Staples introduced Senate Bill 11, which would implement new safety measures at public schools. SB 11 would require schools to formulate a plan of action in case of a violent emergency. It would also mandate new building codes for schools, where offices would be set in central locations and entrances made more secure. The bill would require a security audit every three years to ensure that schools follow the new rigorous safety procedures. "I believe SB 11 will take Texas the extra step further to ensure our schools, law enforcement, first responders, and students know best how to detect, deter, and respond in an emergency," said Staples.
The Senate will be on an extended break because of the Easter holiday, and will reconvene Tuesday, March 29th, at 11 a.m.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.