Senator Ken Armbrister of Victoria announced Monday the filing of legislation that he called the beginning of the implementation phase of the state's 50-year water plan. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said that the state's population will nearly double over the next 25 years, making the preservation of Texas' water supply a top priority. "If we don't take steps now, to both manage and preserve our precious resources," said the Lt. Governor, "we're not going to have the water resources tomorrow that we need." Senate Bill 3 would take steps to preserve estuaries and bays, change water management strategies, and provide a funding mechanism for water infrastructure.
SB 3 would set up a system to maintain the health of the state's bays and estuaries through the inflow of freshwater reserves. Texas' costal waterways, said Armbrister, are a source of significant income for the state. "The importance of healthy bay systems in Texas is critical to the environment and to the state's economic growth," said Armbrister. "A healthy Texas coast has a multibillion-dollar impact on our economy." The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would manage this project, following recommendations of the Environmental Flows Commission and science advisory commissions that study the question of costal health through proven scientific methods.
The state has identified $98 billion in necessary water infrastructure construction and upgrades over the next 50 years, but does not yet have a mechanism through which to fund the cost. SB 3 would levy a small fee, currently set at 13 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water use per month. The first 5,000 gallons of monthly water use would be exempted from this fee. At 13 cents per 1,000 gallons, the state could expect to raise about $125 million in revenue per year.
SB 3 would also change the management of Groundwater Management Areas (GMA) by requiring oversight by the Texas Water Development Board and a GMA council that would have to approve GMA water plans before implementation. The bill would create a statewide groundwater district for all state-owned lands outside of current water districts, and would seek to maintain a consistent statewide water management policy.
Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee laid out the Senate plan to reform the state's public school system, entitled Texas Children First, in the form of Committee Substitute to House Bill 2. "Our proposal, Texas Children First, aptly states what we believe, that we think it's important to put children first," said Committee Chair Florence Shapiro. "I think that makes a very bold statement that this bill is first and foremost going to do what's right for children." One of the top priorities of the Senate plan is to make post-secondary education the chief goal of the state's middle and high schools. Public school curriculum would be aligned with that goal in mind, and "exemplary" status, as awarded to schools by the Texas Education Agency, would be linked to success with sending students on to college or vocational school. The plan would also increase funding for bilingual education programs, pre-kindergarten, and textbook and technology allotments.
CSHB 2 also includes provisions for a teacher pay raise, between $1,500 and $3,000 per month, moving Texas teachers closer to the national average. Teachers who move to hard-to-staff schools or become certified in a subject where there is need for more teachers would receive incentive bonuses under the Senate plan.
Wednesday, the Senate passed a measure intended to make Texas schools safer. SB 11, by Senator Todd Staples of Palestine, said that the safety of school children is a prime concern for parents. "I'm convinced that our schools are doing a good job being prepared to detect, deter, and respond to acts of terrorism," said Staples. "But we know this is an ever-changing environment, the world we live in today." SB 11 would require every district to formulate an emergency response plan, including provisions for employee training, emergency drills, and better cooperation with local officials in the event of a violent incident. Each school would also have to undergo a security audit every three years to ensure compliance with safety requirements.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 11, at 1:30 p.m.