WEEK IN REVIEW
|The thirty one members of the Texas Senate convened in Austin on January 11, 2011 to mark the first day of the 82nd Legislative Session.|
(AUSTIN) — Tuesday marked the beginning of the 82nd Regular Session and Senators came into Austin facing a number of challenges. The biggest challenge will be balancing the state budget, with lawmakers working with almost $27 billion less than last session. The Senate's chief budget writer, Bryan Senator and Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
Ogden used the occasion of the incoming President Pro Tem's address on opening day to lay out his plan for balancing the budget. Funding for education and public health services make up 81 percent of the biennial budget, and Ogden said these funding streams must be reformed if the state is to get into the black. "There's where your hole is," said Ogden. "Four and a half billion dollars in Medicaid and $5.5 billion in the Foundation School Program. We've got to fix that. We can." Ogden added that the state business margins tax, adopted in 2007 to offset property tax cuts, must be tweaked to bring in additional revenue, or Texans will face a necessary increase in property taxes.
Wednesday, the Sunset Commission met to vote on recommendations for agency reforms considered over the interim. All state agencies undergo a periodic review, called the Sunset Process, where a panel of legislators from both houses consider the scope and function of individual agencies and look for ways to make them more efficient and effective. Decisions reached Wednesday would change the face of some of the state's largest agencies. In a cost-cutting measure, the Commission approved combining the functions of the Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission under a new agency, to be called the Juvenile Justice Commission. Members also approved changes to the governing structure of both the Railroad Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation, which would both move from a panel of commissioners to a single commissioner. The new single Railroad Commissioner would be elected in the general election, while the new TxDoT commissioner would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. None of these changes are final; both legislative chambers and the governor must approve the recommendations before they go into effect.
Also Wednesday, Plano Senator Florence Shapiro unveiled legislation that would make it illegal to buy, sell or possess synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. Sold under brand names including K2, Shapiro said these unregulated drugs can be more dangerous than marijuana. Her bill, SB 332, would reflect this by putting synthetic marijuana in the same category of drugs as amphetamines and Ecstacy, making possession or sale of these drugs a felony. Sixteen states and more than 50 Texas cities have already banned K2 and similar products.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 18th, at 11 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol building, for the Inauguration Ceremony for Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.