WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE APPROVES BALANCED BUDGET REQUEST
(AUSTIN) — The Senate voted in favor of a resolution Wednesday that tells Washington, D.C. that Texas wants a balanced Federal budget. In light of an increasing federal deficit, resolution author Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan said it is the states that must take action. "The Congress is incapable of addressing this issue," said Ogden.
The U.S. Constitution gives states the power to call a constitutional convention if two-thirds of legislatures agree. The Texas resolution would become a permanent petition, applying toward the two-thirds threshold unless recinded by a future legislature. It would also retract Texas' support for a convention if the body went beyond consideration of a balanced budget amendment. For Ogden, the resolution is less about triggering a convention and more about putting pressure on the Congress.
If enough states join the petition, Ogden believes Congress with bring forth a balanced budget amendment before the convention threshold is reached. "Several amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed by the Congress, not because the Congress thought they were good ideas, but in response to the pressure they received from their states," he said.
In committee action this week, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee considered two bills intended to control fees from payday and auto-title lenders. Ft. Worth Senator Wendy Davis said at Tuesday's meeting that a loophole in Texas law lets payday lenders avoid state regulation, and they use this freedom to charge massive fees to their customers. "Payday lenders and car title loan lenders should not be treated differently than other lenders in Texas, avoiding rate regulation, reporting, oversight and investigation because they are functioning within a loophole," she said.
Her bills would allow the state to regulate payday and car-title lenders, and would cap interest rates on payday loans to military members at 36 percent. Committee Chairman John Carona of Dallas said the committee would work with all stakeholders in this issue to protect consumers while still allowing a market for payday lenders. These bills remain pending before the committee.
Houston Senator Rodney Ellis is taking another shot at a statewide smoking ban. Ellis has sponsored bills that would make it illegal to smoke in public places indoors, like bars and restaurants, for the past two sessions, but has been unable to get the bills to the governor's desk. On Thursday he said the third time's the charm. He was joined at a press conference by advocates of a smoke-free Texas to unveil a study that shows the state could save millions from a workplace smoking ban. "A smoke-free workplace law would provide significant benefits to our state's economy by establishing a healthier workforce and significant cost-savings for Texas," he said. Ellis's bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee early next week.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 28th at 1:30 p.m.