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Texas Senate
March 7, 2013
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The Texas Senate
Members of the Senate Finance Committee look over the proposed budget for the state's higher education system.

(AUSTIN) — Members of the Senate Finance Committee approved the higher education portion of the Senate's version of the budget on Wednesday. The committee is currently in the process of considering workgroup recommendations on major portions of the budget in preparation for a final version to put before the full Senate, which should go before the body in the next two weeks. The higher education budget approved Wednesday would put more money in colleges for financial aid, faculty salaries and medical schools.

One of the goals of the higher education workgroup, according to Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, was to restore some of the funding that was cut last biennium. With the money available to them, the workgroup was able to put back more than half of the college formula funds cut since 2010-2011. This is the money that pays for faculty and the general quality of education for students at state institutions.

The committee also approved a financing plan that will completely change the way community colleges are funded. Under the Senate plan, each school would get a set amount of base funding. Then additional money would be allocated based on two metrics: contact time and student success. Contact time is time that a student actually spends in contact with an instructor or a professor. This time would drive 90 percent of additional funding available to community colleges. Student educational outcome would affect the remaining 10 percent of the money. Senators also came to a resolution on proportional benefits, voting in favor of setting salary and retirement benefits at half of those for 4-year universities.

The Senate Transportation Committee looked at a bill Wednesday that could make it easier to prove you have insurance if you get pulled over. Current law requires that a driver provide proof of financial responsibility in the event of a traffic stop or car accident. Most drivers keep this in the form of a card provided by their insurer, but SB 181 by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar would let you use your smart phone or tablet to provide proof of insurance. Five states have already passed such measures in the past and 21 are considering passage of similar legislation this year. This bill remains pending before the committee.

The Transportation Committee also considered a bill that would require drivers to change lanes or slow down when passing Department of Transportation employees doing roadwork. The state already requires that a driver change to a farther lane or slow to 20 miles an hour below the posted speed limit when passing a stopped emergency vehicle or tow truck. SB 510, by Committee Chair Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, would add TxDOT workers on the side of the road doing construction or maintenance to that group. This bill was sent on to the full Senate.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 11 at 2 p.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.