WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE MEASURE WOULD TAP RAINY DAY FUND
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved a measure Tuesday, April 23 that would let voters decide whether or not to use almost half of the Rainy Day Fund to pay for state infrastructure and education. The Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, was established to protect the state's credit rating and to deal with any financial emergencies. According to the Office of the Comptroller, this fund will reach almost $12 billion by the end of the next biennium. Though Governor Rick Perry has vigorously defended against using money from the fund to pay for ongoing state expenses, even during last biennium's financial crisis, this session he has been open to using it to pay for certain things. In his State of the State address, Perry advocated taking some money and using it to fund the statewide water plan.
The measure passed Tuesday would direct about $2 billion to pay for water infrastructure, but it also includes money for transportation and education. It would allocate $2.9 billion to the Texas Department of Transportation and $800 million into public education, split between classroom funding and a teacher merit pay program. This package was passed in the form of a joint resolution, which unlike a regular bill, doesn't have to be signed into law by the Governor. Instead, it would put the question in front of the voters in the form of a constitutional amendment on the November 2013 ballot. Before it gets there, though, it must be reviewed and approved by a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives.
On Monday, the Senate passed a bill that includes tough new regulations on short-term loans commonly known as payday loans. Bill author John Carona of Dallas said that some lenders are squeezing their clients for exorbitant fees. "It's important to consumers because in some instances the reported APRs on the products exceed one thousand percent," Carona said of his bill. "I don't believe any of us can feel good about that."
His bill was amended fifteen times on the floor. After all the changes, the final bill would cap annual percentage rates on car title and payday loans at 36 percent. It would also permit debtors to pay back partial amounts, rather than requiring that they can only pay the full amount or nothing. Additionally, it would give clients access to civil suits against short-term lenders that violate state laws, and would permit the state to fine companies who break regulations. That bill now heads over to the House for consideration.
In committee action this week, the Senate Transportation Committee looked at a bill that would ban texting and driving. Forty states and many Texas cities already have laws in place that permit police officers to ticket people who text while driving, but the only statewide restriction applies to school zones. HB 63, sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, would make it illegal to use a mobile device for text-based communication while driving. That bill remains pending before the committee.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 29 at 2 p.m.