WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE PASSES WATER BILL, RAILROAD COMMISSION REAUTHORIZATION
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved a bill on Monday that would create the organizational framework for a statewide water plan, a task 16 years in the making. The first statewide water plan was passed under Lt. Governor Bob Bullock's leadership in 1997, but since then no water plan has received the funding necessary for implementation. "I don't think he envisioned that 16 years later it would still be sitting on the shelf unfunded," bill author Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay said. His bill would work with another piece of legislation already passed by the Senate to both create the plan and fund it, but the prospect of its passage in the House of Representatives diminished considerably this week.
The Senate plan for funding, SJR 1, would let the voters decide whether to take $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund to act as seed money for loans to regional water authorities to pay for water infrastructure. House Speaker Joe Strauss told reporters this week the chance of that bill passing his chamber are slim to none. The House legislation to appropriate money from the Rainy Day Fund to the water plan died this week on a technicality. With only a few weeks left in the Legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol are looking for a funding vehicle that can find support in the House.
Also this week, the Senate approved a bill that would reauthorize the Texas Railroad Commission for another ten years. This is part of a regular review and reform schedule called the Sunset process, where all state agencies have their scope and functions periodically examined. The Railroad Commission Sunset bill, which passed Thursday, contains ethics reforms and some expanded pipeline regulatory authority, but the most noticeable provision is the one that changes the name of the agency. When it was created in 1891, the Railroad Commission oversaw railroads, but now the agency is the regulatory authority over the Texas oil and gas industry, making it one of the most important and influential state agencies. Lawmakers think that voters, who elect the three agency commissioners, should be aware of the importance of their vote, so they want a more accurate name. Under the bill passed this week, the agency would be called the Texas Energy Resources Commission, a name that will more correctly reflect the scope and function of the agency.
Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that would create a statewide school district for chronically failing schools. The bill would permit the Commissioner of Education to place a school into this district after three years of failing ratings, or after two years if the Commissioner judges the local school board hasn't taken appropriate steps to improve the school. Once a school improves back to an "acceptable" rating, it could then move back into the local school district. This bill won't remove the Commissioner's discretion for other remedial options, but offers another tool for the state to fix failing schools. "I think this is the right thing to do for students that are trapped in low-performing schools," said bill author and Dallas Senator Royce West.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 6 at 11 a.m.