WEEK IN REVIEW
BILLS MOVE BUDGET CLOSER TO COMPLETION
(AUSTIN) — Two key bills were passed by the Legislature this week, clearing the way for a state budget. While both chambers are expected to cast a final vote on the main budget bill in the form of SB 1 on Saturday, bills that would address state water funding and education cleared each chamber late Wednesday. The first measure, SJR 1, would give voters the option in November to create an account to fund the statewide water plan, which has remained unfunded since the plan was first passed in 1997. The measure that would put money in that account, HB 1025, also passed. That bill would take $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund and put it in that account.
HB 1025 also contained spending measures critical to closing negotiations on education spending for the next two years. It contains $200 million more for education, which combined with increased education dollars in SB1 would increase the amount the state spends on public education by almost three-and-a-half billion dollars over the next two years. Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, who sponsored the bill, said that's an unprecedented amount of new money. "This is the highest that I recall we've ever done, so it's something I think we can all feel good about," he said. HB 1025 was heavily modified by the Senate, and House leadership said it wants a conference committee to be appointed to work out a compromise on the bill.
Also this week, the Senate approved a $600 million tax cut for businesses. HB 500, sponsored by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar, would make permanent the exemption for small businesses that make less than $1 million in revenue, and would give a 5 percent franchise cut next year to all businesses in Texas. "It's simple, equitable, and these provisions will deliver meaningful tax relief for all businesses in Texas," said Hegar. Tax relief, along with water spending, was one of Governor Rick Perry's top priorities for this session as laid out in his annual State of the State address in January.
Texas elementary and middle school students will have to take fewer standardized tests under a bill passed by the Senate Tuesday. HB 866, by Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger, would let students who do well on assessment tests in the 3rd, 5th and 6th grades skip those assessments the following year. "This allows high performing students to focus their time and energy on learning new things rather than focusing on a test every year in which we know what the result will be," said Seliger. A student who performs well enough to earn exemptions in all three years would see the number of assessment tests he or she takes drop from seventeen to ten by the eighth grade.
Monday, Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick of Houston held a press conference to announce the end of a controversial curriculum program. CSCOPE, a standardized curriculum developed by the state's 20 regional service centers and in use in 70 percent of all districts, will no longer be offered in Texas. Patrick said he received a letter signed by all 20 service center directors promising an end to the curriculum after this week. CSCOPE has been under fire all session from parents and lawmakers who say the program lacks proper transparency and input from parents.
The Senate will reconvene Saturday, May 25 at 1:30 p.m.