SENATE PASSES E-CIG RESTRICTIONS; ALTERNATE PATH TO GRADUATION
|Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo authored a bill to offer an alternative path to graduation for students who don't pass end-of-course assessments.|
(AUSTIN) — This week marks the first week after the constitutional sixty day ban on passing legislation, and the Senate passed its first non-emergency bills of the session Tuesday. In addition to a final vote on Monday's contentious open carry bill, the Senate approved nine others. Among those were a bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and another to offer an alternative way to graduation for students that fail a high-stakes test.
Senate Bill 149, by Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger, would create a mechanism by which high school seniors who have passed all classwork and met all graduation requirements except passing one or two end-of-course assessment exams could still graduate on time. Seliger said that many students who are ready to move on could be stuck in high school in May. "Absent legislative action, up to 28,000 high school seniors will not graduate simply because they cannot pass a high stakes exam," he said. SB 149 would permit the creation of individual graduation committees, comprised of school administrators, teachers, counselors and parents or guardians, that would meet and determine if a student who has met all other requirements besides passing one or two STAAR exams can graduate. The committee's decision must be unanimous. The bill was amended to add data reporting requirements so the state can see how many students graduate each year in this manner, and a two-year sunset provision in the bill means the Legislature will revisit the issue again next session.
The Senate also approved Tuesday a ban on sales of e-cigarettes to minors. These devices which vaporize a liquid containing nicotine which is then inhaled are gaining in popularity on school campuses, said bill author Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen. "I call them training devices," he added, warning that kids hooked on nicotine vapor will go on to smoke tobacco cigarettes as adults. Under SB 97, the penalties for violating this rule would be the same as for other tobacco products; vendors could face fines up to $500 for selling e-cigarettes to minors. People under 18 would also be banned from possessing or using the devices. Both this bill and SB 149 now head to the House for consideration.
In committee action Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee approved two measures that supporters say will equal billions in property tax cuts for Texas homeowners. SB 1 and SJR1, by Committee Chair Jane Nelson, would increase the homestead exemption from the current $15,000 to 25 percent of the median home price in Texas. That is an estimated $33,625 in 2016 and $35,975 in 2017. Because the law would require amending the state constitution, voters would get to decide the issue on the November ballot.
The bill was amended by its author to include a provision that exempts the two measures from the constitutional restriction on spending growth. Nelson has filed a package of legislation to exempt all tax cuts or debt relief spending from the cap, but the amendment added Tuesday would mean that even if that legislation doesn't pass, the money needed to reduce property taxes, estimated by the Office of the Comptroller at $2.1 billion, wouldn't count against the cap in this biennial budget.
The committee also approved measures to cut franchise taxes by $2 billion in the form of Senate Bills 7 and 8. SB 7 would reduce the franchise tax rate and SB 8 would exempt businesses that make less than $4 million in annual revenue from the levy. All bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 18 at 11 a.m.