WEEK IN REVIEW
TAX CREDIT SCHOLARSHIPS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS PASS SENATE
(Austin) — A measure that would give businesses tax credits for donating to private school scholarship programs for disadvantaged students got approval in the Senate Monday. The measure is part of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick's school choice agenda, a measure he appeared before the Senate Education Committee to support in March. SB 4, by Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor, would allow a business to deduct up to half of their tax liability for equal donations to a state-approved scholarship program.
Scholarships wouldn't be available to all students, but are instead aimed at lower-income students or students in foster or institutionalized care. In order to qualify, a student must come from a family that makes less than 250 percent of the federal free and reduced lunch program, or reside in foster care or a state institution. Then, the student would be eligible for a scholarship equal to three quarters of the average cost of educating the student in a public school, or about $5900. Private schools that accept the scholarships must be accredited by the state. Public school students could use the program as well, as twenty percent of funds raised by the bill would be set aside for public assistance grants. Qualifying students could receive up to $500 to help offset the cost of transportation, tutoring or other enrichment purposes.
The program would be capped at $100 million, which Taylor says will be enough for 16,000 students to participate in, and counties with populations less than 50,000 would be exempted.
Also this week, the Senate passed a bill that would set up a framework and financial assistance for police departments who want to use body cameras. These devices are intended to record interactions between police and members of the public, and bill sponsor Senator Royce West of Dallas says they decrease the number of incidents involving force as well as complaints and lawsuits against police officers. His bill would not require local law enforcement agencies to use body cameras, but for those that do, it would require them to have a uniform policy on the books to govern use of cameras and video evidence. West said he is working with Senate budget writers to find $10 million to set up a grant program under the Office of the Governor, to which local police departments could apply to defray the costs of purchasing cameras.
The Senate also approved its omnibus border security bill, SB 3, this week. The measure by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell would create two new border facilities, one for training local, state and federal law enforcement for border security operations and another to act as a central database for border crime intelligence. The bill also authorizes the Department of Public Safety to conduct a feasibility study on southbound checkpoints, intended to stop the flow of weapons and money from the U.S. into Mexico. It would also enhance penalties for human smuggling. This bill would work along with the $811 million for manpower, technology and training for border security passed in the Senate version of the state budget.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 27 at 2 p.m.