WEEK IN REVIEW
POLICE REFORM, COLLEGE ENDORSEMENT BILLS CLEAR SENATE
(AUSTIN) — The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would require police officers to intervene when they see a fellow officer act with excessive force. Filed in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, an act which sparked national protests over police accountability, the law proposed in SB 68 might have saved Floyd's life, said author and Houston Senator Borris Miles. "When you look at the film, there were numerous officers standing around, but not one of them thought to intervene with their fellow police officer," he said. Miles, who received unanimous support for the bill, thanked his colleagues and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, for sending a strong message on this controversial issue. "We all know what happened, we all know what took place, but I can assure you my brothers, the leadership in this state is not going to stand by," said Miles.
Also Thursday, the Senate passed legislation that would permit college athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness. The bill, SB 1385 by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would remove barriers to endorsement contracts and other remuneration, but includes limits on what kinds of products an athlete can endorse, banning deals with companies that sell products or service like tobacco, alcohol, or sports betting. Creighton said that while he may not like the direction that college athletics is heading in regards to endorsements, if the state doesn't take action it could see its finest athletes leave Texas for states that allow them to earn money from their on-field performance. "If Texas waits another two years to address the issue, we will see hundreds of Texas' best high school athletes potentially choose to take their talent to other states," he said. Creighton said eight states have already passed such laws and 30 more are considering them. Laws passed in Florida and Alabama go into effect this summer, and the bill approved by the Senate, if signed into law by the governor, would go into effect on September 1st.
In committee this week, members of the Senate Finance Committee approved a plan to put state employee pension plans on the track to solvency. The Employees Retirement System fund has nearly $15 billion in unfunded liabilities and will eventually run out of money, leaving the state on the hook for benefits constitutionally-owed to the state's retired workers, law enforcement and corrections officers, said Houston Senator Joan Huffman. Her bill, SB 321, would change benefit structures for new employees, moving them to a cash-based retirement account, similar to a 401(k), that the state would match at 150 percent upon retirement. This would be paid out in the form of a lifetime annuity. In order to retire the debt on the fund, Huffman's bill would spend $510 million every year through 2053. “I understand this is a long-term financial commitment, but this plan is cost efficient, significantly limits the state’s risk moving forward while still providing a guaranteed benefit to our state employees,” said Huffman. She said her plan will save the state $35 billion in interest payments over the next 32 years, while doing nothing this session would add another $1.5 billion to the fund's debt before the Legislature meets again in 2023.
Wednesday, the Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit state universities from raising tuition more than the rate of inflation for the next five years. Since tuition deregulation was signed into law in 2003, the cost of a college degree in Texas has risen by an average of 66 percent, outstripping income growth and leaving many students awash in debt or even priced out of secondary education. SB 167, by El Paso Senator César Blanco, would prohibit college boards of regents from raising tuition more than the cost of living as determined by the consumer price index. That number has gone up by 12 percent since 2013, compared with an average increase in college tuition of 33 percent over that same period.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 26 at 4 p.m.