SENATE APPROVES NEW UNIVERSITY RESEARCH FUND
(AUSTIN) — Four of the state's largest university systems would get millions to grow their research departments under a bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday. A priority of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the Texas University Fund create by SB 19 would establish an endowment of around $4.3 billion, the proceeds of which would go to fund research positions and projects at the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, Texas State University, and Texas Tech University. "I know this is a significant investment in higher ed institutions in Texas, but the state must continue to support institutions that do not have alternative sources of revenue to further achieve national prominence as major research universities," said bill author and Houston Senator Joan Huffman . Other university systems could qualify for this endowment if they reach certain thresholds, but right now just these four systems meet the bill's requirements.
Houston Senator Joan Huffman's SB 19 would create a new research fund for UNT, Texas Tech, University of Houston, and Texas State.
The state's two largest university systems, the University of Texas and Texas A&M, get billions each year from the Permanent University Fund, an endowment awarded to the institutions by the Legislature in 1875 when lawmakers gave the systems ownership and mineral rights to 2.1 million acres of state owned land in far west Texas. That turned out to be a wise investment for those two systems, but as other university systems have grown, the fairness of such an exclusive endowment has come into question. Though the TUF endowment won't provide billions in biennial dividends like the 150 year old PUF, state officials expect that will change with time. "The intent… would be to create a new fund that would grow over time so that if we look out decades, Texas would have another fund that would enable those institutions that don't qualify for the PUF to be able to be nationally competitive," said Dr. Harrison Keller, the state's commissioner of higher education at an April 3 hearing on the measure. He said the fund is expected to pay out $240 million to qualifying universities in the next biennium.
Drug cartels would be classified as terrorist organizations under another bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Bill author and Pleasanton Senator Pete Flores said that cartels are no less dangerous than political terrorists. "We know that drug cartels now operate in the same form and fashion as terrorist organizations," said Flores. "While the federal government continues its inaction, Texas needs to implement increased penalties and stronger prosecution tools that make an impact on the crisis occurring on our border and protect our state from future abuse by cartels."
The new designation would put cartels into state and federal intelligence databases and would allow for the enhancement of penalties for drug and human trafficking by prosecuting offenders under the state's emergency declaration statutes. Governor Greg Abbott declared 34 counties on or near the border as under a state of disaster in 2021, and Flores' SB 1427 would permit prosecutors to seek sentences with minimum 10-year terms for anyone caught smuggling drugs or people across the border. "These enhanced penalties will provide law enforcement with the tools they need to combat the crisis at the Texas-Mexico border and will send a message to the bad actors and drug cartels," he said.
A third bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday would prohibit cities and counties from banning gas appliances or passing other greenhouse gas regulations. "Greenhouse gas regulation cannot be piecemeal in the state of Texas," said Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell. "Texas businesses need regulatory certainty in the state and the appropriate regulator: the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality." He said that some cities have considered plans to ban gas stoves, coal power plants, and certain fuels. This drives up living costs, said Birdwell, and creates a patchwork of regulation that discourages entrepreneurship. His SB 784 would make the state, where not preempted by federal regulations, the sole authority to regulate emissions in Texas.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 12 at 11 a.m.