News Release
February 12, 2015
Contact: Sydni Mitchell
(512) 463-0103
My five cents...
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3

If you watched the GRAMMY awards this past weekend, you would have seen 11 recording artists who were born or based in Texas receive 13 GRAMMY awards. We can all be proud of them for representing our great state.

Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:

1. State Affairs Hearing

Much like last session, many bills regarding gun control have been filed in the Senate this session. The Senate State Affairs committee will hold a hearing this week on two of those bills. The first is Senate Bill (SB) 11 by Senator Birdwell which would allow faculty, staff, students and visitors, who have met the requirement for a Concealed Handgun License (CHL), to carry firearms on a university campus without penalty. The second is SB 17 by Senator Estes, which would allow those with a CHL to carry holstered handguns in public. Currently, Texas allows shotguns, rifles and other long guns to be carried in public, but not handguns.

2. TANF Drug Testing

I have co-authored SB 54 by Senator Nelson, which ensures individuals applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are drug-free as required of participants who receive government assistance through this program. This bill would require every adult TANF applicant, and minor parents if they are the head of their household, to submit to a drug use screening when they apply for and renew their applications.

This bill disqualifies applicants at different levels who fail a drug test. However, children would continue to receive benefits through a "protective payee" even if their parent or caretaker is disqualified for TANF benefits. I believe taxpayer dollars should not be spent to support drug habits. This bill will help an important program continue to provide assistance for those who are trying to better their lives.

3. National Guard at Border

This week I participated in a press conference with Lt. Governor Patrick and other members of the Texas Senate to propose a plan to keep National Guard troops on the state's border through May of this year. Lt. Governor Patrick stated there has been a significant decline in the number of people apprehended trying to enter the country illegally in the last few months, due to the increased enforcement. In addition, he noted that $1.87 billion worth of cartel drugs have been seized. More than $815 million in additional funds is laid out in the Senate budget proposal to continue this surge for a longer period of time.

4. Tuition Set-Aside

In 2003, the Legislature deregulated tuition at institutions of higher education, allowing them to set tuition at a rate necessary to operate their university. At the same time, the Legislature required universities to set aside no less than 20 percent of an undergraduate's tuition and no less than 15 percent of tuition charged to a student in a graduate or professional degree program. This money is used to provide assistance to students with a financial need. While the set-aside was not meant to be an extra charge to the students, universities have to raise their tuition to cover this set-aside.

I recently filed SB 464, which would eliminate these tuition set-aside provisions. While I was not in the Legislature at the time this legislation passed, I believe this is a problem which costs students money. Even if a student has taken out loans to pay for their education, they will have to take out much more than is needed for their own education to pay for someone else's tuition. The set-aside program has created a tax on a student's tuition, an issue I think needs to be addressed and changed.

5. Gun Tax-Free Weekend

I am a co-author of SB 228, which was filed by Senator Brandon Creighton. This bill, which is modeled after the tax-free weekends held annually for gun owners/sportsmen in Mississippi and Louisiana, would create a sales tax holiday for individual purchases of firearms and/or hunting supplies.

As hunting season begins at the end of August or early September, this bill would place this sales tax holiday on the last full weekend in August. It would provide a sales tax benefit to hunters prior to the hunting season and will give retailers in Texas an economic boost. Contributions hunters make when purchasing equipment or licenses to engage in their sport relieves taxpayers from a significant burden of the financing for state wildlife habitat restoration and conservation efforts.