Day 29 of the 82nd Legislature
And we are picking up some steam as the Legislature begins to rumble into second gear. Gov. Perry is scheduled to give his state of the state speech today, with an emphasis on the budget crisis and his proposed solutions. Monday, the Senate Finance Committee heard about how the budget shortfall—and the drastic proposed cuts—would impact public schools. It wasn’t pretty.
But not to worry, Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, has stepped in with his own plan to rescue public education and Medicaid. Meanwhile, a new “sexting” bill has been filed that will reduce penalties for juveniles that can’t keep their hands off their cellphones, and the disputed election contest for House District 48 is one step closer to being resolved.
1. Perry’s Proposal
Governor Perry will get his chance today to explain how he expects to address the staggering budget shortfall without raising taxes or dipping into the Rainy Day Fund. The governor is scheduled to deliver the state of the state speech today along with releasing his budget proposals. Among the governor’s solutions—chopping four state agencies and consolidating 21 others into 11. But it won’t all be bad news. The governor will also challenge state universities to offer a $10,000 degree. Which would be good since the current House draft budget drastically cuts scholarships. [Houston Chronicle] [Texas Tribune]
2. School Daze
During a Senate Finance Committee meeting on education yesterday, Education Commissioner Robert Scott told lawmakers that, just to keep functioning, the Texas public school system would need approximately $6 billion more than what is provided in the current draft of the Senate budget. Without school children to advocate for themselves, the hearing featured lobbyists, advocates and professionals and few conclusions or solutions. But it did feature the committee’s Democrats banding together and arguing for a very different type of budget. [Texas Observer]
3. A Game of Inches
In case the budget isn’t enough drama for you, the election dispute between incumbent Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and former NFL lineman Dan Neil is drawing to a close. More than three months after Election Day, lawyers representing Neil and Howard made their final speeches to Special Master Will Hartnett. Neil’s attorney, Joe Nixon, argued that the vote margin could be as close as 2-3 votes and demanded new elections, while Howard’s lawyer, Buck Wood, disagreed saying, “When you get down to the bottom line, Ms. Howard still wins this election. You don’t get mulligans.” Hartnett is expected to report his findings by the end of the week, and the contest will then be taken up by a special House Committee for a final decision. [Austin American Statesman]
4. Hammond to the Rescue?
In an op-ed to the Dallas Morning News, the Texas Association of Business’s Bill Hammond rolled out a plan to save our sinking budget. Hammond’s plan would tap into the $1.9 billion Available School Fund to save programs like pre-kindergarten and teacher incentive programs, allot approximately $1 billion for video lottery terminals at racetracks and spend an extra 1.2 billion for expanding Medicaid. Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka took issue with Hammond’s insistence on not raising fees and on keeping the teacher incentive programs. Sticking to Republican convictions, Hammond suggested no new taxes, but unlike the Senate’s and the House’s draft budget plans, Hammond’s proposed budget would use $6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. [Burka Blog] [Dallas Morning News]
5. OMG Sexting has GTG.
Some good news for hormonally challenged teens out there: state Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has filed legislation that would change the current “sexting” law for juvenile offenders. Under the proposed legislation, “sexting”—sending sexual images or comments via text message— would be a class C misdemeanor instead of a felony for first-time offenders under the age of 18. The anti-sexting bill would also include a sexting education class for underage offenders and their parents. [Houston Chronicle] [Dallas Morning News]