Since we are still working in the special session, there is work to be done and highlights yet to come. However, before we get too far past the end of the regular session, we need to reflect on what we accomplished in the 140 days of the session. More was done than people might realize and Texans will benefit in many ways.
Overall, 1199 bills passed and were sent to the Governor. This is down a bit from our last session due to a desire for smaller government and the greater workload imposed by the major tasks of the budget
The bill with the greatest impact is our budget and this was very challenging. Our needs are great and with tax revenues down, we faced a choice of raising taxes on our families or adjusting our expenses to meet our income. After months of work, we adopted a balanced budget that did not raise taxes and left the bulk of the economic stabilization fund (ESF) intact. We also appropriated $3.2 billion from the ESF the to cover the income shortfall in our current budget which in turn freed up funds for the 2012-2013 budget. It is likely that another $4.2 billion of the $6.2 billion remaining in the ESF will be needed to cover increased Medicare costs in the current budget so keeping the ESF intact is a key strategy to preserve our ability to meet future obligations.
School districts overall saw an increase in state funding of 5.6% to $29.2 billion. This is less than what would have been provided under the formula so districts are faced with about 6% less state funds than they anticipated. Our local school boards now will determine how to address the situation. Some might raise taxes, or spend their fund balances, or reduce their expenses, or use a combination of these options. We are also working now on some mandate relief to give school boards greater flexibility in spending
SB 14 was the long-awaited passage of a requirement for a photo ID for voting. It had failed the last two sessions, even though many voters think that a photo ID is already required. We also passed a number of bills strengthening the integrity of the voting process including HB1570 by Murphy, requiring training for deputy voter registrars. (Yes, some shameless self promotion.)
We passed redistricting plans for the House, Senate and State Board of Education. Texas has grown rapidly and at varying rates over the past ten years so major changes were required. Nevertheless, this was the first time twenty years that the plans were passed in the Regular Session. And during the Special session now underway, we will take on the Congressional redistricting plan. These districts will be in place for the 2102 elections.
We had a number of our larger state agencies undergo the Sunset process. This entails a full examination of an agency’s powers, duties, funding, and organization. The recommendations from the studies are put into the forms of bills which are extremely broad and can get overloaded with amendments and fail. We managed to pass all the Sunset bills this session, including the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Heavy lifting indeed.
Two additional issues merit mention. SB 18 made a number of changes to protect landowners in eminent domain proceedings and preserve private property rights. Frivolous lawsuits will be reduced through HB 274, sometimes referred to as “Loser Pays.” This will reduce the burden on our courts and reduce legal expenses for companies and individuals resulting in greater economic growth.
This article just touches on some of the major issues so please contact me or your legislator if you would like to learn more. I will have another article before the laws go into effect on September 1st to present some of the laws that will affect the daily lives of our citizens. And plan to see at least one more article during the Special Session. The session will end this month, unless we are called back for another. Consider us motivated to complete our assigned work!