The status of additional state funding for the Texas Department of Transportation is up in the air as the House and Senate will discuss their differences on approving a bill designed to divert money to the State Highway Fund that helps fund TxDOT.
On April 30 the House approved Senate Joint Resolution 5, which would dedicate $3 billion of revenue from the state sales and use tax to the SHF each fiscal year. However, the bill differs from the Senate’s version, approved March 4. The Senate’s version of the bill would dedicate the first $2.5 billion of motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the state’s general revenue fund and the second $2.5 billion to the SHF. The Senate declined to accept the House’s version of the bill May 4, requiring both chambers to hash out differences in a conference committee.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 149 into law May 11 to become effective immediately. The legislation, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, will establish committees to determine if students who pass classes but fail standardized tests can graduate.
“While it is critical that the state appropriately holds public schools and districts accountable for delivering the best possible education, we must protect Texas students from being penalized as a result of evolving testing standards,” Abbott said in a statement.
On May 7 the Senate passed HB 4, which was filed by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and aims to implement high-quality standards for prekindergarten education. Abbott declared the bill an emergency item and issued a statement saying HB 4 will help strengthen the foundation for student success. At press time he had not signed the bill.
On May 6 chambers of commerce, school boards and superintendents came to the Capitol to voice support for HB 1759, the House’s version of an education budget allocating $3 billion for education. The Senate’s version allocates about $1.4 billion.
At press time HB 1759 was slated to be discussed on the House floor May 14.
On May 7 the Senate’s Health & Human Services Committee voted 8-1 to pass SB 339, which legalizes and regulates the growth of cannabis plants high in cannabidiol and low in tetrahydrocannabinol in Texas.
The bill was referred to the Public Health Committee in the House on May 11 and would allow patients access to cannabis oil for medical use upon the recommendation of two board-certified medical specialists. Cannabidiol oil has been shown to “dramatically decrease” the number of seizures in people with intractable epilepsy—people with a higher risk of a shortened life span, bodily injury or mental health impairment. There are about 149,000 Texans of all ages with intractable epilepsy, the bill states.
Economy and Small Business
Representatives discuss a bill May 5.[/caption]
On May 14 the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee discussed HB 590, which would create corporations to develop and commercialize technologies created by higher education institutions.
HB 40, a bill clarifying that the state—not local authorities—regulates oil and gas activity, was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 6.
In April, Abbott signed into law SB 293, which would allow ESPN, NASCAR and Ultimate Fighting Championship events to be considered eligible for the Texas Major Events Trust Fund.
University presidents Bill Powers and Mark Hussey joined forces earlier in the legislative session, asking lawmakers for funding.[/caption]
Bills slated to bring changes to higher education are still waiting for passage.
A bill that would allow licensed concealed weapon owners to carry firearms on public college campuses was approved by the Senate but still has not been heard on the House floor. A bill repealing a law allowing some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates is waiting to be heard by the Senate but has not cleared its first committee in the House. Some other bills in limbo include those that would issue revenue bonds to help higher education institutions fund projects such as new facilities.
On April 28 the House unanimously approved HB 31, which would decrease the state sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent, and HB 32 by a vote of 116-29, which would reduce the state’s franchise tax rate by 25 percent.
“Today the House voted [for HB 31] to provide all Texans with tax relief that encourages job creation and economic growth,” House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, opposed HB 32, saying the money saved should be spent on state needs including public schools and veterans programs.
“If you think we have enough money in our schools, vote for this bill,” he said. “... If you believe our health care plan is the best plan that we can provide to our Texans, vote for this bill. Otherwise, know we’ve just sent a tax relief bill to the Senate with HB 31.”
On April 28 the Senate passed SB 762, which increases the amount of business personal property that is exempt from property tax from $500 to $2,500.
“Every Texan that owns a small business, is a sole proprietor, LLC or others will love this bill as it saves them time and money,” Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said.