FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2011
April Fools' day is usually a time for practical jokes and kidding around, but there will be very few laughs at the Capitol as the House considers the serious subject of the state budget on Friday, April 1. While the budget is always important, it is undoubtedly the most significant legislation we will pass this session. In fact, a balanced budget is the only bill the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass. However, it is not the only story happening this week.
Five important things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Budget debated in the House
Late this week the House began debate on the budget. On Thursday the debate centered around addressing a funding gap in the current budget. The House is expected to cut about $1 billion from the current budget and use about $3 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to make up the gap.
The much bigger task ahead is to pass a budget, known as House Bill 1, for the next two years. Members have already filed more than 400 pages of amendments, and the debate is expected to go into Saturday. Any budget passed this weekend is far from the final word on the subject. The budget will still have to make its way through the Senate and then to conference committee where the difference between a House and Senate version are worked out.
2. Water rights protected
On Wednesday, the Senate passed legislation to affirm landowners' rights to water under their land. While Texas has long held the tradition of protecting landowners' right to water, making the rule clear in law is essential to protecting this practice. I was proud to vote for Senate Bill 332 which was also supported by the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
3. Gambling considered
This week a House committee considered proposals to expand gambling in Texas, including large-scale casinos, slot machines at racetracks and expanding gaming on Indian lands. Dozens of citizens and interest groups testified both for and against these measures. While gambling might provide new money for the state, it also takes away. Every dollar that someone spends in gaming is a dollar not spent with other businesses in the state. While there are many proposals to increase gambling in Texas this session, there is strong opposition in both chambers. If you asked me if I thought the Legislature will expand gaming, I would simply say, don't bet on it.
4. Vietnam veterans honored
Last session, the Legislature passed legislation to make March 29 Vietnam Veterans' Day. This year, on that date, the Senate took time out to honor the men and women who served in the Vietnam War. The ceremony included recognizing a Texan Medal of Honor recipient, a former prisoner of war, a widow of a fallen solider and a female veteran who faced combat. The overall message was a reminder that regardless of the conflict, those serving the military deserve the gratitude and support of those at home.
5. Young fundraisers celebrated
On Monday I had the opportunity to welcome two special guests to the Senate floor. Gabriel Thomas McDowell and his brother Drew Christian McDowell were recognized for their work to raise money for cancer research. Ages 6 and 8, these brothers were studying Texas government and noted there is no official state cupcake. Working with their family and the Magnolia Relay for Life organization, the boys held a contest to find the best cupcake in Texas. Their efforts raised almost $2,000 dollars for cancer research and sets an inspiring example of what even our youngest Texans can do to help make our state a better place.