FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2011
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character wakes up again and again only to find he is stuck living the same day until he finally gets the day right. Going into special session immediately after the regular session sometimes felt like groundhog day. There were several pieces of legislation I voted on five or six times as different versions came through committee and then the Senate.
After 30 days the special session did come to an end. Did we get it right? That is ultimately up to the voters, but I do think we got a lot done. In this last column for the session, instead of telling you five things that happened just this week, I thought we could look back at five areas where the Legislature made reforms during the last six months.
1. Balanced state budget with no new taxes
Though Texas has fared better than other states in the recent recession, the state still faced a significant financial shortfall. The Texas Constitution requires the Legislature to both pass a budget and that it be balanced. It took a special session to complete all the work, but the Legislature passed a balanced budget with no new taxes and protected the integrity of the Rainy Day Fund. To do this, we cut more than $15 billion from current spending levels and focused on the state services that are the most essential including healthcare services and education.
2. Border Security improvements
While border security is ultimately a federal issue, Texas cannot afford to ignore the risks at the state level. This session the Legislature increased the presence of Department of Public Safety officers on the border, improved surveillance, and created policies to help prevent individuals here unlawfully from gaining a Texas driver's license. While the Legislature was ultimately unable to pass a bill outlawing sanctuary cities, many of the provisions of that bill were included in other legislation.
3. Protections for private property rights
Texas has a long history of supporting the rights of private landowners and homeowners. This session the Legislature enacted additional provisions related to eminent domain, which is when the government allows for the taking of private land in the name of the public interest. These reforms include clarifying that eminent domain must only be used for public projects, requiring landowners be compensated for diminished access to their property, and allowing landowners to repurchase their land for the original price if the land is not used for its intended purpose. Additionally, the Legislature passed legislation to strengthen a landowners claim to the groundwater under their property.
4. Preserving veterans' property tax exemptions
One way Texas honors its military is by extending property tax exemptions to our disabled veterans. Sadly, this exemption expires when the veteran passes away and a surviving spouse must then pay property tax that was previously exempted. Under legislation passed this session, surviving spouses may continue to receive the benefit after the death of the veteran. Disabled veterans may also now carry their exemption from one home to another if they move into a different house.
5. Pro-life reforms
The Legislature passed three pro-life reforms this session. The first is a prohibition of using tax dollars to fund abortions, which was passed as part of a larger healthcare reform bill. Second, the Legislature authorized a "Choose Life" specialty license plate where the proceeds will go to adoption programs. The third is a requirement that medical professionals give a woman seeking an abortion the option to view a sonogram of her child before the procedure. This helps ensure that a woman has access to all the relevant information when making such an important decision.
While the legislative session and special session are over, my work continues. Serving you in the Texas Senate is one of the greatest honors of my life. I look forward to getting back to the district and visiting with you about your questions and concerns. While the Legislature will not meet again for another 18 months, now is the time to start thinking about what other reforms our state should consider. Feel free to contact me or my staff at the Capitol office or a district office any time.