FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 2013
Here in Austin, those of us in the Legislature are in the second week of session and off the starting block, picking up the pace for the long race ahead. I like to say that these 140 days are a marathon, not a sprint. Going into this session, everyone knew it would be a challenging time, and now we see the beginning of some of the issues that will define the course in the coming months.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Senate Balanced Budget Proposal - The primary purpose, and only constitutionally required task, of the legislative session is to prepare a balanced state budget for the following two fiscal years. Comptroller Susan Combs recently announced that we would have an estimated $101.4 billion with which to work, so this week the Senate was able to release what we refer to as our base budget totaling $88.9 billion. It is called the base budget because it serves as the starting point for budget negotiations and is by no means the final word.
The House also released their very similar version of the budget, totaling $89 billion. Over the next few months the Senate and House will not only reconcile the differences between the two budgets, but will make other new changes and alterations.
2. Senate Rules - Additionally, this week the Senate adopted the rules we will use throughout the session, including how many votes are needed to bring a bill to the floor. Traditionally, a two-thirds vote is required in order to hear a bill in the Senate, and the Senate decided to keep that tradition despite some opposition.
The Senate did, however, decide to change the way Sunset bills are considered. These bills include significant reforms for state agencies that have been recently reviewed by the state's Sunset Advisory Commission, of which I am honored to be vice chair. If a sunset bill for a particular agency doesn't pass, the agency ceases to exist. Last session we abolished four agencies, saving the State $161 million.
This session's agencies to be reviewed include the Public Utility Commission, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Railroad Commission.
Traditionally, most sunset bills have been sent to the Senate Government Organization Committee, but under the new rules, each sunset bill will now go to the committee with jurisdiction in that policy area.
3. Working with House members - Senate District 3 overlaps 10 House districts. This means I have the privilege to work especially closely with 10 state representatives who represent some of the same individuals I do. Over the past two weeks I've had the opportunity to visit with most of them and discuss issues on which they are working. As you can imagine, working with the House is important because no bill can be passed by a single chamber. Only by working together can we effectively advocate for the people we represent at home.
4. Timeline of the Session - Although we have now been in session two weeks the Legislature is not allowed to fully pass any legislation in the first 60 days of the 140-day session unless the governor designates an item for emergency legislation. This and other provisions help to place even more value on our time and ensure that only the most pressing issues are able to be addressed. There is a saying in the Capitol that "time kills bad bills" and I have found this to be true. The framers of the Texas Constitution envisioned a citizen legislature which only meets every other year for 140 days, and is therefore unable to infringe too much on citizens' lives. Many years later, their vision is still being fulfilled.
5. Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - On Monday, January 21, the Senate and all other state agencies will be closed in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the significant contributions he made to our nation. President Ronald Reagan first signed this day into law in 1983 and it was first observed in 1986. On this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I invite you to reflect on this great American's work toward racial equality for all Americans and the continuing legacy of his advocacy of nonviolence in that quest. Additionally, I know that many of you will be traveling on this holiday weekend and I'd like to remind you to drive safely!