FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 15, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
The 84th Legislative session began this week and will soon be in full swing. In the next 140 days we will work to pass a conservative balance two-year budget and consider many things.
As a way to help you keep up with important issues during this time, I will be writing this column once a week to share things we hope are of interest to you which are happening at your Texas Capitol each week.
1. The First Day
On January 13th, I was sworn in for my fourth term as a State Senator. It has and continues to be one of my greatest honors to represent you in the Legislature. Part of the oath of office all members of the Legislature take, calls for us to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of our great state. This is a great reminder that in the busyness of session we should never stray from the guiding principles of our Constitution. I take this pledge very seriously and strive to represent you well in Austin.
2. Revenue Estimates
The primary purpose, and only constitutionally required task, of a legislative session is to prepare and pass a balanced state budget for the upcoming two fiscal years. To provide the Legislature with a guideline as to what revenue is available, State Comptroller Glen Hegar released his Biennial Revenue Estimate. He estimates $113 billion in state revenue will be available for general-purpose spending in the two-year budget period, beginning on September 1st. This number guides the members as they prepare the state's budget.
The Texas economy has continually grown, making these robust numbers in revenue possible, and I know that it will continue to get better. With a surplus in our budget, it is my hope we will have the opportunity to cut both property and business taxes. As I serve on the Senate Finance Committee, I will work hard to help pass a balance budget while limiting unnecessary spending.
3. Letter to the Auditor
I recently sent a letter to the State Auditors office asking for a review of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) procurement processes in awarding a contract for a Texas state hospital to a private firm. In addition to requesting confirmation that their contract practices are following good businesses protocols and are competitively awarded, I asked for a review of whether the contract awardee would be able to provide equal or better services than is already provided by the state. I also asked for verification on how the awardee would be compensated and if an exit plan was in place to address a situation in which costs exceed that which have been projected.
There is no state statute which directs the HHSC to pursue the privatization of state hospital operations. Any question of whether the operations of a state hospital should be privatized, should be considered by the Legislature not a state agency. The Texas Sunset Commission recently reported serious agency failures from HHSC in implementing critical contract management tools. These range from best practices to risk analysis. I believe that to enter into any major new contracts without first implementing these tools is a disservice to all Texans who demand accountability and transparency from their government.
4. DETCOG Reception
The night before the 84th Legislative Session began, many residents from Senate District 3, including County and City Judges, Commissioner and Mayors, attended the Deep East Texas Council of Governments reception. It was a great show of involvement from the people of East Texas who are making their voices heard at the Capitol.
I look forward to working with members of this delegation and would encourage more constituents to become involved. Seeing you at the Capitol is a reminder to me of who I represent in the Texas Senate. As always, feel free to contact your Senate office if my staff or I can assist you.
5. Amnesty for Cupcakes
The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Commissioner Sid Miller recently announced amnesty for cupcakes. The amnesty was granted in an effort on behalf of TDA to spread word they do not prevent parents from bringing cupcakes and other home-brought foods to school to celebrate a student's birthday or a school event.
In 2004, TDA published the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy which restricted foods both sold and given away in schools based on nutritional value. This was repealed last July to give school districts more local control on whether they would prohibit parents from bringing in sweets. So, let the students eat cake!