FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
Here in Austin, the Legislature has ended our second week of session. We are off the starting block and continue to pick up the pace for the long race ahead. During this time, as more bills are filed and the members have a chance to meet with each other, many of the issues which will define the course of the coming months begin to appear.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. Changing of the Guard
Tuesday was a day of firsts at the Capitol, beginning with the swearing in of Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the newest state leaders in over a decade. Another first is Cecilia Abbot, Governor Abbott's wife, who became the first Latina 'First Lady' of Texas. The swearing in was followed by a barbecue lunch on the lawn of the Capitol and the first inaugural parade down Congress Avenue in over a decade.
After taking his oath of office, Governor Abbott shared his commitment to advancing education in the state, improving roads, expanding water resources and ensuring Texas remains an economic leader. Lieutenant Governor Patrick spoke about his commitment to gun rights and border security as well as maintaining a focus on education and transportation. I look forward to working with both of these men in the future.
2. Voting on Senate Rules
This week, the Senate adopted the rules which will be used to govern the senate body throughout the upcoming session. This included a change in the way legislation is brought to the floor. The long standing 'two-thirds rule', which required at least 21 of the 31 senators to support a bill before it can be brought to the floor, was changed to require a three-fifths (19 senators) vote.
Another change in the rules was the reduction of standing committees from 19 to 14 committees. The Lieutenant Governor will appoint committees chairs and members to each of these committees in the coming days.
3. Small Schools Funding
I recently filed SB 324, which would correct the formulas which fund certain small schools at a lower level. Currently, if a school has an average daily attendance of 1,600 and covers less than 300 square miles, they receive a smaller portion of state funds than a district with the same attendance which covers more than 300 square miles. This bill will alleviate this practice and provide an equal funding formula for all schools in Texas. With an equal multiplier, many schools will be provided additional funding, which will go a long way in helping to improve the education of our students.
A change in the funding formula will affect approximately 450 schools across the state of Texas. This legislation would allow communities the option of maintaining local governance of their school board without having to work around a punitive formula.
4. House Members Breakfast
This week I hosted a breakfast for the 11 state representatives and their staff whose districts overlap my Senate district. This overlap provides me with an opportunity to work closely with the House members who represent some of the same individuals I do. Each session, I make it a priority to work with each state representative to discuss issues they are working on, as well as to share my goals for the next few months. 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.
5. Taking Part
I believe ensuring accessibility and transparency are some of the most important things a Legislature can do. It is a positive way for members to remain accountable to the people they serve. One way we are able to do this is by providing many resources online. You can utilize these resources by visiting www.capitol.state.tx.us . Through this site, you will be able to view a live stream of Senate and House committee hearings as well as watching both chambers when they are in session.
Another tool available is being able to look up bills by subject and keyword, review bill analyses and learn about the possible fiscal implications of a bill. You may also sign up to receive e-mail notifications when bills of interest to you are assigned to committee and then advance through the legislative process. Please also feel free to call my offices to share your opinion on any issues. By keeping abreast of happenings in your State Capitol, you ensure accountability and integrity for all Texans.