FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
This week, the Lieutenant Governor began referring bills to committee and we will soon begin to hear them in committee. The legislative process kills more bills than it passes, which I consider a good thing. Only the best legislation which has had significant public input and survived the hearing process should become law.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. Committee Assignments/Hearings
Late last week Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced the Senate Committee assignments for the current session. I am honored I will continue to serve as Chair of Senate Transportation, as well as serving on the Finance, Natural Resources and Economic Development and Intergovernmental Affairs Committees.
The Senate Finance and Natural Resources and Economic Development Committees held their first hearings of session this week. Both committees approved rules which will govern their proceedings throughout session. The Finance Committee will hear the legislative appropriations request from every state agency and higher education institutions as well as hear public testimony over the next few weeks. These requests, are a starting point to determine their budget needs for the next two years.
2. Senate/House Budget Proposals
The primary purpose, and only constitutionally required task, of the legislative session is to prepare a balanced conservative state budget for the following two fiscal years. The House and Senate have released their base budgets, which will serve as the basis for budget negotiations.
Over the next few months the Senate and House will not only reconcile the differences between the two budgets, but will also continue to make new changes and alterations. My priorities this session will include, reducing property and business taxes, increasing funding for education as well finding solutions for transportation funding.
3. Supreme Court and School Finance
The Texas Supreme Court has agreed to take up the school finance case, which will determine whether or not the way the State of Texas funds public school violates the State Constitution. Last year, a state district judge issued an oral ruling in which he found the school finance system unconstitutional, both because of inadequate school funding and because of the way the state distributes money to districts. After this ruling, the state appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has given lawyers on both sides several months to gather information and will not hear oral arguments until August 2015. Because of this, I believe, the Legislature will not tackle school finance before the end of this legislative session. If the current funding system is struck down, Governor Greg Abbott will probably call the Legislature back for one or more special sessions to determine a new school finance system.
4. Superintendents and Farm Bureau
This week, I had the opportunity to speak to Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) at their Annual Leadership Conference, as well as welcoming TFB members who live in Senate District 3 to my office. These men and women represent Texas so well and remind us all of how important agriculture is to our state. It is always an honor to meet with them, as they are working for the interests and livelihoods of rural Texans.
The Texas Association of School Administrators held their midwinter conference in Austin this week. During their visits to Capitol offices, I met with about 25 Superintendents from the 101 school districts I represent in the Legislature. As Senate District 3 is a predominantly rural area, the concerns and needs of its school districts vary from those of a more urban district. Because of this, I appreciate opportunities to talk with educators to better understand how decisions made in Austin are impacting local schools.
5. East Texan in the Super Bowl
This weekend, The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will play in the 49th Super Bowl. While a Texas team might not be playing, we are still represented with many players from our state, in particularly Earl Thomas III from Orange, TX. This year will be his second consecutive Super Bowl appearance with the Seahawks, having played for them since 2010.
In February 2014, Earl started the Earl Thomas III Guardian Angel Foundation which provides resources and assistance to families in need. The Foundation's work includes a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, a winter coat drive, and a free summer football camp for children in Orange. A true inspiration to East Texans, Earl Thomas III is the reason I will be cheering for the Seattle Seahawks this Super Bowl.