FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
March is always a busy month in the Capitol as many families, students and teachers make their way to Austin during their spring breaks. We enjoy seeing everyone, but there is, of course, no spring break for legislators as final bills are filed and committee agendas are full of potential legislation.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. Operation Strong Safety
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently released their Operation Strong Safety (OSS) report. In June 2014, the Legislature directed DPS to conduct a surge operation with its local, state and federal partners in the most heavily exploited areas along the Texas-Mexico border. The operation, which integrates local, state and federal ground, marine, air border security assets around the clock along the border, was put in place to decrease cartel drug and human smuggling.
At the end of the first week of operation, there were 6,606 illegal alien apprehensions along the border. By week 11, the numbers had decreased to 2,000 and have consistently remained low. More than 180 tons of cartel drugs, totaling around $2.3 billion, which were destined for retail markets around the state and nation were apprehended. The Texas Senate has proposed more than $815 million in additional funds in the Senate budget proposal to continue this surge for a longer period of time.
2. Bill Filing Deadline
Friday, March 13th is a very important day at the Capitol as it is the bill filing deadline. Each legislative session is 140 days long and the 60th day is always the last day to submit bills. Over the remaining 80 days, bills will be discussed in committees and those that pass will be sent to the House and Senate floors.
Of course, very few bills make it successfully through this process to become law and the system is designed this way on purpose. The writers of the Texas Constitution envisioned a society with small government and little infringement on citizens' rights by elected officials. Many years later, their vision is still being fulfilled.
3. VFD Sales Tax Holiday
In East Texas, we are fortunate to have dedicated men and women who give of themselves to serve as Volunteer Firefighters with little to no compensation. Volunteer Fire Departments (VFD) provide critical services for local communities and respond to almost 90 percent of wildfires in Texas.
I have co-authored Senate Bill 31 by Senator Zaffirini, which would allow Texas volunteer firefighter and emergency services organizations to hold up to 10 sales tax-free fundraisers during a calendar year. Many Volunteer Fire Departments (VFD) depend on various fundraisers for much of their operating revenue. The additional funding raised would ensure VFDs are able to continue to operate in rural areas of the state where public funding is limited.
4. Texas Population Growth
The saying goes that 'everything is bigger in Texas'. This was proven true by a recent report which shows Texas as the country's second most populous state with more than 26 million people. According to the Office of State Demographer, Texas will more than double in population to 54.4 million by 2050 if current migration patterns continue. That is 1.74 times the growth the state would experience from natural population increases.
This increase could have broad implications for the future of our state's economy, quality of life, water and transportation infrastructure and schools. The work we are currently doing in this legislative session becomes more important as we plan for the future of our state and ensuring we are providing the best services to the citizens of the Lone Star State.
5. Phil Collins
This week, the Texas Senate and House passed resolutions naming well known musician and Alamo buff, Phil Collins, an Honorary Texan. This was done in recognition of his donation of over 200 historical artifacts which will be displayed at the Alamo. According to the resolution, Collins has assembled what is considered one of the world's largest private collections of Alamo and Texas Revolution Artifacts. The collection contains hundreds of documents, including a letter from Stephen F. Austin, an 1835 grant of land to Sam Houston, a rifle and leather pouch owned by David Crockett and a knife carried in battle by Jim Bowie.
The members of the Senate thanked him by reciting some of his famous lyrics and joking about "feeling it in the air tonight," and Texas having a 'groovy kind of love' for its newest honorary citizen.