FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2015
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
In classrooms at schools and colleges across Texas, teachers and students are counting down the days until finals are over and they can start their summer vacation. In an almost identical countdown here at the Capitol, legislators are marking the days left until the end of session. As I write this, we have 18 days left in the 84th Legislative Session.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
1. Cannabis Bill
Last week, Senator Eltife passed SB 339, also known as the Texas Compassionate Use Act. This bill would allow regulation, distribution and use of cannabidiol heavy oils (CBD). These oils, which are found in marijuana, have been known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. Intractable epilepsy afflicts approximately 150,000 people in Texas and can cause individuals to suffer from hundreds of seizures each week. CBD would only be distributed to patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.
This legislation limits the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive element in marijuana that can cause a high and increased appetite. CBD is to be used for strictly medical purposes and has no recreational purpose.
2. Budget and Taxes
As the end of the 84th Legislative Session draws near, the Legislature is working hard to hammer out the differences in the two chambers budget and tax cut proposals. While both the Senate and the House believe we should be providing some type of tax cuts for the citizens of Texas, each chamber has a different proposal as to how the state should do that.
To avoid having to come back for a special session, the two chambers must not only agree on the type of tax relief, but also work out the differences for the budget. A special session can last from one to 30 days, at the call of Governor Abbott. As passing a balanced budget is the only constitutionally required task of the Legislature during a session, it is very important that an agreement be made in the upcoming weeks.
3. Pastor Protection Bill
This week, the Senate approved SB 2065 which provides ministers, religious organizations, and their employees the right to refuse to perform a marriage or provide goods, services or accommodations related to a marriage ceremony if the action would violate their religious beliefs. The legislation also stipulates that the above mentioned individuals and organizations cannot be sued for damages, prosecuted for criminal violations or lose tax-exempt status for refusing to provide services or allow use of their facilities to same-sex couples.
I believe we should protect the religious freedoms of the citizens of Texas. I heard from over 350 people in Senate District 3 who were in support of this bill. I appreciate those who take the time to share their support and concern on legislation such as this as it helps me to represent you in the Texas Senate.
4. Secret Providers
The Senate has passed SB 1697 which would keep the names of execution drug providers from the public. Pharmacies and medical companies who sell pentobarbital, the single drug used in Texas to execute inmates who are convicted of capital murder, have expressed fears of harassment and threats by those opposed to the death penalty.
Under this law the identities of the suppliers, prison personnel involved in executions and other information about the drugs will be made a state secret. Inmates and defense lawyers will still be able to learn when the drug was purchased, when it expires, the cost and results of lab tests on the drug's potency.
5. Gov. Perry Portrait Hanging
Recently approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 40 directs the State Preservation Board to acquire and hang a portrait of Governor Rick Perry, the 47th Governor of the State of Texas, in the Texas Capitol. Following a long observed tradition, each outgoing Governor's portrait is hung in the state's capitol rotunda.
When a new portrait is added to the walls of the rotunda, each existing portrait is moved one space to the left, to maintain the tradition of keeping the most recent portraits on the first floor. Starting on the fourth floor, each portrait is taken down individually and inspected for any needed restoration. The entire process can take a couple of days to complete. I have heard that after Governor Perry's picture is hung, there will only be six more open spaces available.