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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Senate finds ways to shore state budget before moving ahead
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 • Posted May 5, 2011

AUSTIN – Big bills continue to rumble around the state Capitol with less than a month remaining until May 30, the last day of the regular 82nd session of the Texas Legislature.

The full House and the Senate Finance Committee have passed versions of the state budget, but last week there was not enough collective will in the Senate to bring the matter up for floor debate: too much disagreement on the particulars. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see a state budget both houses consider fit for delivery to the governor.

In their current forms, the House version cuts spending by $23 billion while the Senate Finance Committee’s version, which pulls $3 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, cuts $17 billion.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved SB 1811 by Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to pump $4 billion in non-tax revenue into the 2012-2013 state budget. Duncan’s bill would make use of accounting strategies, such as moving the state’s final payment of the fiscal year to the Permanent School Fund (more than $2 billion) from August into September, the first month of fiscal year 2011-2012. It would also move up the collection of the state’s franchise tax a month early in 2013 to bring in about $800 million, the Senate Media Office reported.

Another key piece of budget legislation was passed by the Senate: SB 23 by Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. Nelson’s bill would save about a half billion dollars in health care costs over the next biennium by moving Medicaid prescriptions into managed care and increasing managed care for Medicaid patients in South Texas.

TxDOT bill returns to Senate

In the raft of “sunset” bills that determine the fate of state agencies, the House set aside its own version of the Texas Department of Transportation sunset bill, then took up the Senate version, SB 1420 by Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and passed it with 78 amendments.

The bill now goes back to the Senate to see if that body will concur in all those amendments. It probably won’t, and the bill, which shifts more road-building projects into private hands and allows the creation of more toll roads, will be assigned to a conference committee.

House passes redistricting bill

A big piece of legislation the House passed was HB 150 by Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton – the redrawing of House district boundaries.

The bill is structured to help Republicans hold on to power for the next 10 years, even though 2010 U.S. Census data show most of the state’s 4 million population gain in the last decade was overwhelmingly Hispanic. Hispanic Texans do not vote as a bloc but history shows a majority favoring Democratic candidates.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, thanked Solomons, who chairs the body’s Redistricting Committee, and House members in general “for their commitment in passing a map that is fair, legal, and that reflects the demographic changes that our state has experienced over the past decade.”

Solomons, during House floor debate, told members who challenged his map, that he used current Census data to draw the lines and that the state constitution requires him to use that data as the basis for redrawing district boundaries. The federal voting rights law calls for districts to be compact and contiguous and do not disrupt communities of interest.

Gaming legislation hasn’t moved

This session, like many previous sessions, bills have been filed to legalize casino and other forms of gambling. Perhaps the main arguments for passing gambling or “gaming” legislation are (1) to create new revenue streams at a time when state needs it; and (2) to create an in-state option for the thousands of Texans who travel to other states that offer legalized gambling venues.

But opposition among conservatives is strong and pro-gaming bills haven’t made much progress.

House passes state Web ad bill

HB 682 by Fred Brown, R-Bryan, would allow private companies to purchase advertising on the governor’s and state agencies’ Internet sites. The bill was passed by the House and will be considered by the Senate. It is unknown how much revenue Brown’s bill might generate.

More help on data compromise

State Comptroller Susan Combs, in an April 28 news release, offered free credit monitoring to current and former state employees whose personal data was inadvertently but publicly posted on her agency’s Internet site for months.

Combs apologized, listed various actions her office is taking to help affected people, and said her campaign fund would be used to pay for identity restoration services furnished to people who apply for those services.

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