AUSTIN — Republican majorities in committees and in the full House and Senate pushed toward the governor’s desk an assortment of high-stakes legislation in the first 10 days of the special session.
To smooth the way, House leaders used Senate bills as vehicles to carry the budget-related, Medicaid, congressional redistricting and public education finance issues Gov. Rick Perry ordered the 82nd Texas Legislature to address.
Senate Bill 1, the fiscal matters bill that controls the ebb and flow of funding in the 2012-2013 state budget, now moves back to the Senate with 96 House amendments.
One of those amendments, by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, would put a two-year shelf life on the funding formula that resulted in $4 billion in cuts to public schools across Texas under the new state budget.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, successfully attached an important “amendment to an amendment” to SB 2, the supplementary appropriations bill for education in the 2012-13 state budget.
Howard’s amendment would take any revenue above the $6.5 billion projected for the state’s Rainy Day Fund in 2012-2013 and use it to fund enrollment growth in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. SB 2 now moves back to the Senate with 18 House amendments.
Another education-related bill, SB 8 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Dallas, offers teacher furloughs and salary cuts as means to help school districts cope with losses of funding losses.
Passed by the Senate last week and now headed to the House for consideration, the bill would allow districts to give teachers unpaid leave on non-instructional days.
Shapiro said her bill also removes the current salary floor for teachers and does away with the “last-in-first-out” policy when terminating teachers. The bill, if passed in its current form, also will void the contract of any teacher who does not keep up to date with state certification requirements.
Medicaid, the second-biggest piece of the state budget pie behind public education, was addressed and tentatively approved last week by the House in the form of the omnibus health care bill, SB 7 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton.
SB 7 would amend current laws regulating administration, quality and efficiency of health care, health and human services and health benefits programs in Texas.
Among its objectives is the creation of health care compacts to function as a substitute for federally managed health care. The bill also removes a provision of law prohibiting the state Health and Human Services Commission from providing Medicaid using a health maintenance organization in Cameron County, Hidalgo County, or Maverick County.
Redistricting bill moves ahead
SB 4, legislation redrawing U.S congressional districts, tentatively was passed by the Senate on June 6 and by the House on June 10.
The bill by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, plots lines for Texas’ 36 congressional districts, including the four added because of the state’s 20 percent population growth as recorded in the 2010 U.S. Census. A majority of the growth between 2000 and 2010 was in the Hispanic population.
House and Senate Democrats protested the proposed new boundaries for districts in far west Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin areas.
Complaints were brought mainly over the division of communities of interest and the failure to create more minority opportunity districts in which Hispanics of voting age or Hispanic-surnamed residents, or African-Americans could elect candidates of their choice.
State Sen. Kirk Watson protested the cracking of Austin into oddly-shaped slivers instead of mapping it as a compact, contiguous community of interest.
But Seliger and Solomons defended their redistricting job, claiming that it is defensible under the Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers in opposition predicted that the matter will have to be decided by the federal government through the U.S. Department of Justice and courts.
Governor sets prayer day
Gov. Perry, through his official web site, proclaimed Aug. 6 as a “day of prayer and fasting for our nation to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation.”
Perry plans to appear on that day at a public event titled “The Response,” a Christian prayer meeting at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Texas families and the governors of other states are invited.