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With 10 days to go until the end of the 140-day 83rd regular session of the Texas Legislature, a committee of House and Senate negotiators on May 17 agreed on a proposed state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Next step is for the 150-member House and the 31-member Senate to accept or reject the work of the negotiators in votes expected to take place May 20 or 21. Pressure is on to get the budget bill to Gov. Rick Perry as soon as possible, while lawmakers carrying hundreds of other bills hope to squeeze as many as possible through the process in the last few days of the session.
Members of both parties in both houses worked furiously to replace as much as possible of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in the 2011 legislative session as part of an across-the-board budget-reducing plan.
The comprise before the Legislature now would increase education funding by about $4 billion and take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure improvements. Another $400 million from the Rainy Day Fund would be added to transportation funding already in the base budget bill.
Complicating the picture is the fact that a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers is required to spend Rainy Day Funds.
DISCLOSURE BILL IS PASSED
On votes of 23-6 in the Senate and 95-52 in the House, the Legislature passed SB 346, legislation that would require politically active non-profit organizations to disclose their donors to the public.
Under the bill authored by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and sponsored in the House by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, groups that spend more than $25,000 a year on political activities would have to report contributions of more than $1,000.
In passing the bill, Geren said donors have every right to give to political groups, but they should be willing to do so in the light of day, just like those who give directly to candidates.
HB 346 was forwarded to Gov. Perry’s desk May 14.
TEXAS FILES SUIT OVER SPILL
Attorney General Greg Abbott, acting on behalf of the State of Texas and several state agencies, on May 17 filed a lawsuit against BP America and a list of other defendants for their roles in the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon offshore oil spill.
Filed in the Beaumont-based U.S. District Court – Eastern District of Texas, the lawsuit seeks natural resource damages, economic damages and civil penalties caused by the five-million-barrel spill.
According to the Office of the Texas Attorney General, Texas is seeking civil penalties for every day of oil discharge and for every barrel of oil that was discharged; lost sales tax, state hotel occupancy tax and mixed beverage tax revenue; revenue lost from state park entrance, facility, activity and concession fees; and damages to natural resources, including wildlife and coastal ecosystems and habitats caused by the released oil and chemical dispersants.
The State also seeks attorneys’ fees, court costs and investigative costs.
TORNADOES HIT NORTH TEXAS
Six people have been confirmed dead as a result of an EF4-rated tornado that hit the city of Granbury on May 15. More than 100 homes were damaged.
Gov. Perry visited the city on May 17 to express concern and condolences, and in his remarks, said, “As a state, Texas sent personnel to assist with search and rescue operations and we stand ready to provide any other assistance Granbury and the surrounding areas may need.”
EMPLOYMENT RATE IMPROVES
Texas Workforce Commission on May 17 reported the Lone Star State’s seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment expanded by 33,100 jobs in April and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.4 percent for the month.
TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar said all major industries in the state added jobs over the last 12 months and the civilian labor force is at an all-time high with more than 12.7 million workers.
SENATOR REACHES MILESTONE
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on May 17 celebrated her 50,000th consecutive vote since the 1987 session of the Texas Legislature, when she was first elected to the Senate. She has never missed a vote.
Senate President Pro Tempore Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said lawmakers’ voting records were checked nationally and, “We found that this record is unique and unmatched.”
Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.