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Senate approves drug-testing bills

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two Senate bills making the award of certain financial benefits for certain individuals contingent on drug testing were passed by the Senate last week and have now moved to the House for consideration.

SB 11 by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would require applicants for benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to submit to a screening for controlled substance use. If the screening assessment indicates good cause to suspect drug use, an applicant would be required to submit to a drug test. A person who fails a drug test would be allowed to retake the test after six months before they could receive benefits.

Notably, the children of an applicant who fails a drug test would still be able to receive benefits through a “protective payee.”

SB 21 by Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) would amend the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act so that the Texas Workforce Commission may drug test applicants for unemployment benefits who fail a pre-screen test and work in certain industries, such as transportation.

In other action, the Senate approved legislation proposing to increase the number of charter schools that could operate in Texas from 215 to 305 incrementally over the next six years. SB 2, by Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston) also would give the state the authority to close charter schools after three years for poor performance.

GOOGLE HAS BIG PLANS

Corporate officers of Silicon-valley based Google Inc., accompanied by Gov. Rick Perry and officials with the city of Austin, on April 9 announced a plan to install Google Fiber – an ultra high-speed fiber optics broadband network with Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second – in Austin in mid-2014.

Google launched a similar broadband infrastructure project in Kansas City, Kan., a few months ago.

One gigabit per second is about 100 megabytes of information transfer per second, or about 100 times faster than what is considered a fast Internet connection presently in the United States.

SALES TAX REVENUES CLIMB

State Comptroller Susan Combs on April 10 reported that state sales tax revenue in March was $1.98 billion, up 5.5 percent compared to March 2012. Combs said her office plans to send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their April local sales tax allocations totaling $521.9 million, up 6.8 percent compared to April 2012.

DROUGHT HITS H2O RIGHTS

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on April 5 informed water rights holders that the agency may need to administer water rights on a priority basis, as long as drought conditions persist.

If restrictions become necessary, junior water rights, or those rights issued most recently, are suspended or adjusted before the senior water rights in the area, the agency said.

Texas remains under a drought-related emergency disaster proclamation originally issued by the governor on July 5, 2011.

Veteran capitol correspondent and legislative analyst Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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