House Bill 5, legislation proposing to change public school testing requirements, and House Bill 4, proposing to fund water infrastructure, drew spotlights at the state Capitol last week.
On March 27, the 150-member Texas House debated and approved the bills, which now move on to the Senate for consideration. Conference committees will be called on to work out any differences that emerge in House and Senate versions of the bills.
HB 4 creates a “State Water Implementation Fund” for water conservation and development projects across Texas under the State Water Plan, a sprawling-in-scope program managed primarily by the Texas Water Development Board.
Water planners predict that over the next 50 years, the state’s water supply will decrease by nearly 20 percent while water needs will increase by about 30 percent. Using money from the state’s so-called rainy day fund, HB 4 would provide local water districts with state-subsidized funding for eligible projects. Primary author of the bill is Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.
HB 5, for Texas schoolchildren and their teachers, reduces the number of end-of-course “high-stakes” tests from 15 to five. The purpose is to let classroom teachers expand the amount of time devoted to gains in student learning as opposed to drilling children with a focus on test performance. HB 5 also modernizes the school ratings system and high school graduation requirements. Primary author of the bill is Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chair of the House Public Education Committee.
In floor debate, questions arose over adequate funding of public education, given the Legislature’s decision in 2011 to reduce state dollars in support of secondary and primary schools by $5.4 billion. It was the chair’s decision that funding is a separate issue not within the scope of HB 5, and therefore, would have to be introduced as separate legislation that could not be brought up without the approval by the full House.
DRUG SCREENING BILL MOVES
Applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would have to submit to a drug screening under SB 11, a bill passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee on March 27.
SB 11, authored by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, does what federal law allows – the drug screening of applicants and the sanctioning of those who fail. Currently, adult recipients must sign a personal responsibility agreement not to use or sell illegal drugs.
According to the Senate news service, “the first time an applicant fails a test, he or she loses personal benefits for six months, but family-related benefits will continue. The second failure results in a loss of benefits for 12 months with an option to reapply after six months if the person enters or completes a drug rehab program. If a person fails a third test, they are out of the program permanently. The bill was amended to add a protective payee provision to make sure that children don’t lose money because of a parent’s drug abuse.”
EDUCATION CHIEF IS CONFIRMED
The Texas Senate on March 27 unanimously confirmed the nomination of Michael L. Williams as commissioner of education and head of the Texas Education Agency.
A former member of the Texas Railroad Commission, Williams, who grew up in Midland, was appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Perry in September.
STATE TO PAY AIR CONTROLLERS
The Texas Department of Transportation on March 28 announced its intention to fund continued service of air traffic controllers who work at 13 municipal airports in Texas.
Loss of funding as a result of federal budget sequestration that recently took effect was given as the cause.
Affected municipal airports on the list include New Braunfels, Brownsville, Easterwood Field at College Station, TSTC Waco, Lone Star Executive Houston, Georgetown Muni, San Marcos Muni, Dallas Executive, Sugarland Regional, Stinson Muni San Antonio, Collin County Regional, Tyler Pounds Regional and Victoria Regional.
INFO SITE GETS NO. 1 RANK
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ “Texas Transparency” website and other measures earned top national recognition, Combs’ office announced March 26.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group ranked Texas number one in its fourth annual “Follow the Money” report on government spending. The group called attention to the Texas comptroller’s www.texastransparency.org and its multiple levels of spending and financial information.
Veteran capital correspondent and legislative analyst Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.