Texas lawmakers headed back to Austin for the 83rd Texas Legislative Session that convened on Tuesday, Jan. 8. The session will end near the end of May 2013.
According to McKinney Chamber’s legislative consultant, Angela Hale, this session will feature some familiar faces and familiar issues. However, there also will be more than 40 new faces in this year’s edition of the legislature, and many will interested in chairing committees.
Every session we see some of the same topics appear on the agenda and always a new addition or two this time around, Hale expects legislators to cover:
Public education – The state is currently involved in a lawsuit joined by many school districts across the state alleging the state’s system of providing an adequate and equitable education for all students in the public schools in Texas is flawed. Legislators will tackle the school funding issue again (it may not be until a special session, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit), and whether they will return the more than $5 billion they cut from public education funding in the last legislative session. The school accountability system and student testing are also likely to be hot-button education items of discussion.
Higher education – While the governor wants Texans to be able to get a college education for $10,000, many colleges and universities are dealing with escalating tuition rates and fee increases to help make up loss of state funding. As the student population increases on state-supported campuses, they could get some help with building new facilities to keep up with that growth if a pre-filed bill passes allowing the use tuition revenue bonds (TRBs). TRBs are repaid by the revenue of the project for which the bond was issued or a revenue stream provided by income from tuition charges, rental fees, etc. paid by students or those who use the facilities.
Water – After unimaginable droughts in 2011, House Speaker Joe Straus has indicated water issues will be among the top issues on his legislative agenda. In addition to insufficient water supplies, government entities are also facing water and wastewater infrastructure that is aging and needs serious maintenance or replacement. As well, there’s the $53 billion state water plan that has yet to be funded. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says that The Rainy Day Fund may need to tapped for such funding.
Health care – Delivery of health care to the uninsured and under-insured will likely be a hot topic. Lawmakers will discuss whether they will expand the Medicaid program. Gov. Perry has indicated he is against the expansion and has said Texas will not create a state health care insurance exchange. If the state does not create such an exchange, the federal government will establish and operate one in the state. Lawmakers will also deal with what looks an approximately $4.7 billion deficit in state general revenue funding for Medicaid.
Transportation – Texas is no different than other states that are dealing with a crumbling transportation infrastructure; however because the state is so large, its roadway and bridge problems are multiplied. There has been discussion of raising taxes and fees (such as an increase in the gas tax, an increase in car registration fees, etc.) to raise more revenue just to deal with maintenance of current infrastructure. When it comes to building new infrastructure, there is likely to be increased discussion of public-private partnerships – turning to the private sector as a new source of revenue for building infrastructure and possibly even maintenance and operation.
Guns in schools – After the mass casualties last month at a Connecticut elementary school, legislators could discuss allowing some school officials and teachers to carry handguns on campus.
Other issues – Other possible issues legislators may address inlcude: school vouchers, state employee retirement and health benefits, casino and/or online gaming, foster care, drug testing for welfare recipients, financial aid for higher education … and of course, what to do with the Rainy Day Fund.
Budget – Last, but certainly not least, legislators will discuss the state budget. The Texas Constitution requires our budget to be balanced, so the widespread cuts last year (that prompted lobbying and petitioning by many public school districts, as they lost some funding) will need to be reviewed as our elected officials try to maintain our balance in the budget and continue to meet the needs of the public.
The session is open for 140 days; however lawmakers may be required to remain longer. A special session could add an extra month or more and this has been the case in three of the last four sessions. Many new additions, including freshman to the state legislature, could change voting patterns and make for an interesting session.
Among those heading to Austin are two of McKinney’s own residents, State Senator Ken Paxton and State Representative Scott Sanford. Both spoke recently at the City of McKinney and McKinney Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Legislative Preview. According to State Senator Paxton, “The federal government is more involved in Texas than it has ever been. We need strong leadership in Texas to represent us in Washington. We want to do anything we can to help the city of McKinney.” State Representative Elect Sanford added, “This district and county has amazing people. It’s truly a blessed place."
Collin County Representatives:
Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney
District 8: Most of Collin and part of Dallas County
Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls
District 30: Includes all or part of 18 North Texas counties, including part of Collin County
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker
District 89: Includes all or parts of Parker, Fairview, Lucas, Murphy, Wylie, Lavon, Plano and Allen.
Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano
District 66. Southwestern Collin County, including most Plano, and a small part of northern Dallas County.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano
District 67: Portions of Plano, Allen, Richardson and Dallas in Collin County.
Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney
District 70: North central Collin County, including McKinney, and parts of other communities.
Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco
District 33. All of Rockwall County and part of Collin County.