State Senate Weekly Review
The Senate budget proposal will come before the full body for a vote next week after unanimous approval from the committee that wrote it. The Senate Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 1 on Wednesday, and several members praised first-time Chairman Tommy Williams of the Woodlands for his transparency and efficiency. The budget was initially proposed at $88.9 billion in general state funds. Committee workgroups added more funding for mental health, public and higher education and women’s health programs, bringing the final tally to $94.1 billion in general state money, and $195 billion if you count federal and dedicated funds. Willliams told reporters after the meeting that he expects the bill to be on the floor next Wednesday.
Once SB 1 is passed by the Senate it will head over to the House for approval. Usually, the House will substitute its version of the budget, House Bill 1, for SB 1, and the Senate will do the same with its budget plan when it receives HB 1 from the House. At that point, the Speaker will appoint five House members and the Lt. Governor will appoint five Senators to meet together in a conference committee. These members will hammer out the differences between the two versions of the budget. Each chamber will vote on the compromised budget bill, and if approved that bill goes to the Govenor’s desk for him to sign into law.
The Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters looked at a bill Monday that would fund the state’s water plan. Water infrastructure has been highlighted by state leadership all session, including from Governor Rick Perry in his January State of the State Address. In that speech, Perry said he would approve using some money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for a one time expenditure to fund water programs. SB 22, by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, would take $2 billion from that fund and place it in a dedicated fund. That money combined with $6 billion in bonding authority would serve as a revolving fund to back loans to regional authorities to complete water plans over the next 50 years. SB 22 remains before the subcommittee.
Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee considered a proposal to cut the number of end-of-course exams required to graduate high school from 15 to 5. SB 1724, by Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick of Houston, would still require students to pass exams for English, Algebra, History and Biology. The bill would also work with Patrick’s proposal to create different paths to graduation for high school students, paths that emphasize college readiness or career training. Students might have to take a different end-ofcourse exam depending on what path they choose, but those four exams would be required for all students. That bill also remains before the committee.
The Senate reconvened on Monday, March 18 at 2 p.m.