Texas Senate Passes Laws in Special Session

The Texas Senate voted unanimously to pass the committee substitute to Senate Bill 1, which lays out the state’s budget for the next two years.  Throughout this special session, lawmakers in Austin have been vehemently defending their views to local constituents while also negotiating with fellow lawmakes from across the aisle.

The Senators’ solution to a drop in state revenue is to make cuts to several agencies; a strategy that differs from the House where members want to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.

Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, laid out the details of the budget bill Tuesday. It allocates $106.3 billion for state spending over the next two years.

Nelson touted the bill gives an additional $450 million to Child Protective Services, to help the embattled agency. She also said the Senate version of the budget fully funds growth in public schools. But it’s worth noting, the Senate version of the bill reduces spending on public education by about $1.8 billion on public education. Nelson explained this is because of property taxes.

“Under our formula, the local share of education funding fills up the bucket first. As local property tax collections go up, the state share goes down. But in the aggregate, funding for education is going up every year,” Nelson said.

The Senate budget also gives less money to state colleges and universities, but Nelson says that funding is cut by just 0.1 percent.

Nelson said the budget is still a work in progress but added she agrees with one of her fellow senators who described it as “lean but not mean.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released the following statement about the passage of CSSB1:

“I am proud to announce that the Texas Senate passed CSSB 1 – the 2018-2019 budget for the State of Texas- this afternoon with a unanimous vote. On this day, in this body, on this budget, we are united and speaking with one voice. This budget reflects Texans’ priorities as conservatives and our commitment to meet the needs of this vast and rapidly growing state despite tough fiscal challenges. CSSB 1 does not raise taxes. It also does not use the Rainy Day Fund, is well within the state’s population growth times inflation and is $500 million less in general revenue than the current budget.

“The Senate Budget maintains our commitment to border security, fully funds public education including projected enrollment growth and effectively sustains funding for higher education institutions. CSSB 1 increases spending on health care, including women’s health and mental health, and addresses the critical needs of Child and Family Protective Services.

“It is particularly important to me that this budget included funding for protective vests that can withstand high caliber rifle fire for law enforcement officers. CSSB 1 also funds new initiatives for P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) to help students pursue technology careers and adds $40 million to help Texas Ports address their infrastructure needs.

“I commend the Texas Senate and especially Chairman Jane Nelson and the Senate Finance Committee for their long hours and very hard work on this budget. They have done a great service for the people of Texas and I want to thank them for their commitment and vigilance.”

The Senate budget bill now heads to the House of Representatives, which took action to address school finance Tuesday.

The House Committee on Public Education passed House Bill 21 to reform the school finance system. HB21 would reduce recapture by $400 million over the next two years.

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) released the following statement on HB21:

“I want to thank Chairman Huberty and the Public Education Committee for their good and swift work on House Bill 21. This bill will improve our schools. It puts more resources into the classroom, reduces Robin Hood and begins fixing our school finance system. It also begins to reduce the pressure on local property taxes, which have been funding a greater and greater share of education. The House will continue to prioritize this bill and others that improve education for more than 5 million Texas students.”

Passing a balanced budget is the only action the Texas Legislature is constitutionally bound to take and lawmakers in both the House and Senate say they are ready to get to work to do just that.

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