Legislative Session nears end
By Sen. Robert Nichols
As I write this, we are in the last few days of the Session. Like the state, which has been affected by torrential downpours and floods, the Legislature is working to hold back a flood of bills as we try to beat the deadline. The next time you hear from me the 84th Legislative Session will have adjourned for Sine Die, meaning we have adjourned without setting a date for the next time we will meet, on June 1st.
Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:
Proposed Tax Cuts
Over the past few weeks, the Senate and House have worked on a tax cut agreement for the state. Recently, they reached a compromise on components of a $3.8 billion tax cut package which includes a mix of business and property tax reductions. The Senate has approved House Bill 32 which would cut the business franchise tax by 25 percent. The House approved Senate Bill 1, which would increase the state homestead exemption on school property taxes from $15,000 to $25,000. Both bills must go back to their original chambers to finalize the compromises. If approved by both chambers, Senate Bill 1 will be sent to the voters in November 2015.
While earning my bachelor’s degree from Lamar University, I worked my way through school by setting up stands and selling fireworks. To this day I still love fireworks. I was thrilled to be asked by Rep. James White to sponsor and pass House Bill 1150 in the Senate, which would expand the times of year when fireworks may be sold to the public.
House Bill 1150 would authorize the commissioners court of a county to allow vendors to sell fireworks in that county on and before Texas Independence Day, San Jacinto Day and Memorial Day. This would be in addition to Cinco de Mayo, the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. Texans will now be able to celebrate our important state holidays with a bang.
Teacher Retirement System
At the beginning of this legislative session, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) estimated that its health insurance program, TRS-Care, would run out of money during the 2016 fiscal year with a $768 million shortfall by 2017. To prevent TRS from having to raise the premiums of more than 230,000 retirees or cutting their benefits to cover this shortfall, the Legislature has allocated funding within the state’s supplemental budget to ensure that neither of those things happen.
To better safeguard the program, the Senate has approved House Bill 2974, by Senator Huffman, which would create a joint interim committee made up of members from the House and Senate to develop a strategy for the two healthcare plans, TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare, which are administered by TRS. The committee will examine the financial soundness of both plans, the cost and affordability for eligible persons and access to physicians and health care providers.
Remember the Alamo
Almost nothing is more symbolic to Texas than the Alamo. It stands as a reminder of the famous Texas Revolution battle where 180 defenders died and the famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo’. From its thousands of visitors each year to numerous movies honoring its history, the Alamo is a Texas treasure.
A few months ago, a study was released showing the west side of the Alamo had lost nearly three inches of limestone over a 55-year period. Because of these needed repairs and the lack of a location for the collection of Texas memorabilia donated by Phil Collins last year, the Legislature has appropriated approximately $25 million to preserve and restore the landmark. With this funding, the Alamo will continue to stand for generations to come.
Celebrating ‘The Duke’
This week, in honor of his 108th birthday, I had the privilege of sponsoring a Senate Resolution designating May 26, 2015 as John Wayne Day in Texas and, for the first time, the legendary actor was named an Honorary Texan. I also welcomed his children Ethan, Patrick and Marisa Wayne, as well as his granddaughters Carmela Wayne and Anita Swift to the Senate floor.
John Wayne was the star of many famous movies such as True Grit, Big Jake, McClintock and The Green Berets. He personified the classical cowboy by combining someone who was rough-edged, yet generous and endured courage. Through his acting, he remains a cultural icon and his films continue to appeal to new generations.
Robert Nichols is the Republican Senator for the 3rd District in the Texas Senate.