The legislative session started out very slowly. Three months into the session the House had considered zero bills, although 5,000 had been filed at this point. There were many sleepless nights and late-night meetings that lasted until 3 a.m. the following morning!
Judges and commissioners made numerous trips back and forth to Austin during this session. A lot of good work was done by making phone calls and talking to representatives. Many times all this hard work paid off in the form of your bill being passed. In addition, there were dedications to the servicemen and women who died in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The items brought to the House and Senate included the state budget, college tuition costs, hurricane preparedness, juvenile sentences and business taxes. Another hot topic was casino-style gambling. Galveston was in the spotlight and stood to gain if, as some suggested, this activity could help revive the economy of the devastated island. However, this issue did not pass.
For the Coastal States the big issue was the windstorm insurance bill (House Bill 4409). Texas lawmakers passed a bill that would recapitalize the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). In this legislation, two important goals were accomplished from the perspective of the insurance industry. First, unlimited assessments against insurance companies have been eliminated. Second, all such assessments are post-event. Gov. Perry indicated that he would call for a Special Session if the Legislature failed to address the TWIA.
The Senate failed to pass measures to keep key agencies operating without interruption, including TxDOT, and did not address the $2 billion in bond money to keep the state’s primary transportation agency in operation. Perry’s press secretary said that the action by the Legislature, or lack thereof, would not impact the business of state agencies. At a news conference, Democrats were disappointed that the Republican-led Legislature adjourned abruptly. They saw it as a sign of failure to deal adequately with many issues, such as children’s health insurance, insurance reform, prekindergarten funding, and limits on public university tuition.
There is an estimated shortage of 22,000 nurses in Texas. The House voted to send to the governor an incentive program that would encourage nursing schools to hire more faculty and graduate more nurses. The professional nursing shortage reduction program was implemented by House Bill 4471.
There have been allegations of widespread abuse and neglect of state school residents including fights between the residents staged by the state school employees. In Texas there are almost 5,000 residents in 13 state schools. The Texas Senate gave final approval to improving security and oversight of the state’s largest institutions for the mentally disabled. This was one problem that Perry had declared as a top priority of the legislative session. The governor signed two pieces of legislation pertaining to this issue, House Bill 3748 and House Bill 597.
The last day of the session was June 1. The House approved the budget of $182 billion by a 142-2 vote, the final step in the legislative process. The Legislature adjourned about 9 p.m. On July 1, a Special Session was called by Perry to take care of unfinished state business.
The Special Session concluded within a week. The five state departments that were not funded during the Regular Session were funded until the 2011 Regular Session, and lawmakers authorized the issuance of $2 billion in transportation bonds that were approved by Texas voters in 2007.
Terry Simpson,San Patricio County Judge