November 10, 2008
On the day that unofficially kicks off the session – the first day to file bills – Sen. Kirk Watson speculated the current economy and last week’s Democratic wins have shifted the ground as lawmakers approach the 81st Session.
Watson, in a broad speech for an audience of business leaders on Monday morning, speculated about the impact of the Democratic wins in the Texas House and Senate – a more bipartisan setting – and noted that no one has a clear idea what kind of impact the combination of Hurricane Ike, the margins tax and the economy will have on the upcoming session, which will kick off on Jan. 13.
“The fact that the House is more bipartisan should make the Senate more bipartisan. They have leverage by virtue of them having to play nice,” Watson said. “So I think what that does is give us more leverage on some issues.”
That’s good for Watson, who is going to take another run at a couple of his favorite issues: an impartial process to create a third public flagship university and a package of bills intended to prepare the state for climate change. Both Barack Obama and John McCain had promised to move forward more aggressively on climate change, indicating a willingness in Washington to tackle the issue, Watson said.
Watson also was the first to file an anti-voucher bill today, proposing legislation that would limit the ability of the education commissioner to hand out grants to private schools. The dropout recovery grants – created under House Bill 2237 – were a source of some consternation among the education community, which saw the grants as an end run around the Legislature on vouchers.
Watson expressed his doubts about going into the session with any wiggle room on the spending side. The margins tax has collected far less than expected. A portion of the estimated excess is intended to balance the margins tax and fill the rainy day fund. And it’s still difficult to predict the trickle down effect of the national economy.
But if there was excess, Watson said he would prefer to see it invested in the state’s future. State leaders must invest in the state in order to maintain its greatness.
Watson, of course, was not the only one filing bills today. In a flurry of news releases from various offices, Senators stressed their agendas for the upcoming sessoin. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh called his package of bills – increasing financial literacy and limiting payday lending – the “Texas Families Agenda.”
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte filed legislation to cap tuition increases, re-regulate insurance rates and address human trafficking. Sen. Judith Zaffirini renewed her effort to expand pre-kindergarten programs. And Sen. Jane Nelson’s office noted that she had filed legislation to address the Health and Human Services audit, expand access to health insurance and put a three-year freeze on tuition rates.