March 16, 2009
What’s the word for last week? Amazing? Exhausting? Riveting? Shocking? Absurd?
Probably all of them. It was a marathon, a roller-coaster ride – at least, it beat people up about as well as a 26-mile roller coaster could have. I’m told that there was too much yelling going on at times to get much work done.
But after all the strategy and bumping and positioning and shooting, we all saw something just unbelievable.
The Baylor Bears men’s basketball team, they of the 5-11 conference record, made it to the Big 12 Tournament final, playing four games in four days.
OK, OK … they didn’t prevail. That happens sometimes and, yeah, with Baylor men’s basketball, “sometimes” means more times than not. But they played tough, played fair, and made a big statement. And it’s not like they could just change the rules to make sure they’d win.
(Come on, come on. Just a little joke after a long week. However, if you want to read more about the Senate’s debate over voting rights and rules, check out this Watson Wire.)
And as for the Lady Bears basketball team, well, they simply won it all.
Although it may have felt like it at times on Wednesday morning, time didn’t stop for the Senate. And on Friday, the deadline to file bills for the 81st Legislative Session came and went.
I want to devote this week’s Watson Wire to a handful of the bills – all of them beautiful and transformational – that I’ll be trying to pass this session. For more on my above-average bills (or, y’know, other people’s), click here.
Senate Bill 185: This bill would create a long-term plan for higher education in Texas, including a method for determining where additional flagship universities should be located. It creates a commission to study several issues, including the current challenges at our two existing flagship universities and options for creating new top-tier research universities. Read more.
Senate Bill 1601: This gives the state more flexibility so that campuses rated “academically unacceptable” – those that teachers, parents, and principals are working hard to reform – can remain in their neighborhoods and students can have choices about where to attend school. We have a great example of this here in Austin with Johnston High School, which was closed, “re-purposed” and re-named Eastside Memorial High School, all in partnership with the Austin school district and the state. See the bill.
Senate Bill 1763: This allows state money to be used to provide stipends for teachers who meet the achievements laid out by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Nationwide, 74,000 teachers have achieved this status. Currently, only 472 of these teachers are working in Texas. Reports show that National Board Certified teachers generally have a positive impact on student performance and teacher retention – two of our most critical educational issues. See the bill.
Senate Bill 1760: This legislation would expand an existing state program to help some folks open a college savings account or purchase a prepaid tuition contract for a state university. That would provide a big opportunity and incentive for Texas families to start saving for their children’s post-secondary education. Read more.
Senate Joint Resolution 21: This Constitutional amendment would require the state to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program so that taxpayers get back all of the available federal dollars we’re entitled to. It also gradually expands CHIP coverage to 300% of Federal Poverty Level over five years. Mainly, it creates a “floor” for state support of CHIP while leaving the state flexibility to expand current and future programs. Read more.
Senate Bill 1027: This bill fights obesity and diet-related diseases among kids by connecting schools and farms to get fresh fruits and vegetables – and better health practices – in front of Texas children. The bill creates a multi-agency Farm-to-School Task Force that would facilitate local food purchases by school districts, highlight children’s health issues, and increase the demand for fresh, locally grown produce. Read more.
Senate Bill 1100: This bill would bridge the culture-war canyon by reducing unintended pregnancies and curbing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. It expands outreach for family planning services, ensuring accurate and effective sex education in public schools. And it keeps parents fully informed about the content of their child’s sex education instruction. Read more.
Senate Bill 813: This bill would allow people who work for themselves to participate in small employer health benefit plans. Texas law currently defines small employers as those having between two and fifty employees. That means sole proprietors (business owners without employees) aren’t eligible for small group coverage and must purchase insurance in the individual market. This bill gives them access to potentially cheaper health coverage, allows them to join health coverage cooperatives, and provides other benefits. See the bill.
Senate Bill 815: This bill gives health insurance consumers some basic information that will help them compare different health coverage plans, make sure their specific needs are covered, and guarantee they’re getting the best deal. It would create a label modeled on what you see on the side of many groceries, only this label would give you basic details about what your health plan covers and what it costs. Read more.
Senate Bill 1345: Scientists have done great work developing clinically safe and effective, orally administered anticancer medication. However, many insurance companies haven’t kept up – charging a lot more for these oral therapies than the IV ones they’re replacing. This bill would require applicable health benefit plans to provide coverage for a prescribed, orally administered anticancer medication that’s at least as good as coverage for intravenous or injected medications. Read more.
Senate Bill 184: This bill calls on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to recommend strategies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also saving money or costing nothing for Texas businesses and consumers. Texas emits more carbon dioxide than any other state in the country. This bill demonstrates there are plenty of relatively easy and straightforward things we can do right now to take on this issue. Read more.
Senate Bill 541: This bill would create renewable energy manufacturing jobs in Texas by giving extra credit for electricity produced by equipment that’s made in Texas. The bill also increases the goal for generating renewable energy and seeks to build on Texas’ success with wind power by creating another goal for the non-wind renewable energy produced in Texas. Read more.
Senate Bill 608: This bill, which I’ve written about before, would create a Texas Center for Sustainable Business. The Center for Sustainable Business would develop a plan to reduce the state’s carbon emissions in a way that keeps Texas business competitive and rewards Texans for what we’ve done early and what we’ve done well. And Texas would take a more active, badly needed role in the discussion over climate change and what to do about it. Read more.
Senate Bill 1597: Metropolitan Planning Organizations, entities that are federally mandated to do a region’s transportation planning, must draft a new long-range plan every four or five years. This bill requires the ones in Texas to conduct a greenhouse gas emissions analysis for each plan scheduled to be adopted after January 1, 2011. CAMPO, the Central Texas MPO that I chair, is already laying the groundwork for this analysis. Read more.
Senate Bill 1923: This bill identifies a number of existing transportation funds and dedicates them to the Rail Relocation Fund. Voters created this fund in 2005 to improve rail transportation in Texas, but the Legislature has never funded it in a significant way. Not only would this bill do that, but it also would avoid pointless competition between roads and rail by preventing the dedication unless there’s a net gain to the state highway fund. Read more.
Senate Bill 2015: This bill takes a hard look at the way Capital Metro, Central Texas’ transit provider, is being run. It reconstitutes the Capital Metro board of directors to include people with specific business experience, including with finance, accounting and management, while creating more balance and regionalism on the board. It also gives the Central Texas MPO’s regional transportation planning board – comprised mostly of local elected officials – more oversight over fare increases. And it preserves requirements that citizens vote before Capital Metro participates in passenger rail services while also making the rules more consistent with those around the state and nation. Read more.
Senate Bill 736: Billions of dollars have been raised for things like parks, emissions reductions, hospitals, and other important purposes. But the state isn’t spending that money – instead holding onto it to help balance the budget. This bill would end the practice of raising money for one purpose and using it for something else. The bill would also create a cushion to give the state time to prepare a new budget-writing approach and avoid problems in the upcoming budget. Read more.
Senate Bill 737: This would lay the groundwork for an unprecedented Internet transparency system, through which Texans could see exactly how legislators are budgeting taxpayer money. It would allow for the creation of a Google for the budget, where people could ask their own questions about different parts of the budget and get up-to-the-minute answers. Read more.
Senate Bill 739: This would move Texas Performance Reviews – an essential function that monitors how government works – out from under the legislature’s control so we can be sure that legislators aren’t “grading their own papers” when it comes to effectiveness and accountability. These reviews were conducted by the state Comptroller until 2003, when they were shifted under the legislature’s control during a bitter political fight. The bill simply moves them back – increasing their accountability and effectiveness at no cost to the state. Read more.
Believe it or not, those are just highlights of my legislative agenda for this session. It’s going to be a lot of work over the next two and a half months getting these bills into law. Rest assured, I’ll keep you posted.
I also want to point out that I couldn’t do this job without a first-class, smart, dedicated staff. Truly, I’m very proud of them and the work they do.