May 31, 2011
Sine Die is the term they use in the Capitol for the final adjournment on the last day of a legislative session.
As it turns out, it’s Latin for, “See you tomorrow.”
Yeah, the building melted down over the holiday weekend, so we’ll all be back this morning for another round of legislating in a special session. But the bills on the table – particularly the proposal locking in the legislature’s broken promise to adequately fund Texas schools – aren’t likely to change much, unless they get worse.
So, one way or another, the 82nd Legislative Session most likely will be remembered for a budget that targets kids and teachers; for procrastination severe enough to embarrass a seventh grader; for a partisan agenda that’s seemed more about making a political statement than making Texas better; and for a continuing dependency on diversions, debt and deception in the state’s budget and finances.
But, hey, you know, everybody’s tired right now. Everybody’s canceling the one-day vacation plans they made for today. Everybody’s been sobered by the real work and serious issues we still have to do after 140 days.
And here at the Watson Wire, I’m all about making you feel better. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came; on Tuesday mornings, at least, that should be your email inbox.
So let’s take a minute to focus on some of the good bills that came out of this session – namely, mine.
Today, I’m going to focus on a half-dozen bills that are now on the Governor’s desk or that have been signed into law. I’ll be writing over the next few weeks about other successes from this 82nd Legislative Session.
Senate Bill 449 and Senate Joint Resolution 16, Water Stewardship: This November, Texas voters will go to the polls with the chance to enact an innovative law creating an incentive for landowners to manage their property in a way that conserves water and bolsters Texas’ inadequate supply of it. The bill, with the accompanying proposed constitutional amendment (known around here as an SJR), allows landowners to utilize a property valuation for tax purposes – one they already qualify for – if they manage their land in a way that improves water conservation and quality. It’s a unique model for the nation, one I think other states will follow.
Thing is, the vast majority of Texas land is privately owned, so most of our water either flows through or sits under land that’s rightly held by private individuals. At the same time, our population is expected to double in the next 50 years, but our water supply will, at best, remain as it is today – unless the state finds innovative, affordable ways to meet its needs. This legislation offers one such approach. It won’t solve the state’s water problem, but it does show how we can meet this challenge in coming years as our needs grow with our population.
This bill was a bipartisan effort in both chambers, as well as a big priority of the Nature Conservancy in Texas (a group that once gave me its Leadership Award for work I did as Austin’s mayor). I enjoyed working with everyone to get it to the Governor’s desk, and I’m looking forward to seeing the difference it will make.
Senate Bill 407, Sexting: No bill list would be complete without this one, which creates new law to guide law enforcement in how it deals with the issue of “sexting.” It started out as a common-sense, bipartisan effort to address a new, 21st Century legal issue facing kids and prosecutors. It ended up with so much press attention that folks were suggesting that I should drop the word “sexting” into just about everything so I’d get free media coverage.
Under current law, if prosecutors pursue charges against kids who send sexually explicit images electronically, their only real option is to use child pornography laws that are very harsh, as they should be. My bill gives law enforcement an alternative – specifying that minors would face what’s known as “conduct in need of supervision,” while 17-year-olds would face no more than misdemeanor charges – while leaving prosecutors the discretion to pursue felony charges against budding predators.
Senate Bill 329, TV Recycling: This bill creates the Television Equipment Recycling Program, which requires manufacturers who offer TVs for sale in Texas to implement a plan through which their customers can give back and recycle televisions. It’ll give folks a convenient, environmentally responsible alternative to tossing their sets into a landfill or incinerator and allowing the chemicals to seep into land, air and water.
Senate Bill 1331, 911 Lifeline: This is a spin-off of sorts to the Carson Starkey Alcohol Awareness and Education Act, which I passed in 2009 and has middle and high schools teaching kids about the signs, dangers and treatment of alcohol poisoning and binge drinking (it was named for a friend of our family’s who died the year before). This year’s 911 Lifeline bill provides limited immunity for kids who call for help in an emergency situation involving a potential alcohol overdose. Hopefully, it’ll help kids in a bad situation to make the right decision and save someone’s life.
House Bill 1666, Online Harassment: Last session, the legislature passed House Bill 2003, the House companion to my Senate bill creating the offense of online harassment. That law addresses situations in which a person creates a web page or sends an electronic message in the name of someone else without that person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud or threaten someone. This years’ HB 1666 (again, the House companion to my Senate bill) expands protections against online harassment to include more websites.
Senate Bill 356, Texas Campaign Military Medal (signed into law): It feels good to write about this one right after Memorial Day. This bill creates a Texas Campaign Military Medal, recognizing the brave men and women who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn or Enduring Freedom. Before this passed, the only military medal issued by the state has been for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the first Gulf war in 1990-91.
That’s it for this week. I’ll have more special session developments, and more bill summaries to brag about, in coming weeks.