June 21, 2011
I’ll say one good thing about being trapped at the Capitol this time of year – they keep it cool.
Everywhere else, summer’s started with a vengeance. It feels like August in June. It’s too hot to run pretty much as soon as the sun comes up (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). The kids are out of school and in a pool as much as possible.
Heck, even the Governor’s getting out of town as much as possible. I mean, why else would you run off to places like California and New York while the legislature’s still working?
But in the Capitol, it still feels like springtime. The climate’s controlled. Folks who were working in the mild days of spring still are. And the agenda – running from unwise anti-immigrant bills to short-sighted budget bills to downright bizarre Congressional redistricting maps – seems straight out of a time when highs were just in the double-digits.
Despite the retro-session that won’t seem to end, folks outside the pink building are doing what they’d normally be doing right about now – taking stock of what’s transpired over the last five months and calling attention to the things that are good for Texas and things that are … less so.
I’m proud to have received a few pretty neat special recognitions last week for my work during the regular session.
The Texas Tribune ran a piece where its “Insiders” picked the Top Ten Legislators of the Session, and they put me on that list.
Texas Monthly magazine gave me a shout out with an Honorable Mention as part of its coverage of Texas’ best legislators. They cited my Honesty Agenda for making the “murky” budget-writing process more transparent.
And the Nature Conservancy of Texas gave me its Texas Legislative Leadership Award, in part for passing water stewardship legislation that would create an incentive for property owners to manage their land in a way that encourages water conservation and improves water quality.
In this spirit of retro good-feeling, here’s a look at some of my legislation that’s made it through the how-a-bill-becomes-a-law gauntlet and been signed onto the books. (I recently wrote about some other successful bills and you can check those out here.)
Senate Bill 1325, Save and Match: This bill’s definitely taken the road less-traveled – it was vetoed last session over a technicality and needed to catch a ride this session as an amendment to a different bill (H.B. 3708). But it did become law, and because of it, the state will be required to expand the Texas Save and Match program.
The Texas Save and Match program was created in 2007 to help parents and guardians open higher education savings plans or purchase prepaid tuition contracts for their kids. This year’s legislation will make the program a reality, in part by expanding it so it will be available to more people.
House Bill 1545, November Elections: You may not have noticed, but the City of Austin had a runoff election last weekend. And if you’re like nine out of 10 registered Austin voters, you didn’t vote in it. Such low turnout is a real problem in a democracy. The city is contemplating different approaches to its elections – one might be to move elections to November, when people are often paying more attention and more likely to vote. However, up to now, the state has required Austin to hold its local elections in May.
This bill is the House companion to my Senate Bill 1133, which gives the city the option – and it’s only an option – to move its elections to November.
House Bills 308, 555 and 1395, Boating Safety: Given the time and temperature of the year, getting out on the lake sounds pretty good. I picked up and passed three House bills through the Senate to make sure everyone stays safe. H.B. 308 aligns state law with federal law, requiring – among other things – children under 13 to wear life jackets on any boat that’s less than 26 feet in length. H.B. 555 makes it easier to report boating accidents by requiring folks to notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department about incidents and increasing the threshold for reportable accidents. And H.B. 1395 will phase-in a mandatory boater education system for folks born before September 1, 1993. Right now, about 80 percent of reported accidents involve boat drivers who haven’t taken a boating safety course.
Senate Bill 1044, County Conservation Easements: Landowners already have the ability to preserve rural land and wildlife habitat with what’s known as a conservation easement. This mechanism allows governments, non-profits and others to buy the right to develop property so landowners can keep their property in a natural state without so much pressure to sell it to developers. Counties needed additional authority to take advantage of this tool. My bill grants that flexibility, and it creates additional support for an existing state land conservation program.
Senate Bill 1043, Burning Litter: Think for a second about how hot and dry it’s been over the last few months. Think about all of the grass and plants that have basically turned into kindling. Now think about someone carelessly tossing a still-burning cigarette or match out the window of their car.
Five of the last 10 years have been designated as extreme fire seasons in Texas. And 90 percent of all fires are caused by human mistakes. My legislation should help curb this problem by making it a misdemeanor when someone discards burning litter along a public road and starts a fire.
House Bill 1608, Charitable Contributions by State Employees: Texas already operates a state employee charitable campaign allowing public employees to have money taken out of their checks and donated to their preferred charities. In fact, the program’s grown into one of the most successful of its kind in the country. This bill, which is the companion to my Senate Bill 1287, will allow state retirees to participate in the program, too.