Bills are on file for expanded Texas special legislative session

Posted Thursday, May. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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norman The current special legislative session may be limited to bills on political redistricting, but that hasn’t prevented several senators and representatives from filing measures on other topics just in case Gov. Rick Perry finds himself inclined to allow more lawmaking.

If the governor decides to stick with redistricting alone, it could all be over quickly. But “be prepared” is just as good a motto for legislators as it is for Boy Scouts.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, was quick out of the starting gate with Senate Bill 6, which would require adult applicants for welfare benefits to undergo questioning about drug use, and those who show “good cause” would be required to submit to drug tests.

Those who initially test positive for drug use would be disqualified from receiving welfare benefits for six months. A second positive test would bring a one-year disqualification, and a third would make the person permanently ineligible.

The same bill was Senate Bill 11 in the regular session. It passed the Senate and made it to the House floor for debate. An amendment was added requiring legislators to submit to drug tests. The bill died when it ran up against end-of-session deadlines.

Other conservative bills are back for another try in the special session.

Senate Bill 7 by Republican Sens. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville would put new limits on the growth of state appropriations.

Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Gran-bury, would allow concealed handguns inside buildings of colleges and universities.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, has filed Senate Bill 13 to limit abortions performed after 20 weeks post-conception.

On the House side, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, filed House Bill 15. The bill seeks to prevent Texas officials from assisting in the enforcement of federal firearms laws.

Enough of the “red meat” bills.

There are at least two issues left over from the regular session that would be worthy of more effort now, if not for the much-deserved reluctance to open the special session to anything more at all.

One major, generally acknowledged failure of the regular session was lawmakers’ inability to find more funding to meet the state’s enormous transportation needs. As things are now, there’s barely enough money to maintain the roads we have, much less address gridlock problems with anything other than toll roads.

Nichols and Williams have proposed a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 2, to allow some of the state’s oil and natural gas tax revenue that now goes into the rainy-day savings account to be used instead to back bonds for transportation projects.

This deserves serious legislative attention. The state is flush with oil and gas tax revenue. The rainy-day fund was projected to grow to almost $12 billion until lawmakers this year decided to allocate some of it to help finance water projects and other uses.

It’s tough to think about cutting back on savings, but transportation spending needs are real and must be addressed if the state is to continue its economic expansion.

Finally, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, has filed House Bill 10 to allow the issuance of tuition revenue bonds to finance construction at public institutions of higher learning. The list of proposed bond financing includes $64.3 million for additions to a life sciences building at the University of Texas at Arlington and $66.6 million for an interdisciplinary research building at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

It might be too much to ask that Perry would open the special session to discussions of transportation spending and tuition revenue bonds for campus construction without getting into talks about guns, abortion and welfare.

But one can hope.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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