King talks about legislative sessions

Posted Thursday, Jun. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, greeted more than 150 business men and women during a luncheon hosted by the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce.

On June 12, King discussed items the State Legislature addressed during its most recent session, which ended May 26, as well as a handful of issues that are on going in the Special Session scheduled to finish at the end of this month.

“More than 8,000 bills were filed during the regular session,” King said. “Any legislator in the House or Senate can file a bill on any topic in the regular session, but in a Special Session, which the governor calls, the only bills that can be filed have to be on the topic that the governor selects.”

King touched on a variety of topics, such as redistricting, pro-life and transportation issues but began by speaking on changing the state law for capital punishment when it comes to 17 year-olds.

“We’ve got someone here in Parker County that is pending prosecution for capital murder and we can’t do anything about it right now; and there are two other counties that are in a similar situation,” he said.

King said a bill had been introduced to fix the problem and was set to pass with little objection.

“It was around 10 p.m. when a bill came up that would have allowed for drug testing for welfare recipients,” King said. “In other words before you get your check you have to submit to random drug testing. We’ve done that for unemployment compensation.”

He said, however, the bill failed when Democrats filibustered for the next two hours - called “chubbing” - to effectively kill the bill.

“We’re going to get it done,” King said. Gov. Rick Perry added the legislation to the call for special session.

During the session, they were able to pass a bill that allowed drug screening for individuals applying for unemployment benefits but due to the filibuster the bill for random drug testing of welfare recipients failed to pass.

King said the regular session was still very much an education session particularly as it related to funding.

He said that it was the 82nd Session (2011) that the legislature walked in the doors having to face a huge budget deficit due to the economy and all agencies, including education, took a hit.

“This session we walked in the door with a much more favorable economic condition and we were able to restore most of the funding cuts to education and fully fund enrollment growth over the next biennium,” King said.

He also addressed standardized testing, which he said he believed started out as a good thing but just got out of hand.

“Finally, through a grass root effort we’ve been able to put a stop to all of that,” King added. “The governor signed a bill - HB 5 - and one of the main components is reducing the burden of state tests that play too large of a role in our education system by reducing the end of course exams from 15 to five.”

He said it will allow some flexibility for students to explore their individual interests as they prepare for higher education and the workforce.

King also addressed pensions as it relates to teachers.

“The Texas Retirement System (TRS) is the seventh largest retirement system in the world,” King said. “One in 20 Texans are a member of it. When we began session, TRS had over $26 billion of unfunded liabilities.

“We successfully passed SB 1458 which provided reform to halt the expansion of TRS’ unfunded liabilities, and returns TRS to actuarial soundness.”

For the first time, King said legislators, teachers unions and retired teachers associations alike came to the table to work toward a solution.

“At the end of the day, we had something that maintains the retirement system in almost the exact form it was,” King said. “If you’ve been teaching for more than five years, there will be no impact at all.”

He said there were adjustments made where everybody decided to kick in some money - the schools about a percent and a half of their payroll and employees will slowly be increasing contributions.

“As of now, the funds are sound which is a tremendous financial thing for Texas and for our teachers,” King said to loud applause.

The biggest disappointment in the budget for King came in dealing with Health and Human Services most of which he says is “entitlements.”

“The Federal Government doesn’t give us much room with that but [they] gave us more than we took advantage of,” King said. “We have a constitutional duty to pay for education and that right now it’s 37 percent of the state budget.”

He said, ironically, the Health and Human Services as it is now is also 37 percent of the budget and that under increased mandates from Obamacare, Texas’ general revenue spending for Medicaid alone is likely to increase from $16.3 billion in 2012-13 to $38.3 billion by 2020-21.

“I don’t think you can have a state economy continue to survive if your taking that much of your money and placing it into what is almost entirely welfare,” King added. “There are some good things there, but it was exceptionally disappointing that leadership allowed it to grow.”

He said due to the ever-expending mandates from the federal government, increased spending for welfare programs has caused the rest of the budget to suffer.

“Medicaid spending alone has more than doubled in the last decade and is on track to double costs every 10 years,” King said. “Texas must limit the growth on welfare spending, or it will quickly overcome public education and transportation as the single largest item in the budget and become unsustainable.”

He said Perry was frustrated with it as well, but that the good news was the budget still balanced.

Twitter: @Lancewinter

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