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Texas Senate Passes SB 5, SB 6 and Readies For HB 3 on Sunday

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

Reinstating the Texas Education Agency (TEA) appropriation "exactly as it was in Senate Bill 1" from the 79th Regular Session, Sen. Steve Ogden's (R-Bryan) SB 6 today was passed out of the Senate.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the TEA funding in a line-item veto following the regular session, to force the hand of lawmakers to pass legislation addressing public school reform and property tax reduction in the current special session.

In laying out the bill on the Senate floor, Ogden said the bill contains a number of riders. Rider 95, he said, directs $1 million per year of the biennium for an educational outreach program. Rider 96 provides a longevity incentive program for teachers eligible for retirement. Rider 97 provides a contingency appropriation for passage of HB 2 (the school reform bill) of $2.65 billion for $3,500 teacher pay raises. Rider 98 provides $25 million in General Revenue funds for the 2006-07 school year for institutional facilities allotments. The bill also provides funding for the 2002 Proclamation for textbook funding.

Rider 99, explained Ogden, is a contingency appropriation for passage of HB 3, the property tax relief bill, to replace money school districts would lose from the reduction in the tax rate. Rider 100 provides for the Legislative Budget Board to make all TEA riders in SB 1 not vetoed to work with the TEA appropriation. Rider 48 provides funding for a student success initiative for intensive math instructions.

Other funding in the bill includes: $10 million in funding for the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy; $45 million for the El Paso Medical School; a contingency appropriation for HB 6 of $110 million for tuition revenue bonds; a contingency appropriation for passage of HB 11 that would provide a judicial pay raise; the return of a vetoed appropriation for the Military Facilities Commission; reinstatement of a contingency rider for HB 2 relating to the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services to draw down federal rehabilitation funds; and allows the Health and Human Services Commission to reimburse the University of Houston for contract services from tobacco funds.

Ogden said the bill also redirects to the TEA the $22 billion appropriation vetoed in the General Appropriations Bill from the regular session.

"It's a very fair bill. It's a well-crafted bill," said Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville). "That (institutional facilities) adjustment will help many, many school districts to be able to address the infrastructure and facility needs in their district." The appropriation would increase the current funding of $25 million to $75 million.

Lucio also praised Ogden for the funding in the bill for the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy, an issue important to many South Texas and border area legislators.

The Senate passed SB 6 and followed that action with passage of SB 5.

Ogden said SB 5 provides the legislature the ability to fund up to $1 billion additionally to the Committee Substitute to HB 2. There are several dozen endowments created outside the treasury for higher education institutions, he said, and moving them into the treasury would increase by $1 billion the amount for certification.

The bill also gives the comptroller "more flexibility and authority" regarding management of state funds, said Ogden. It requires state funds not deposited in state depositories to be invested by the comptroller in certain agreements, obligations, and accounts.

It requires the attorney general (AG) to provide legal services for delinquent and uncollected obligations to the state and to contract with private vendors to collect the debt for a fee not to exceed 30 percent of the outstanding debt.

After the comptroller has "given up" (on collections), that amount can be turned over to the AG's office to collect or contract out with a private firm to collect. "We already do this now," said Ogden, "but it puts a little more impetus on the comptroller and the attorney general be a little more aggressive" on seeking out payment of debt. Sen. Jeff Wentworth's (R-San Antonio) amendment that would have required the persons with whom the AG contracts to be a licensed attorney was tabled.

The bill also refines sourcing rules for sales tax, he said, providing that retailers collect local taxes regardless of where they sell the taxable services. Ogden explained that last session there was a discussion if sales tax should be collected at the point of sales or the point of receipt. In Texas, it is generally collected at the point of sale.

Ogden then set a 5 p.m. deadline for today, Friday, for members to have their pre-filed amendments to HB 3 (the property tax relief bill) submitted to the Calendar Clerk. The Senate will recess until 2 p.m. Sunday to take up HB 3.