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Ellis/Eltife amendment to SB 8 tabled

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

It was one of the most high profile amendments to SB 8, and when it was tabled, a hush came over the Senate chamber.

Sens. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) offered an amendment that would spend available funds to restore the health insurance pass-through to teachers and school support staff, provide for teacher pay increases and ensure that previously ordered textbooks for the state's public schools would be paid for and distributed.

Saying he was in favor of public school reform as well as property tax relief, Eltife noted, "At this point in the process there seems to be a complete impasse." That is the reason, he said, for his and Ellis' amendment. "No one can argue that spending money on teacher pay raises and textbooks does not put money in the classroom."

Eltife said he could not "in good conscience" leave the legislative session without putting forth a proposal for long-needed teacher pay raises, restoration of the health insurance pass-through and textbook purchases...and that would not require passage of another bill to be enacted, as does Shapiro's SB 8.

Saying the amendment was "not a particularly original idea," Sen. Ellis said it is something many members had talked about during the 79th Regular Session and the First Called Session. He said the amendment had been called the "Great Hope" as well as the "Get Out of Dodge Bill." He urged members to "vote your conscience and remember what you said when you asked me to offer it."

Shapiro, in making a motion to table the amendment, said the Senate is committed to continuing to work toward fulfilling its obligation to see that more than just the money allocated by the Ellis/Eltife amendment is allocated to school reform. She said her bill would allocate another $1 billion to provide the schoolchildren of Texas "a lot of other things that are necessary" to reform schools, revise funding elements to put more money directly into the classroom, provide more money for comp ed and other issues.

"If today were the day we were finishing with this session and we only had your idea, I would vote with you," she said. "But I can't do that today because I believe the majority in the Senate still have hope."

Ellis responded by saying that both of their bills are really "Get Out of Dodge Bills," telling Shapiro, "You want to get out of Dodge and get out of a lawsuit." He said he does not think the $2.8 billion in her bill will be "enough to resolve the issues" brought out in the lawsuit which resulted in the state's school finance system being declared unconstitutional. "The harsh reality is - in Texas as in any other state - we get what we pay for." Ellis said the state must "invest more of its resources in our greatest asset - our future - our children."

Ellis said the amendment spends $1.8 million "in right-now money - right now."

The Houston Democrat told Shapiro her bill is contingent on passage of a tax bill "that most members of this body feel has no earthly chance of coming out of this legislature." He said most members voted with Shapiro to suspend the Senate rules to bring the bill up for debate because "they think your bill is not going anywhere."

He said the Senate should "not play fast and loose with the money we know we have."

"This (amendment) was viewed as a safety net," said Eltife, who said it is "critical" that the state pay for textbooks and teacher pay increases and it does not require passage of another bill to go into effect.

By a vote of 17-12, the Ellis/Eltife bill was tabled.