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OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Spigot is open: Flow of legislative bills, resolutions begins

AUSTIN — On Nov. 10, dozens among Texas’ 31 state senators and 150 state representatives, including a few members-elect who won’t be sworn for nearly two months, jumped right in and filed legislative bills in advance of the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes on Tuesday, Jan. 13. 

In all last week, 316 House and 170 Senate bills, proposed constitutional amendments and commemorative resolutions were filed. These are samples of the subject matter in those early-filed bills: acceptable forms of voter identification, use of a portable wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, repeal of the franchise tax, property tax reform, minimum wage increase, changes regarding the offense of student hazing, and free pre-kindergarten in public schools. The bill-filing deadline is the 60th day of the session, March 13. By then, lawmakers likely will have filed more than 10,000 bills and resolutions.

In other news, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who was elected state comptroller on Nov. 4, announced he will resign from the Senate effective Dec. 5. Gov. Rick Perry set Dec. 6 as the date for a special election to fill the seat opened by Hegar’s departure. State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is in the race for the seat. Kolkhorst is chair of the House Committee on Public Health and a member of the House Committee on County Affairs. Others candidates for the seat are expected to file declarations soon. 

New effort to help veterans

A pilot project, the Texas Veterans Initiative, will allow a $1 million investment by the state to match local and private funds to expand and evaluate community-based mental health programs serving veterans and their families.

In a Nov. 10 announcement, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus said that if the pilot phase generates widespread interest from communities around the state, the Legislature could act in 2015 to expand it. The project will be funded through the budget of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“This project brings communities together to provide better outcomes for Texans who served our country in uniform,” Straus said. “It’s a smart, effective way to address an issue that affects veterans across this state. This pilot program is a very good starting point as we head into the legislative session.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek said, “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs currently offers a variety of mental health programs but there are still many gaps and geographic barriers. The Texas Veterans Initiative will create an opportunity for Texas communities to come together to fill those gaps and improve the delivery of mental health services to veterans and their families for years to come.”

Ebola monitoring reaches end

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey announced that the last person being monitored in connection with the state’s three diagnosed Ebola patients would be cleared from twice-daily monitoring by the end of the day on Nov. 6.

According to Lakey’s announcement, some 177 people were monitored because they had contact with at least one of the three Texas Ebola patients, specimens or medical waste. The last person being monitored Friday is a hospital worker who handled medical waste Oct. 17.

Abbott names secretary of state

Governor-elect Greg Abbott on Nov. 11 announced his choice of Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos as the next Texas secretary of state, to succeed Secretary of State Nandita Berry, who was appointed by Gov. Perry and was sworn into office on Jan. 7.

Berry congratulated Cascos, expressed pride in the work she has done over the past year, said she is looking forward to serving out the remainder of her term and then returning to the private sector.

Sales tax revenue increases

State sales tax revenue in October was $2.41 billion, up 12.9 percent compared to October 2013, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said in a Nov. 5 news release. 

Growth in sales tax receipts can be seen across all major economic sectors, Combs said, with notable increases from retail trade and the oil and natural gas-related sectors, plus increased spending by both consumers and businesses.

The comptroller’s office will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their November local sales tax allocations totaling $723.1 million, up 10.5 percent compared to November 2013. 

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