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Lawmakers start rolling out high-priority legislation

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Capital Highlights

AUSTIN — With the filing of legislation that would give teachers an across-the-board pay increase, Texas lawmakers showed progress toward solving the complex issues of school finance and property tax reform.

Senate Bill 3, passed March 4 by the full Senate on a voice vote, would entitle each classroom teacher and full-time librarian to a state-financed $5,000 increase above their 2018-2019 school year salary. The bill would not stop school districts from providing merit-based raises to teachers in addition to the state’s $5,000 increase.

Authored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, SB 3, if approved by the House, would make the raise effective for the school year beginning in the fall. Nelson said it would cost $4 billion to give the state’s estimated 350,000 teachers the raise, and that funds to cover the pay hike will be in the state budget.

“The one thing we should do, first and foremost, is to recognize the need to uplift our entire teaching profession,” she said.  

Meanwhile, in the west end of the Capitol building, House members have been working on their own school finance reform legislation. House Bill 3 is called “The Texas Plan” by its author, House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Houston.

Huberty said his bill, which has gained bipartisan support and has more than 80 members signed on as coauthors, would invest $9 billion above enrollment growth while addressing student achievement, teacher quality and property tax reform.  HB 3, Huberty added, represents “the first major rewrite of the state’s public school finance system undertaken without threat of a court order.”

A few of the bill’s attributes include:

- Lowering school property tax rates by four cents statewide;

- Funding for full-day pre-kindergarten for low-income students; and

- Increasing the minimum teacher salary schedule.

Disaster relief is goal

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on March 6 joined Senate members in announcing a package of bills dealing with disaster relief and recovery from Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread devastation in the late summer of 2017.  

“We said at the time we would dedicate ourselves to helping people rebuild their homes, their businesses, their communities,” said Patrick.

- SB 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, makes use of the knowledge gained in dealing with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. “Senate Bill 6 will serve as a road map to prepare our state for future hurricanes and natural disasters,” said Kolkhorst.

- SB 7 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would create a financial structure to pay for aid, planning and flood projects, considering that many federal aid programs require that local entities put money up front to qualify for fund matches. Creighton’s bill would tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help local governmental bodies satisfy buy-in requirements.

- SB 8 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would create a statewide flood mitigation plan that divides Texas into regions based on river basins, then allows regional officials and stakeholders to decide what projects they need to protect people and property from flooding. The state would ensure that those plans work with each other and combine them into a statewide plan, according to the Senate News Service.

Revenue total announced

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on March 4 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.796 billion in February, an amount 7 percent more than he announced in February 2018.

“Growth in sales tax revenue was led by remittances from the construction, manufacturing and services sectors. Receipts from information services and restaurants also grew significantly. Receipts from oil- and gas-mining firms remained about the same as a year ago,” Hegar said.

On March 6 Hegar announced the comptroller’s office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special-purpose taxing districts $711.7 million in local sales tax allocations for the month.

The amount is 6.1 percent more than the amount reported a year ago. These allocations are based on sales made in January by businesses that report tax monthly.

Texas lawmaker dies

Former U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall died March 7 in Rockwall. He was 95.

Hall served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 and received a law degree from Southern Methodist University in 1947. He was elected to the Texas Senate in 1962 and served until 1972, when he was first elected to Congress as a Democrat.  

He changed from a Democrat to a Republican in 2004 and continued to serve as a member of Congress until January 2015.