Texas lawmakers roll up their sleeves and get down to some serious work this week. From here on out, bills will be flying out of committee to the House and Senate floors for debate.
Finally Funding Water Projects:
Among the bills getting a full debate this week is the water bill. The Texas Tribune's Executive Editor Ross Ramsey said the House is taking up what is by far the most important bill of the week.
“They’ve been talking about [this bill] almost since last session ended," Ramsey said.
"Texas has been in a drought. We’ve got a bunch of little towns that are in trouble of losing their water. Wichita Falls is now on the list of cities that could go to stage 4 the strictest restrictions within 180 days. Which is sort of big news, that’s a city of 100-thousand people.”
STAAR Cuts Get a Vote:
House lawmakers are also taking up a bill that would dramatically change the state’s public education accountability testing system by dropping the number of tests students must pass to graduate high school.
Right now, a student must pass 15 tests throughout high school. The bill, House Bill 5 by Killeen Republican Jimmie Don Aycock would drop that number to 5. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has defended the system that’s currently in place.
“The system that the legislature developed is one that got us to the point where we can have at least some bragging rights as it relates to some of our sub-groups, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. Does it need some degree of modification…I’ll accept that," Williams said.
Williams asks, if cuts must be made, why not a smaller drop to 12 or 8 tests instead?
Trying to Track the Texas Senate:
There's a similar STAAR test bill in the Senate. It could get a vote this week...Or maybe not.
“Well you know the Senate’s a weird place," the Tribune's Ramsey said.
"The House does their calendars in a way where, you can look at the calendar for Monday and say, they’re going to do this and then they’re gonna do this and then they’re gonna do this. In the Senate it’s a much more mystical process. So the Senate comes out and they have a list of things that are on their intent calendar.”
On that calendar this week: a couple of bills that would add new oversight to the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Another would make changes to how the state’s Medicaid acute care services system operates and one that would make it easier for people wrongly imprisoned to sue after their release.
Conservation Leads Water Funding:
House Bill 4 would spend $2 billion out of the state’s so-called Rainy Day fund to get work started on the state’s 50 year water plan. Over the years, a host of projects to keep the water flowing have been proposed, but lawmakers never set aside the money to get any started.
The state is in the third year of drought, and water planners are forecasting that within the next few decades we won’t have enough water to meet demand. So there’s pressure on lawmakers to start a fund that would give out loans to new projects. The bill that hits the House floor Wednesday would put a strong focus on conservation over water supply. That got applause from Laura Huffman, Texas Director for the Nature Conservancy.
“The issues that we were most concerned with was how conservation would be prioritized as the cheapest, most effective water supply strategy," Huffman said. "They’ve put in place a prioritization scheme that would prioritize those projects that have good conservation plans that are implemented.”
So if fast growing Dallas County wants to bring in more water to sate a rapidly increasing population, city leaders could be made to prove Dallas can better use the water it already has. But first things first, the bill must still make it through debate on the House floor and a merge with a competing Senate bill.