Lawmakers will likely have less money to work with than in past years. While the state continues to grow and outpace the rest of the nation, growth has slowed. The state comptroller’s office will release its estimated 2009 budget on Monday.
The wind energy industry will receive plenty of attention during the session. State leaders have to find a way to build transmission lines to distribute energy created by West Texas turbines to the rest of the state. Governor Rick Perry has gone on record saying he wants to create additional tax incentives to bring more energy/tech companies to the state. With the industry growing, lawmakers will also be looking to provide more technology training for state students.
Representative Susan King of Abilene prefiled two bills regarding drive-by shootings. The plans were prompted by the killing of Janie De La Paz in 2007. One bill would provide more training for police officers regarding this type of crime; the other bill would create longer prison terms for drive-by shooters.
Senator Troy Fraser plans to fight the growing price of education. He’s prefiled bills to freeze tuition increases at state colleges. Many lawmakers are concerned students can’t afford to attend public universities and are sacrificing their education by either attending community college for two years or not attending school at all. Other education issues will include more funding for community colleges, increasing financial aid, and providing health benefits for graduate students.
The legislature will also examine the 10 percent rue. It currently allows high school students who finished in the top 10 percent of their class to be admitted to the state university of their chose. The University of Texas is leading the charge against that measure.
Lawmakers must determine the fate of a steroid testing program that critics call a waste of cash. Texas has tested thousands of athletes in the past year. The first 10,000 tests produced only four positive results. Many argue the programs needs to be scaled back if not eliminated all together.
Gun control will likely produce heated debate throughout the session. Two controversial measures that lawmakers must deal with include a plan to allow Texans to openly pack pistols as well as a proposal to allow students bring guns on the campuses of state universities.
You can expect immigration to generate heated debate as well. Lawmakers will examine a law allowing undocumented residents to pay in-state college tuitions. There’s also a proposal to crackdown on business that hire undocumented workers. That proposal isn’t expected to be passed because Democrats will argue immigration is a federal, not state issue. Governor Perry plans to push for more crime-fighting funding along the Texas-Mexico border.
The state’s transportation crisis will come under the microscope. Lawmakers will likely get creative finding ways to generate more money to fund education. They’ll look raising the gasoline tax and allowing local governments more authority to raise taxes for transportation in their areas. Lawmakers will also decide whether to allow a moratorium on privately-funded toll roads to expire.
Legalizing gambling across the state is expected to come up again. It’s failed in the past. However, state finances are tight this time around. Bills will be filed to allow the state to build casinos, allow slots and racetracks, and authorize gambling on tribal reservations. It’s not yet clear if there will be much backing for these bills.
Undoubtedly, there are plenty of big issues to be hatched out. Stick with bigcountryhomepage.com throughout it all for updates on these issues and many others as the session kicks off. KTAB-TV and KRBC-TV will also have reporters in Austin both Monday and Tuesday.