State Sen. Tommy Williams (District 4) and state Rep. Dan Huberty (District 127) provided an update on the 83rd Texas Legislature to the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 24. The Texas Legislature typically meets every two years for 140 days, with additional 30-day special sessions as needed. Williams provided an overview of the legislative session. “While it wasn’t necessarily pretty to watch, I think that we ended up with a really good result out of the legislative session. Public education, highway funding, and addressing our state’s water needs were the three big issues. We were ultimately able to make significant progress in all those things,” said Williams. Williams discussed some statistics about the state budget and the growth of the rainy day fund. “The budget, for two years, is $197 billion. Our economy is roughly the size of the economy of Australia. In the 2003 session, we had $7 million in the rainy day fund. Today, we have $7.5 billion in the fund.” Williams noted approximately $2 billion is added to the rainy day fund each year from oil and gas severance taxes. “We have been the fastest growing state in the country for almost a decade. In this budget, we cut taxes and fees by $1.4 billion over the next two years. We came up with additional funding for education and we put additional money into public safety. We also put additional money into mental health services, about $289 million dollars. The biggest psychiatric treatment facility in Texas is the Harris County Jail. That’s the most expensive place you can treat a person. People don’t take their meds, they get in trouble and they end up in jail.” Williams also discussed the state water plan, Proposition 6, which will be voted on in November. “We have proposed to take $2 billion from the rainy day fund and move it to the state water infrastructure fund to finance projects by local government units by either loaning them the money or providing credit enhancement to those organizations so they can get a better interest rate. As that money is paid back, it gets recycled and sent back out. We think the $2 billion will fund $30-$32 billion in projects over the next 30 years.” Huberty continued the legislative update with comments on education. “The last legislative session, we had a deficit of $27 billion. One of the biggest cuts we had was in education. We did not fund enrollment growth in the last legislative session. In the last four years, we have had 360,000 children come into the educational system in Texas. [This year,] we put over $3 billion of general revenue dollars back into education.” Huberty has been active in attempting to reduce the number of required standardized tests for all students in all grades. “We reduced the amount of tests in high school from 15 to five. That was a huge issue. I think we overburden our children here in the state of Texas.” Huberty also touched on new legislation, effective a few weeks ago, which permits certain individuals filing for unemployment benefits to be subject to drug testing. “Anybody that goes to apply for a job has to take a drug test, at least that’s how it is at the company I work for. So now, if you apply for unemployment benefits, it’s the same basic process. We are not trying to prevent people from getting the resources they need, we are just basically saying we want you to follow a process, and let’s not have a cyclical result here.” Cutline: State Sen. Tommy Williams (standing) said state lawmakers made “significant progress” on public education, highway funding and addressing water needs during the 83rd Legislature.

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