By Robert Nathan
Killeen Daily Herald
It's almost that time of year when 181 lawmakers from the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate will gather under the dome of the state Capitol in Austin to propose legislation.
The 80th Texas Legislature will convene Jan. 9. Area representatives are offering bills that could reduce property taxes, improve public education and tighten border security. In addition, area lawmakers will continue to push the Texas A&M-Central Texas project.
The Texas Legislature meets in regular 140-day sessions beginning in January in odd-numbered years. In the 79th legislative session in 2005, 9,338 bills were introduced.
The first issue the Legislature will face will be approving the state budget. Comptroller-elect Susan Combs is expected to release a preliminary state budget on Jan. 8.
"The one thing that the Texas Legislature must do is pass a budget each session," said James Cooley, chief of staff for state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. "If they don't do that, then there is no state of Texas, at least as far as anything we pay for."
State lawmakers began pre-filing bills Nov. 13. Delisi pre-filed bills regarding military veterans education benefits and border security. Neither state Sen. Troy Fraser nor state Rep.-elect Jimmie Don Aycock has pre-filed a bill. Aycock will not be able to do so until he is sworn into office on Jan. 9.
The first piece of legislation Delisi filed would expand military veterans' education benefits found within the Hazlewood Act. If passed, the bill would guarantee a tuition-free college education to the children of Texas members of the U.S. armed forces who become totally disabled as a result of injuries or illnesses sustained in the service of their country.
"The advances we are seeing in medical science have enabled us to save the lives of many soldiers who would otherwise have perished from their severe injuries," Delisi said. "However, they may face disabilities afterwards that make a return to civilian employment not viable.
"It is my hope that passing this legislation will give these injured soldiers further reassurance that their children will still be able to go to college."
The other legislation Delisi pre-filed addresses border security issues by tightening penalties for the operation of "document mills" by organized crime, and by requiring all state agencies to estimate the costs to taxpayers of providing services for illegal immigrants.
Cooley said Delisi plans to file additional legislation on border security during the upcoming session. In addition, she is assembling a legislative agenda that covers topics from encouraging classroom teacher longevity to the promotion of electronic medical records.
Now in her ninth term, Delisi said addressing funding for the teacher retirement system will be her most important issue. Cooley said it has the potential of being a $600 million item when it goes before the Legislature.
"My most important budgetary issue for the next session is to restore the Teacher Retirement System to actuarial soundness," Delisi said. "Our retired teachers need to have a pension fund that will sustain them through their retirement with opportunities for increases in benefits. This is must-pass legislation."
Entering his first term, Aycock said he plans to push the Texas A&M-Central Texas project, which is an issue the city of Killeen plans to address in its state legislative agenda.
The Legislature previously cleared the way for the Killeen-area Tarleton campus to become Texas A&M University- Central Texas campus, once it reaches an enrollment equal to 1,000 full-time students. The change in name would also mean a change in control, allowing the Central Texas campus to make its own decisions rather than having them go through Stephenville.
"Some of that still needs to be sorted out," Aycock said. "There are questions remaining on how you trigger the stand-alone (campus) and what would trigger the revenue to try to begin moving dirt and actually having a facility. All of that is still up in the air now."
He said tuition-revenue bonds were authorized, but will not be funded until this session.
Throughout his campaign, the Killeen Republican said he would propose legislation that would reduce property taxes. He said the state must end the "over-reliance on property taxes" and have a system that does not penalize or single out certain types of businesses.
Aycock said provisions were made during a special session of the 79th Texas Legislature that would reduce property taxes, but some complexities have since arisen.
Moving money from the state to local school districts becomes a constitutional issue, he said, because it involves transferring money to local districts without breaking the spending cap.
"That is about all anybody in Austin is talking about right now," Aycock said.
The legislative budget board is expected to make recommendations over the next few days on the property tax issue, he said.
Cooley said Delisi plans to allow property tax cuts to ensure restoration of the same break for elderly and disabled Texans. Addressing homestead exemptions is a piece of unfinished business from the school finance special session.
Cooley speculated that it will be addressed by the Legislature early so it will be on a spring ballot for approval and could be in effect during the next school budget process and while establishing the next property tax rate.
Aycock said he plans to introduce bills regarding water rights. The issue of moving water from one river basin to another will be highly contested in the upcoming session, he said.
Aycock said he also plans to propose a bill regarding needed modifications in the state election process.
Daniel Womack, Fraser's legislative assistant, said the second-term senator plans to introduce legislation related to insurance, telecommunications, banking, and business licensing and regulation. Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was unavailable to comment on details of some of his proposed legislation.
Aside from pushing Texas A&M University-Central Texas, the city of Killeen plans to lobby against appraisal and revenue caps. City Manager Connie Green said the revenue caps would have a negative effect on the city's revenue structures.
The city also plans to push the TEX-21 transportation project. It is composed of 70 cities, counties, companies, transportation authorities and other industry leaders, which advocate for the state's transportation needs.
The proposed Texas T-Bone and Brazos Express Corridor is the city's primary interest in connecting to an intermodal system, city officials said.
The City Council will adopt its state legislative agenda this month. The agenda is a policy document that addresses statewide issues that are important to the Killeen area.
"It is my intent to take that document, and have the mayor and members of the council go with me to visit each one of our state elected officials – our representatives in the House and our senator – prior to the start of the 80th legislative session," Green said.
Contact Robert Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org