Legislative Update > 2015 Legislative Updates > March 6, 2015 (Vol. 5, Number 6)

March 6, 2015 (Vol. 5, Number 6)

This Week in Austin...

The spotlight this week in the state's capitol put K-12 education issues, border security and tax relief cuts in the news. While citizens across the state observed Texas Independence Day on Monday, the House and Senate got down to business in a number of committee meetings. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed the issues of Medicaid controls and funding for colleagues in K-12. Higher education captured more attention last week, and some of that news is included here, too.

Chamber Day in Austin Helps Dallas, DCCCD...

Dr. Joe May, DCCCD's chancellor, and Dr. Justin Lonon, executive vice chancellor, were fully involved in legislative activities this week. The Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a day in Austin on Wednesday that featured a series of capitol meetings with elected officials. Drs. May and Lonon spent the day in scheduled meetings, discussing DCCCD's priorities with members of both chambers.

They met with state Sens. Royce West, Don Huffines, Kelly Hancock, and Van Taylor and were recognized with a special resolution in the Senate Chamber. They also met with Speaker Joe Straus and a number of House members, including Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee. Meetings also were held with senior advisors to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

These meetings come at an important time in the legislative session, as the appropriations process is ramping up and the bill filing deadline is next week.

Education Issues Gain Momentum...

Senate budget writers declared that “Tax Relief Week” was under way Monday – and both parties debated whether replacing the franchise tax with another measure is even possible during this session, according to the Texas Tribune (Margins Tax Creates Headache for Senators).

A proposal to restructure public education overshadowed tax relief as Lt. Gov. Patrick and Senate leaders proposed a model for public education reform. Many components of the plan are opposed by public school teachers groups – including letter grades for public school campuses, a statewide district that would manage failing schools and tying teacher performance to compensation. School choice – which would allow parents and students to receive state money and then choose whether to attend public or private schools – will be taken up during the session as well. Read more in the Austin American-Statesman: Texas Senate lays out divisive public education agenda.

Mid-week, the Senate Education Committee also approved a measure that would affect higher education if the bill is eventually passed. The committee unanimously approved legislation that would allow thousands of high school seniors to receive a diploma without passing state graduation examinations, a requirement that has been in place for the last 28 years, according to the Dallas Morning News (Texas Senate panel OKs bill to exempt thousands from high school graduation exams). The measure by Sen. Kel Seliger would allow high school seniors who could not pass all five Texas end-of-course exams to bypass the graduation test requirement if they qualify for a new exemption created by the bill, which now goes to the full Senate.

Last week in higher education, Texas lawmakers filed bipartisan bills that are modeled after Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to expand “high quality” pre-kindergarten in the state. Previously, Gov. Abbott designated early education as the first of five “emergency” legislative issues that would make Texas’ education system “No. 1” by focusing on students, beginning with preschool. One of DCCCD's two special priorities for the session is to offer a bachelor's degree in early childhood education – a step that would help solve a qualified teacher shortage for pre-kindergarten. Read more in the Austin American-Statesman: Bipartisan pre-K bills described as ‘first step’.

The Signs of Open Carry...

The Senate's State Affairs Committee heard a bill proposal on Monday by state Sen. Donna Campbell that would allow hefty fines to be levied against governmental entities that improperly restrict concealed handguns on their property (SB 273). Opponents believe that the measure could unintentionally increase citizen complaints and overburden local entities. Open Carry Texas and the Texas State Rifle Association support the bill.

DCCCD and other government entities could be affected by the bill if the legislation passes and campus carry becomes law. Read more in the Austin American-Statesman: Gun bill meets opposition in Texas Senate hearing.

Last week, related to campus carry, the results of a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted in February were released. The poll focused on voters' views about carrying handguns in public. “A strong plurality of 45 percent supported the current framework of licensed concealed carry,” reported Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune.

Another 22 percent were okay with either concealed or open carry with a license. The story stated that two-thirds of the survey respondents overall supported licensed carry. The remainder of the voters who were surveyed would not allow public carry of handguns under any circumstances, and about one-tenth of those who responded wanted public carry of handguns without a license (otherwise known as the “constitutional carry” option).

Most importantly for the state's colleges and universities, the issue of concealed carry on campus brought an almost even split in responses: 47 percent were in favor and 45 percent were against. Ramsey, who wrote the Tribune's story, provides more statistics about the partisan breakdown of the numbers. Read the full Texas Tribune story: UT/TT Poll Asks Voters to Sound Off on Taxes and Roads.

Bills to Follow...

Several bills became subjects of interest for DCCCD and other community colleges, as well as universities (in some cases), this week:

HB 2138 – Relating to the online publication of information regarding campus expenditures made by junior college districts.

SB 13 – Relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual-credit courses. This bill is the Senate version of HB 505.

SB 947 – Relating to a study and report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on the feasibility of providing off-campus employment positions through the Texas college work-study program.

SB 955 – Relating to permissible locations of open-enrollment charter schools created by institutions of higher education.

Throughout the 84th session of the Texas Legislature, we will continue to have information on the DCCCD website where you can track bills of interest to the district.