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It’s a wrap. 84th legislative session ended Monday

When the 84th Texas Legislative Session came to a close Monday, a $209.4 billion budget had something in it for many Southeast Texans, and said a lot for a session that was descibed as amicable by a local lawmaker.
The session seemed to go by quickly without the turmoil that has marked previous ones, District 22 Representative Joe Deshotel, R-Beaumont, said.
“We thought there would be turmoil because of the large number of Tea Party members in both the Senate and the House, but we all worked together real well. It was really a pleasant session,” Deshotel said.
Among the gains was $80.5 million in tuition backed revenue bonds to fund construction projects at the Golden Triangle’s four area colleges: Lamar University, Lamar State College – Port Arthur and Lamar State College – Orange, and Lamar Institute of Technology.
The allotments are part of a bigger $3.1 billion worth of construction bonds for 55 Texas college campuses.
Lamar University will see the bulk of the area’s higher educatio funding with $60 million dedicated for a science building. Lamar Institute of Technology plans to utilize $12.5 million for construction and renovation of its technical arts buildings.
The Lamar Orange campus is the recipient of $10 million for a multi-purpose educational building and the Port Arthur campus will get $8 million for expansion of technology program facilities.
The Port Arthur campus plans to consolidate five existing programs in one new central building. The funding will also allow for the addition of a new technology degree and certificate programs.
“The faculty, staff and students are very excited about the State funding that Lamar State College-Port Arthur will receive, “ Betty Reynard, college president, said. “The anticipated funds will allow a key construction project that will help the college continue to grow physically which in turn aids in the growth of our student population.”
State legislators have not approved a batch of bonds of this magnitude for higher education since 2006.
“Tuition Revenue Bonds were a top priority for the entire Southeast Texas delegation,” Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a press statement. “I am proud our efforts were successful in the passage of House Bill 100 which ensures Lamar State College – Orange will have the assets necessary to provide a quality education for tomorrow’s workforce.”
Texas Senator Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, was a first time member of the Senate Finance Committee this session. Nichols’ District 3 includes all of Orange County as well as East Texas cities.
Nichols, in a press statement issued Monday, said legislation this session would be beneficial to Texans.
The finalized legislation contains not only monies for the college construction projects, but also funding for border security, and roads. Legislators also approved $3.8 billion in business and property tax relief.
The Session also saw a real boost for Texas roads. Approximately $3 billion was constitutionally dedicated per year to the State Highway Fund for non-tolled roads and bridges. This constitutional amendment will be on the November 2015 general election ballot.
“If passed by the voters, this legislation will be the largest single increase in transportation funding in Texas history,” Nichols, who is also Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said.
The new budget contains $800 million in border security funding; and approximately $3 billion in combined additional funding for public education and higher education.
Money was also appropriate to fund House Bill 4 co-authored by Deshotel — a bill that he says will create a standard for a high-quality prekindergarten program in public school districts.
The law requires each school district with at least 15 eligible students to offer a free, half-day prekindergarten program and promises additional funding — up to $1,500 per child — will become available in the 2015-16 school year.
To qualify for any state dollars, the public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must meet many new requirements that define “high-quality” pre-K education.
Deshotel said the new law will go far in curbing some of the problems students face when they get older.
“All the studies are showing that you have to have a really good foundation, and if you do some of the problems in older kids and drop outs can be prevented. The evidence is too clear,  those who learn to read early do better in life,” Deshotel said.
In addition to bills that passed, Deshotel said he and others worked hard to kill bill he felt were not good for the people of Southeast Texas.
The dues checkoff bill would have prevented union dues from being deducted from paychecks. The bill’s goal, Deshotel said, was to weaken the union.
“The point was to kill the union, so I fought really hard to keep it from getting to the floor,” Dehsotel said.
What did pass that he voted against was Open Carry, Deshotel said.
“If the point is for personal protection, why does that need to be on display” It’s more of an intimidation thing. I did not vote for it, but it was the top item on the Republican agenda.”
Windstorm overhauls, in the form of SB 900, also passed, which was important to the area, Deshotel said.
The session also saw teacher retirement fully funded, but not teacher pay raises at a state level.
E-mail: sherry.koonce@panews.com
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