Budget advances in state Senate

By Richard Lee

Special to The News

AUSTIN — The Senate Finance Committee gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a proposal to fund state services for the next two years.

The bill, which would spend $116.8 billion in non-discretionary state funds through 2021, includes $9 billion for property tax reform and public education funding reform, the two key priorities for the Legislature this session, said committee chair and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

That money is split into three parts:

  • $4 billion to pay for a $5,000 raise for all public school teachers and librarians
  • $2.3 billion in additional school funding
  • $2.7 billion for property tax relief.

“This is a robust, financially responsible budget that meets the need of our growing state,” Nelson said. “It makes smart investments in our future and it does these things within our constitutional spending limits.”

Other budget highlights include $2.4 billion to cover student population growth at public schools, more than $1 billion to upgrade information technology and cybersecurity across state agencies and $193 million to reduce wait times at driver license offices.

Nelson told members she intends to take up the budget in session next Tuesday. Once it clears the Senate, five members from each chamber, including Nelson and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, will come together to work out the differences between the two plans.

One potential area of disagreement has already been resolved, said Nelson, as both chambers agree on the funding amount intended for property tax and education reform. “We continue to negotiate this issue with the House, but both chambers have now reached $9 billion set aside for whatever agreement we reach,” she said. The House considered its bill for education finance reform, House Bill 3, in session Wednesday.

Nelson also presented a bill to her committee Wednesday that would give the comptroller greater freedom to invest funds in the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund. Senate Bill 69 would change the way the state determines the “sufficient balance” of the rainy day fund, a threshold amount above which the state comptroller is allowed to invest ESF money in market securities.

This session, that figure is $7.5 billion.

“While there are differing ideas about how to leverage the ESF, I think everyone agrees that we should not have $7.5 billion dollars lying around the treasury earning a mere 2.6% interest,” Nelson said. Currently, sufficient balance is determined by a panel of lawmakers, but Nelson’s proposal would abolish that panel and peg the number to seven percent of biennial revenue. The sufficient balance would no longer determine the comptroller’s investment authority, instead he or she would be permitted to invest up to three-fourths of the total balance. The Legislative Budget Board fiscal note for the bill estimates that this change would bring in $3.3 billion in additional state revenue through 2021.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard a bill Wednesday that would increase the age for which the murder of a minor escalates to a capital offense. The bill was prompted by the death of Lauren Landavazo, who was shot and killed in 2016 at the age of 13. Her killer was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Under current Texas law, individuals convicted of non-capital homicide are eligible for parole after half their sentence or 30 years, whichever is less, meaning he could be released from prison in as few as 28 years. Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, believes that is too light a punishment for the murder of a child.

“We need to ensure that somebody like this never harms another child again, with 100% certainty,” he said. “This law’s not going to affect this monster, but it’ll affect the others.”

His bill, SB 719, would permit prosecutors to charge suspects with capital murder if their alleged victim was aged 15 or younger, rather than 10 years old under current law. Convictions for this offense carry the death penalty or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The measure is to be named “Lauren’s Law” in honor of the Landavazo family.

Columns

HEALTHY LIVING — What to be concerned with that lingering cough

Local

Port Neches homes set for demolition after numerous violations, safety concerns

Local

Russell Buss hits milestone with special blood donation

Local

Carjacking Task Force targeting violent crime in Southeast Texas

Local

Port Arthur students excel at Top Teens of America event

Local

PHOTO FEATURE — Memorial sophomore excels in prose interpretation

Local

RELIGION BRIEF — God 1st Missionary Baptist celebrating pastor’s anniversary

Local

PHOTO FEATURE — Criticism Team comes up extra positive

Local

PHOTO FEATURE — Taking in the Symphony

Local

Dr. Avila Arcala left mark on Port Arthur and beyond; service planned Saturday

Local

Port Arthur ISD support center renovation full go; district leaders outline plans and timeline

Local

U.S. Navy for Port Arthur’s Hyleta Floyd is about service and family

Local

FIT BODY BOOT CAMP PUMPS UP VOLUME — Fitness goals via a welcoming environment is the mission

Local

Jury sentences Port Arthur man week after he was found guilty in Beaumont killing

Local

Port Arthur Police say arrests coming following shooting of 16-year-old local girl

Local

National Weather Service outlines heavy rain concern for Southeast Texas

Local

Willie Mae Elmore, former Port Arthur ISD trustee, nurse educator, dies at 74

High School Sports

Port Neches-Groves’ Morgan Campbell setting school record pace en route to regionals

Local

Troop Industrial earns special Veteran-owned small business certification

Local

Port Arthur and Beaumont Rotary Clubs, 100 Black Men of Greater Beaumont gathering for Sleep in Heavenly Peace impact

Local

Authorities identify 21-year-old Nederland man killed in ATV crash

Groves

Stolen vehicle chase into Port Arthur and Groves leads to continued suspects search

Local

FAMILY TRADITION — Darlean’s Market and Café earns success, recognition

Local

Local man says he was poisoned when he threatened 2 people with hatchet