State Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury on Monday was in caucus in preparation for Tuesday’s noon start of the 83rd legislative session – a session that, by all accounts, will be full of challenges and fireworks.
One challenge will be deciding how to spend the $101.4 billion that state Comptroller Susan Combs said will be in the budget for the next two years. There will also be an extra $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, she said.
“It’s a whole lot of elephant to eat, as they say in the military,” said Birdwell’s chief of staff, Ben Stratmann. “But the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, as (Birdwell) so often says.”
According to the Texas Tribune, controversial issues will include proposed legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks and to allow teachers to carry concealed handguns to school. And then there’s immigration, energy, health care and a continuation of the debate over prosecutorial misconduct in the wake of scores of wrongful convictions.
After the official opening of the session yesterday, five new senators were to be sworn in.
“I cannot remember the last time we had five new senators,” remarked Stratmann.
Also scheduled to occur at the start of the session was a vote on who will be the house speaker. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) faced a challenge by David Simpson (R-Longview), who is entering his second term.
On Monday, as Birdwell prepared for the session’s 140 days, Stratmann told the Hood County News about issues the senator considers priorities. One is his service on the Sunset Advisory Commission.
“He’s pretty passionate about being a part of that committee. He wants to take a fair and equitable look at all state agencies and cut the fat where it needs to be cut,” Stratmann stated. “It’s an important job that needs to be done.”
Another major issue for Birdwell is the statewide water plan, he said. Water rights are of great concern to many Hood County residents – particularly to homeowners with lakefront property.
“Water’s big for everybody in the state. We have issues within our district, specifically – like Lake Granbury, issues with the Brazos River Authority and the Southern Trinity Groundwater (Conservation) District,” said Stratmann.
The staffer said that Birdwell “has a couple of legislative ideas that he has been kind of keeping under wraps.”
“A lot of these big challenges have unique facets from county to county and district to district,” Stratmann said, “but they’re definitely statewide.”
Other issues on the senator’s front burner are health care and higher education, Stratmann related. Birdwell will be serving as vice chair of the Higher Education Committee.
For those who want to follow the senator via Twitter, his Twitter handle is SenatorBirdwell.
focus on education
Combs predicts that the state will collect more than $96 billion during the 2014-2015 biennium through taxes, fees and other sources. The total available revenue for the next budget cycle is $208.2 billion, she said.
Granbury School Superintendent Jim Largent said Monday that he hopes the projected record high Rainy Day Fund will restore public education funding that was cut in the previous biennium.
“Unfortunately, over the past few years, schools were forced to cut staff and programs that we know are good for children,” Largent said. “Restoring those dollars would help us meet the growing demands of the Legislature and our public and give our students the educational opportunities they deserve.”
But educators may nevertheless have a difficult time with lawmakers. Gov. Rick Perry said the revenue estimate proves that state lawmakers made the right decision two years ago.
“Even as we head into the 83rd Legislative Session with higher revenues, we still need to focus on separating our wants from our needs, and continue to follow the conservative fiscal principles that have led to Texas’ ongoing success and will keep Texas strong,” he said.
how to follow the session
Bills and joint resolutions are introduced during the first 60 calendar days of the regular session. Up to date information about bills from the current session can be accessed at www.legis.state.tx.us.
Editor Roger Enlow contributed to this report.
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