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Monday, May 09, 2011

Amendments Piled Onto Texas Education Finance Bill

by Becca Aaronson | Texas Tribune
May 9, 2011

Senators had an amendment feeding frenzy on an education finance reform bill offered up today by Sen. Steve Ogden, the Bryan Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill’s original intent: Increase revenue for public schools and higher education institutions by $30 million for the next biennium. The bill will still do that, but it will also allow college students to carry concealed handguns on campus, increase the cost of cigarettes and allow drastic changes to university administration.

Those are only the amendments senators adopted. Other amendments came from Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who attempted to require undocumented Texas residents to pay out-of-state tuition rates; Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who tried to discount electricity rates for school districts; and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who attempted to repeal the deregulation of college tuition. Those, plus others, were tabled.

An amendment battle between Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, also played out — and both won. Earlier in the session, Zaffirini killed her own bill, SB 5, after Wentworth amended it to include his "campus carry" provision. Zaffirini successfully added the provisions from SB 5, which would eliminate certain university reporting requirements and reduce administrative costs. And after much debate, Wentworth added the campus carry provision.

Senators also adopted two amendments that affect the Permanent Health Fund — $420 million tobacco companies have paid Texas to cover the expense of tobacco-related illnesses. The first, by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, would take $100 million from the fund to restore funding for health science centers at higher education institutions. Looking at a total reduction of $320 million reduction, each of the 10 health science centers would receive a boost of $10 million from the fund.

The second, by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would restore money to the fund by placing a $2.15 fee on all cigarette packs sold by “nonsettling manufacture companies” (i.e., the big companies like R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris). Under a 1997 settlement, these companies agreed to pay Texas a lump sum every year based on national cigarette sales to pay for tobacco-related illness. Hinojosa said lower cigarette sales had reduced the amount of money Texas actually recoups, and that his amendment would “make them pay their fair share.”

In the end, SB 1581 passed 19 to 12.

Editor's note: A correction has been made to this story. Wentworth's amendment would allow licensed students at all public universities to carry a concealed handgun.

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