AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Senate approved a $2.36 billion supplemental budget Wednesday to cover unexpected costs in the final months of 2009, including hurricane repairs and one-time $800 bonuses to some state employees.
The proposal relies largely on federal stimulus dollars and includes $150 million for repairs to the hurricane-ravaged University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston that was damaged last year during Hurricane Ike. It also contains $10 million for the General Land Office to buy some houses that were washed on to state property.
The supplemental budget bridges gaps in the current biennium's budget. It is different from the main $182 billion budget bill, which covers state spending for the coming two years.
The Senate-approved version of the supplemental budget differs from a $3.3 billion House version of the bill.
A LITTLE BIT OF CALM
After days of tumult and partisan fighting over a voter identification bill, House members got back to work Wednesday.
The Democrats' talk-a-thon slowed down House business and killed the Republican-backed voter ID bill by a Tuesday night deadline. But when Wednesday arrived, lawmakers from both parties appeared ready to cooperate to pass bills that still could be considered under House rules.
Many major bills that were killed along with voter ID could be resurrected, but it would require enough members of both parties to agree to suspend the rules to do so or would require attaching the bills onto other related legislation.
Gov. Rick Perry met privately with Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday to try to salvage major legislation after partisan fighting slowed down work in the House. One of the chief concerns: restoring Texas' depleted windstorm insurance fund.
"It's a top priority of the governor's to get something done on this issue this session," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "It will have a great impact on the state if a hurricane does hit Texas and this is not fixed."
The Legislature's five-month session ends Monday - the day hurricane season begins.
A proposal that would have restructured the state-chartered Texas Windstorm Insurance Association - the only wind insurer for property owners in 14 coastal counties - technically died with a slew of other bills Tuesday night when House Democrats blocked a GOP-backed voter identification bill. But legislative leaders said they are examining ways to pass the measure, anyway.
The House unanimously approved a much-anticipated bill Wednesday to grant disabled veterans relief from property taxes on their homes. Rep. Kino Flores, a Mission Democrat, and other veterans in the House pushed for the measure. The House approved it Wednesday with applause, agreeing with Senate amendments.
The measure now goes to the governor.
The tax relief legislation - allowed in a state constitutional amendment approved by voters - would give totally disabled veterans complete exemptions from homestead property taxes. Partially disabled vets would get partial exemptions.
TEEN TANNING BILL
The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would prevent any teens under 16 1/2 from getting using and indoor tanning bed. Teens between 16 1/2 and 18 years old could still use a tanning bed with a parent's permission.
The measure has already passed the House and now goes to the governor.
JUVENILE PRISONS REVIEW
The Senate approved a plan Wednesday to continue operations of the Texas Youth Commission until 2011. The bill includes a number of reforms to the state's juvenile prison system. It also creates an oversight board to oversee and coordinate duties of TYC and the state's probation system for young people, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.
The proposal skirts a sunset recommendation that the youth commission be abolished and its duties combined with the probation commission in a new entity.
A House version of the measure would keep TYC operating separately until 2021.
The bill next returns to the House for consideration.
Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation Wednesday allowing for the expansion of the Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and University of North Texas at Dallas campuses as stand-alone institutions.
The measure also removes barriers to the use of tuition revenue bonds by letting campuses expand facilities to meet the needs of their growing student populations. The bill takes effect immediately.
Open access to beaches is a hallowed principle in Texas law. Now voters will get the chance to enshrine that right in the state constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment, passed by the Senate Wednesday, will be put before Texas voters on Nov. 3.
The measure, if approved, would ensure that the public has an unrestricted right to enter and exit public beaches and makes it clear the Legislature can enact laws to prevent encroachments to public beach access.
CLEAN COAL PROJECTS
The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved legislation giving up to $100 million in tax credits to three first-come companies that develop and implement clean energy technology in coal-fired power plants.
Supporters said it was an earned incentive that would likely not affect the state's revenue or budget for 5 to 10 years, because the three projects approved for the incentives would have to build the clean coal plants and prove carbon capture and energy production. But critics said the state can ill afford fiscal cost of the incentives.
In order for a clean energy project to receive the tax credit, it would have to meet standards including a 200 megawatt production rate while capturing 70 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions.
The bill now awaits action in the House.
SMALL BUSINESS TAX CUT
Small businesses would get a $172 million tax cut over the next two years under legislation that passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday.
Under current law, companies making less than $300,000 in annual revenue are exempt from paying the state franchise tax.
The latest bill would would boost the exemption to $1 million for the next two years, taking about 40,000 businesses off the tax rolls.
The bill by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, now heads back to the Texas House, where a competing version has passed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY