Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 4, 2013

Bill filings due

Legislation aims at water, education

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens —

The deadline to file bills in the 83rd Texas Legislature is Friday and Henderson County’s representatives have been busy with legislation addressing a wide range of issues.

Fourth District Representative Lance Gooden, 10th District Representative Jim Pitts and 3rd District State Senator Robert Nichols are the county’s voices in Austin. Each has bills that will be studied by committees to determine whether they reach the floor for a vote.

Gooden said he’s confident the House needs to increase funding for public education and ease the burden brought about by mandatory testing.

“I’m going to be filing a bill that eliminates the requirement that 15 percent of the final course grade be based on the STAR test,” Gooden said. “We’re trying to get rid of the tests that are costing the state money serving no purpose other than burdening teachers and local school districts.”

Gooden said the STAR test has been a complete failure and constituents in Henderson County have asked for relief from its requirements.

“They’ve committed state funds to this test that has grown and grown and grown,” Gooden said. “Somewhere along the line someone convinced the legislature, in the last decade, that testing was the answer and it has failed miserably.

Noteworthy bills Gooden has already filed include House Resolution 1082 which adds the term “intoxication assault causing bodily injury” to the penal code. If passed, the driver of a vehicle that  inflicts any degree of physical pain on another in an accident, could be charged with intoxicated assault. The change would be a state jail felony with a penalty of up to two years.

The legislation was filed Feb. 7 and referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Feb. 19. If passed, the law would go into effect September 1.

Gooden has also introduced a bill to place some regulations on the use of drones for unmanned surveillance.

“It says law enforcement can’t just place drones in the sky and film every move,” Gooden said. “It’s about protecting privacy as technology develops.”

As drones get less expensive, they are starting to be purchased by law enforcement agencies around the state.

“There’s a sense that as they get more prevalent, if there is no guidance they’ll be so widely used it’ll be impossible to place any restrictions on their use in years to come,” Gooden said.

Nichols, chairman of the Senate’s Transportation  Committee, has filed a bill concerning the allocation of sales tax revenue to the state highway fund. Senate Joint Resolution 20, filed in tandem with House Transportation Chairman Larry Phillips, proposes dedicating the 6.25-percent sales tax levied on new and used vehicle purchases to the Texas Department of Transportation. The money raised would help the Texas Department of Transportation build roads, bridges and maintain infrastructure.

The bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee on February 5. No further activity has been reported.

Nichols also co-authored Senate Bill 567, filed February 14, to transfer the functions relating the economic regulation of water and sewer service from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Nichols said transfer of the responsibility offers potential benefits by aligning most state utility regulation within one agency. 

Nichols said the proposed legislation is the result of Senate subcommittee hearings held to discuss steep increases in water and sewer rates imposed by investor-owned water and sewer companies. Orville Bevel of Chandler and C.A. Cockrell III of Murchison were among the citizens who testified  concerning rapidly escalating rates in rural Henderson County.

Pitts, as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has the General Appropriations Bill at the top of his list of legislation. HB1 will appropriate $89.1 billion in general revenue and a total of $187.7 billion when all other funds are included. The bill offers a small increase over the 2011 budget which was passed when legislators were looking at a projected $27 billion dollar shortfall.