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March 18, 2011 - Session Watch

Bipartisanship, hard work help advance two priority bills

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

Two of my top priority bills advanced in the legislative process this week. One of them will only affect people in the greater San Antonio area, while the other will apply statewide. But both are good examples of the Legislature's ability to solve problems in a bipartisan manner.

The approximately 330,000 customers of the Bexar Metropolitan Water District are a step closer to deciding the troubled utility's fate. The Senate Natural Resources Committee voted 10-0 for a bill that would give them a vote on whether to dissolve BexarMet.

Imagine paying more for your water than neighbors just a few blocks away or having to worry about the reliability and quality of your water supplies, and repeated headlines about mismanagement and negligence.

BexarMet customers don't need to imagine any of this. It's a situation they live with from day to day — well documented in an interim study by the BexarMet oversight committee that I co-chair.

The executive summary stated that, "after continuing to receive numerous letters, telephone calls, and hours of testimony from district officials, water policy experts, and concerned district customers, the committee finds that the board of directors is incapable of functioning as a policy-making body."

Our committee also concluded the governing board to be "dysfunctional to the extent that it is not capable of either fulfilling its responsibilities to its customers or rehabilitating itself to the extent that it can do so."

In the days ahead it is important that members of the Bexar County legislative delegation stick together and get this bill all the way through the process.

Another initiative that ranked high on my priority list — the Kristy Appleby bill — cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee this week by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 116 was spurred by the Feb. 10, 2009, death of 32-year-old Kristy Appleby, who was slain by the ex-wife of a man she had dated. Appleby had sought a protective order against the woman, but it was denied because they were not involved in a personal relationship.

Kristy's case exposed a dangerous loophole in the state's protective order law. This bill would allow third-party protective orders to be obtained by people who are not involved in an intimate relationship with each other — ensuring that anyone threatened by a broken or dysfunctional relationship will receive the full protection of the law.

While both of these bills still have a long road to travel through the legislative process, the hard work behind their development and their unanimous committee approval by members of both parties reflect the power of commitment and bipartisanship.

Even if you're not a customer of BexarMet or will never need a protective order, you should still take heart at the advancement of these bills. It shows that government — reviled by some as intrusive and burdensome — has a tremendous capacity to solve everyday problems, even those as fundamental as the quality and reliability of your water supply.

That's something to ponder over your next cup of coffee.

Rallies show Texans realize what budget cuts will do to schools

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

High school bands are most usually heard at Friday night football games, but this week one played an even more important venue — for an even more important reason.

The band, along with some 3,400 supporters of public education, showed up at the state Capitol to voice opposition to billions of dollars in budget cuts for Texas schools. While the crowd almost drowned out the invocation in the House Chamber, it was small compared to a larger rally just two days before.

Last Saturday, an estimated 12,000 teachers, parents and other public education advocates descended on the Capitol to protest the looming cuts, which could approach $11 billion.

More and more Texans are beginning to realize what budget cuts this deep would do to their local schools, and they don't like it. But if a development at the Capitol this week holds true, public schools in Texas are in for a very tough time.

Gov. Perry and House budget writers agreed to use $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to shore up a budget deficit in the current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31. That's great. I commend the governor for softening his stance on the use of the fund.

Unfortunately, the agreement bodes ill for the next two-year budget cycle, which begins on Sept. 1. The governor says he will not allow Rainy Day Fund revenues to be used in the upcoming biennium, despite the looming deficit.

That means more than $6 billion will gather dust while teachers are laid off, class size limits are expanded and some schools are closed.

The agreement on the Rainy Day fund came amid news reports that the governor participated in a telephone town-hall meeting with the limited-government group Empower Texans. In recorded calls associated with that meeting, the governor said, “Texans elected a Republican super-majority to cut wasteful government spending – not to raise taxes or grow government. But right now, some are pressuring lawmakers to do just that.”

Indeed they are. The Capitol rallies drew a broad swath of Texans — Republicans and Democrats; liberals, moderates and even conservatives who came to Austin with the same message: "Don't Mess with Texas Education."

For them public education doesn't equate with wasteful government spending or growing government. It's about their kids and their future.

Amid this debate, the House took time on Wednesday to honor the 150th anniversary of Texas' greatest act of political heroism. Sam Houston refused to take the oath of office as governor because it required his allegiance to the Confederacy. He never again held political office.

As the Legislature struggles to meet a budget shortfall approaching $27 billion, painful cuts will be needed, but cuts alone cannot solve the entire problem. We must use more of the Rainy Day Fund and find new sources of revenue.

For some in the Legislature, that could require that same kind of political courage that cost Houston his career. But on the other hand, more and more Texans seem to be leaning against deep cuts for education. And we haven't heard the last of their collective voice.

On April 6, busloads of Texans will descend on Austin once again for a march and rally at Waterloo Park near the Capitol. The message: “Save our State” by increasing revenues and using the Rainy Day Fund to avoid devastating budget cuts.

I hope everyone listens, including our governor.

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©2011 Carlos Uresti Campaign  •  A.M. Hernandez, Treasurer  •  P.O. Box 240431  •  San Antonio, Texas  •  78224