- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas House is launching an ambitious attempt to fix the troubled way the state pays for public schools without waiting for the conclusion of a bitter, ongoing court battle - starting with plans to pour $3 billion back into classrooms.

The chamber’s chief education expert, Republican Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, said Wednesday he’s been in quiet bipartisan discussions for months about overhauling a school finance system he called “antiquated,” saying it was full of facets where “some are obsolete, some are just flat illogical.”

“Some of those will be very difficult votes, very difficult discussions, because to change a system that is pretty badly flawed will require some courage,” said Aycock of Killeen, who chairs the powerful House Public Education Committee.

The plan includes the House increasing the $2.2 billion in extra school funding already built into its proposed 2016-2017 state budget - money largely available because of rising property values statewide that have increased tax revenues - by an additional $800 million.

Republican House budget Chairman John Otto said that could be done by tweaking the chamber’s $209 billion budget that will be debated by the full House next week, since it left more than $8 billion in projected state surpluses and tax revenue unspent.

At a Capitol news conference, Aycock was joined by lawmakers from both parties and joked “this is not an old white guy Republican issue.” But he acknowledged that the plan could clash with the state Senate, which has prioritized “tax relief” over school funding.

___

SENATE APPROVES TAX CUTS THAT WOULD SAVE HOMEOWNERS ROUGHLY $200

The biggest proposed tax cuts in Texas in a decade, including a roughly $200 break for homeowners saddled with soaring property appraisals, inched closer to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday, but not before tensions between Republicans and powerful business groups escalated.

Tax cuts are practically a sure thing before the Legislature adjourns in May, and measures that add up to more than $4 billion in cuts are speeding along behind Republican campaign promises and marching orders from Abbott.

But who gets relief - big businesses or small, homeowners or consumers at the cash register - are the sticking points.

The package approved by the Senate on Wednesday includes a $2.1 billion break in property taxes, which would save homeowners roughly $200 a year. Whether homeowners would really feel that on fast-rising property tax bills has some in the House mulling a cut in the sales tax instead, but Senate Republicans defended giving homeowners a break.

“This is the easiest, best mechanism,” said Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Commission. “And quite honestly, if homeowners have money back in their pockets, they’re going to use it in a way that’s positively going to impact everybody.”

Texas’ last big tax cut came in 2006, when school district taxes were trimmed by $7 billion. But the relief was short-lived: Most homeowners saw a dip in their bills the following year, only to see their appraisals start rising again.

___

HOUSE OKS STATEWIDE TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING BAN

A statewide ban on texting while driving preliminarily passed the Texas House on Wednesday, advancing a plan that four years ago fell victim to a gubernatorial veto - and could face a similar fate this time.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Craddick, the bill allows police to pull over motorists they suspect are using a wireless device to read, write or send a text message while driving, unless the vehicle is stopped. Offenders would be fined up to $99 for a first offense and a maximum $200 for subsequent ones.

The measure passed 102 to 40, after hours of sometimes heated debate.

“Texans who text increase their crash risk by eight times,” said Craddick, a Midland Republican who is a former House Speaker and sponsored similar bans in two past sessions. Lawmakers approved it in 2011, but then-Gov. Rick Perry issued a veto, calling it a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Perry’s successor, fellow Republican Greg Abbott, has said “it’s premature” to say whether he’ll veto a ban this time.

___

DEATH OF 3 CHILDREN DRAWS FOSTER CARE SCRUTINY FROM ABBOTT

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is putting more scrutiny on the troubled Texas foster care system following the deaths of three children this year who were under state supervision.

Abbott on Wednesday ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services to enforce face-to-face visits between caseworkers and children and develop new screening methods for foster placement.

A 2-month-old in Dallas whose family was on the radar of state caseworkers was drowned in January. A teenager has been arrested in the child’s death.

Nine children under state supervision died last year.

Some lawmakers are pushing changes that would require all prospective foster parents to take at least 35 hours of training. Abbott is also calling for more funding for the state’s foster care program

___

ON DECK

The House is back at 10 a.m. on Thursday. The Senate won’t reconvene until Monday afternoon.

___

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I voted against seat belts many years ago, before many of you were born,” Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland and the House’s longest-serving member, while urging his colleagues to support his proposed statewide ban on texting while driving.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide