State of Play at the State Capitol as More Deadlines Arrive

A series of critical deadlines will winnow the list of bills still in play at the state Capitol this weekend as the Legislature heads toward a mandatory adjournment on May 29. Look for Hotline updates over the weekend, as the House meets both Saturday and Sunday and the Senate convenes Sunday evening.

One key deadline comes Saturday night. Senate bills not approved and reported from House committee by then are effectively dead. When this deadline has passed we will let you know which significant bills are goners.

The next critical weekend deadline is related to the first one. A Senate bill not placed by 10 pm Sunday on the schedule of the full House for an initial floor vote in the coming week is dead.

Here is the status of some important bills still moving in the legislative process;

–HB 21, the school-finance bill that has been turned into a vehicle for private-school vouchers by the Senate Education Committee, is on the Senate schedule for possible action Sunday evening. That schedule means you still have time to send your e-letter opposing the Senate’s voucher “poison pill” inserted into HB 21.¬† Adding insult to injury, the Senate committee also deleted the much-needed increase of $1.5 billion in state aid to school districts that the House included in HB 21.

–HB 3976, the bill to modify and continue the TRS-Care health plan for retirees, is awaiting action on the Senate floor as well. HB 3976 at this point is a must-pass bill to preserve TRS-Care, which faces a billion-dollar shortfall for the coming biennium unless the Legislature acts. The bill increases the state contribution to TRS-Care as well as the school-district contribution and retiree premiums. Medicare-eligible retirees under TRS-Care would all participate in the Medicare Advantage plan in which a majority of Medicare-eligible retirees already are enrolled. Non-Medicare-eligible retirees–essentially, those under age 65–would all be in one high-deductible plan with premiums starting at $200 a month and ratcheting up over four years to $370. The deductible would be $3,000; the annual out-of-pocket maximum would be a little over $7,000. A drug benefit for generic maintenance prescriptions was added for the non-Medicare group by the Senate State Affairs Committee. The bill has been improved incrementally at each step of the legislative process thus far; Texas AFT is working with friendly senators on floor amendments that would improve HB 3976 some more.

–SB 1398, a bill scaling back and regulating the use of videocameras in special-education classrooms mandated last session, has been reported favorably from the House Public Education Committee today, May 19, and recommended for passage without further amendment on the House consent calendar.

–SB 370, a bill barring out-of-school suspension of students below third grade, passed in the Senate on May 17 and has been sent to the House Public Education Committee for consideration as of May 19. The bill leaves intact teacher removal authority and statutes requiring mandatory DAEP placement or expulsion for serious¬†offenses.

—SB 463, the bill to maintain for two more years the option of bypassing one or two end-of-course exams by demonstrating proficiency to the satisfaction of an individual graduation committee, has passed in the House Public Education Committee and now awaits placement on a House calendar for floor action.