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15
May

Higher Education

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

Higher Education

Katy area State Representative John Zerwas was appointed by the Speaker of the Texas House to lead the House Committee on Higher Education. One of the most important committees in the Legislature, it puts Dr. Zerwas, now in his fifth term representing the citizens of Fort Bend County, in one of the top leadership positions in the House of Representatives.

Katy is one of the fastest growing communities in the Houston area. Surveys consistently show that people are attracted to communities with great amenities such as parks, shopping and schools. When I was Republican Party Chairman in Fort Bend County I said many times that what we want, regardless of race, religion or origin is a safe place to raise our families, good schools for our children and a good job. Katy has all that but in the competitive environment in which cities and counties operate, any extra amenity helps in the competition for residents and businesses.

Being the Chair of the Higher Education Committee, places State Representative Zerwas in a great position to help steer higher education funds and facilities to our area. In fact he has sponsored several pieces of legislation to do just that. At the time of this writing the Legislature is still in session and they have not yet adopted the budget so the fate of these bills is not yet known. By the time this column is published, assuming the Legislature has adopted a budget during the regular session, we will know if they have passed. If the Legislature has not adopted the budget by June 1, the Governor will call a special session because the Legislature MUST adopt a budget.

House Bill 100
This bill provides the opportunity for institutions of Higher Education to issue bonds for the purpose of financing construction and renovation projects. These institutions desperately need this ability to meet the needs of their students and to build for the future. Specifically this will enable the University of Houston to acquire land and construct a new building in the Katy region and build a new academic building in Sugar Land. This will provide for more educational opportunities for our students and help address workforce needs in Fort Bend County and beyond. It will also provide for the construction of a new Texas State Technical College System campus in Fort Bend County.

House Bill 658
Dr. Zerwas sponsored this bill, which has passed the House and the Senate and has been sent to the Governor for his signature, to enable the Texas State Technical College System to create a campus in Fort Bend County. This will give our students additional educational opportunities and create a positive economic impact in the area.

House Bill 1992
This bill could save Texas Families $160 Million in tuition costs! Through Advanced Placement high school students can take college level courses while in high school and earn college credit before graduation from high school. At an average college class credit cost of $284 per hour, every hour earned in high school saves families a lot of money. In 2013 over 190,000 Texas students received scores of 3 or higher on AP exams, which represent 570,000 college credits. But not all universities accept a score of 3. This bill requires institutions of higher education to accept a 3 or higher unless they can show through evidence based research that these students are unprepared for secondary courses.

Katy is fortunate to have State Representative Zerwas, with his position in House leadership and foresight for our children’s future and the future of Katy.

Gary Gillen owns and operates Gillen Pest Control and Gillen Political Strategies in Richmond. He is the only person in history to have served on both the Richmond City Commission and the Rosenberg City Council. He was the Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County 2006-2007. He can be contacted at Gary@GaryGillen.com

15
May

Special Session

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

Special Session

Because the Legislature meets for only 140 days every other year in Regular Session it is not always possible to get all the work done the Legislature needs to do. The one thing they must do is adopt a biennial budget. That is often the most contentious bill the Legislature must pass. The budget sets the course and priorities for state government and its agencies. The Federal Government is run by Secretaries of the various Federal agencies. Texas is different. Texas government is run by boards and commissions. The members of those Boards and Commissions are appointed by the Governor with the Advice and Consent of the Texas Senate. The Budget tells those individuals what the Legislature deems important.

There are so many decisions that our legislators must make in a very compressed period and many members have projects that are important to their constituents and all of these interests are trying to get their issues addressed through the budget. For this and other reasons it may be impossible for the House and Senate to agree on and adopt a budget. And even if the House and Senate agree on the budget and send it to the Governor he may veto the budget if he does not like what is in it or what is not. If the Legislature cannot agree on a budget by the end of the session or the Governor vetoes it then a Special Session must be called by the Governor.

The Governor may call a special session or several special sessions at any time the Legislature is not in session. Each Special Session has a 30 day maximum. The Governor alone decides the topics to be addressed in the Special Sessions. In 2013, you may recall that then-Governor Rick Perry called the Legislature back to Austin for three Special Sessions. After the 83rd Regular Session which ran from January 8 to May 27, 2013, He called a Special Session that began the last day of the regular session and ran until June 25th. The major topics were to adopt the Redistricting Plan as ordered by the Federal Courts; Transportation Infrastructure funding; Establish a mandatory sentence of Life with parole for a capital felony committee by a 17 year old; and Establish regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities.

The Governor called the legislature back into session on July 1 for a thirty day session to consider Legislation Establishing a Mandatory Sentence of Life with Parole for a Capital Felony committee by a 17 year old; Funding Transportation Infrastructure projects; and Regulating Abortion procedures, providers and facilities. Three issues from the previous Special Session.

Finally, on July 30, the last day of the Second Special Session, Governor Perry Called the Legislature back for a Special Session with one major job. To consider Transportation Infrastructure projects. They completed the task in 7 days. Perhaps they were ready to go home after having been in session 207 days.

As I write this column we do not know if a Special Session will be needed. But with a couple of weeks left in the 84th Regular Session the House and Senate must still address the Budget, School Finance, Tax Reform, handgun legislation and other issues. Both Chambers agree that tax reform is needed but each has a different plan. The House concentrating on Sales Tax reduction while the Senate wants to reduce property tax.

All of these issues are important and some or all of them may be better considered in a special session with limited issues to consider. Let’s hope a Special Session isn’t needed.

Gary Gillen owns and operates Gillen Pest Control and Gillen Political Strategies in Richmond. He is the only person in history to have served on both the Richmond City Commission and the Rosenberg City Council. He was the Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County 2006-2007. He can be contacted at Gary@GaryGillen.com