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May 4th, 2009:

Tuition reregulation passes the Senate

Off to the House.

The Texas Senate unanimously approved legislation today that would sharply restrict the ability of public university governing boards to raise tuition. The measure now goes to the House.

Lawmakers granted boards of regents virtually unfettered authority in 2003 to control tuition. Increases since then have prompted something of a legislative backlash.

Some lawmakers wanted to withdraw all tuition-setting power from regents. Others had proposed a temporary moratorium on increases.
Senate Bill 1443, whose primary author is Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would allow governing boards to raise tuition, mandatory fees and course fees at the state’s 35 public universities, but it would strictly limit such increases.

As Floor Pass notes, SB1443 is also supposed to “encourage” the Lege to appropriate more money to higher ed to make up the shortfall, which will be a necessary ingredient to this. We’ll see what the House makes of it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

Tuition reregulation passes the Senate

Off to the House.

The Texas Senate unanimously approved legislation today that would sharply restrict the ability of public university governing boards to raise tuition. The measure now goes to the House.

Lawmakers granted boards of regents virtually unfettered authority in 2003 to control tuition. Increases since then have prompted something of a legislative backlash.

Some lawmakers wanted to withdraw all tuition-setting power from regents. Others had proposed a temporary moratorium on increases.
Senate Bill 1443, whose primary author is Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would allow governing boards to raise tuition, mandatory fees and course fees at the state’s 35 public universities, but it would strictly limit such increases.

As Floor Pass notes, SB1443 is also supposed to “encourage” the Lege to appropriate more money to higher ed to make up the shortfall, which will be a necessary ingredient to this. We’ll see what the House makes of it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on this.

Windstorm insurance changes

If you live near the coast, get ready to pay more for windstorm insurance.

Coastal residents insured by the state windstorm fund could see increases of 5 percent per year for the next three years under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.

The vote to send the bill to the House was 27-4. One senator who voted against it said the rate increases are still too much for residents rebuilding from Hurricane Ike.

“I was very concerned about the impact the bill would have on the coastal communities. They’ve been hit hard and many are struggling to recover,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

But the bill author, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said the Legislature has to do something to build up the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which was depleted by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly last year.

“Currently, TWIA has $68 billion in coverage written along the entire Texas coast and there is zero money in the reserve fund. This exposure is rapidly expanding as more residents and businesses seek windstorm coverage from TWIA,” Fraser said.

TWIA provides coverage to homeowners and businesses in 14 coastal counties and a part of Harris County who can’t find it elsewhere.

I can appreciate Sen. Huffman’s concern, but I can also imagine how her vote might have gone had this not directly affected her constituents. I mean, it’s ultimately the taxpayers who are subsidizing the TWIA. Shouldn’t those who choose to live along the coast pay a bigger share of that cost? All a matter of perspective, I suppose. Burkablog and Postcards have more.

Altering Houston term limits

This ought to stir things up a bit.

The Texas House today is expected to pass a bill that could lead to the extension of Houston’s term limits.

The bill, authored by state reps. Garnet Coleman and Carol Alvarado, would call for an election, allowing voters to decide whether elected officials like the mayor, City Council members and controller would be able to stay in office longer.

It passed, by a 131-8 vote. No member of the Harris County delegation voted against it, though three members (Bill Callegari, Scott Hochberg, and Debbie Riddle) were absent.

Those officials now can only serve a maximum of three, two-year terms. Alvarado, for example, had to leave the City Council after six years, and Mayor Bill White is being forced from office this year. The bill, which still must pass the Texas Senate, would extend that to six, two-year terms or three, four-year terms.

Coleman, who has tried to get this passed before, said the limits give too much influence to staff members and to lobbyists because they stay while politicians rotate in and out of office. Neither lobbyists nor staff members are accountable to the public, he said.

Alvarado wrote an op-ed advocating the modification of Houston’s term limits ordinance on her last day in City Council. I discussed the issue with her when I interviewed her for the HD145 primary last year. It’s no surprise she’s on board with this.

The text of the bill, simply put, says that the Mayor and Council would choose between three four-year terms and six two-year terms as the new term limit, then put a measure on the ballot for that new limit in November of 2010. If it passes, that’s what we get, and if not, we keep what we already have. I’d prefer the latter, but either is better than the silly system we have now. Given how different the city and its electorate is now from how it was in 1991, when term limits was basically a Republican-pushed fad, I’d make either of them a favorite to succeed. For now, it’s up to the Senate to give us the chance to make it happen. Statements from Rep. Coleman and Rep. Alvarado about the passage of HB3006 are beneath the fold.

(more…)

Altering Houston term limits

This ought to stir things up a bit.

The Texas House today is expected to pass a bill that could lead to the extension of Houston’s term limits.

The bill, authored by state reps. Garnet Coleman and Carol Alvarado, would call for an election, allowing voters to decide whether elected officials like the mayor, City Council members and controller would be able to stay in office longer.

It passed, by a 131-8 vote. No member of the Harris County delegation voted against it, though three members (Bill Callegari, Scott Hochberg, and Debbie Riddle) were absent.

Those officials now can only serve a maximum of three, two-year terms. Alvarado, for example, had to leave the City Council after six years, and Mayor Bill White is being forced from office this year. The bill, which still must pass the Texas Senate, would extend that to six, two-year terms or three, four-year terms.

Coleman, who has tried to get this passed before, said the limits give too much influence to staff members and to lobbyists because they stay while politicians rotate in and out of office. Neither lobbyists nor staff members are accountable to the public, he said.

Alvarado wrote an op-ed advocating the modification of Houston’s term limits ordinance on her last day in City Council. I discussed the issue with her when I interviewed her for the HD145 primary last year. It’s no surprise she’s on board with this.

The text of the bill, simply put, says that the Mayor and Council would choose between three four-year terms and six two-year terms as the new term limit, then put a measure on the ballot for that new limit in November of 2010. If it passes, that’s what we get, and if not, we keep what we already have. I’d prefer the latter, but either is better than the silly system we have now. Given how different the city and its electorate is now from how it was in 1991, when term limits was basically a Republican-pushed fad, I’d make either of them a favorite to succeed. For now, it’s up to the Senate to give us the chance to make it happen. Statements from Rep. Coleman and Rep. Alvarado about the passage of HB3006 are beneath the fold.

(more…)

Dynamo moving forward

Dynamo Stadium has been in the works for a long time, but depending on how things go this month, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

[T]he Dynamo view this month as pivotal in their quest to go from a routine archeological dig to a bowl excavation and from renderings to the real thing — all the while staying on schedule and on budget.

“May is a make-or-break month,” [team president Oliver] Luck said. “In the sense that it is important we get into this building by 2011.

“To use a soccer analogy, we’re in extra time now.”

The Dynamo want to have the roughly $85 million, 22,000-seat stadium ready for opening day 2011. They envision an all-round two-level, all-seater venue with 34 suites, 86 concession point-of-sales, a 3,000 square-foot club level and a party deck on the southeast corner.

[…]

For it to be ready on schedule, work on the 16- to 18-month project would have to start no later than this fall.

For that to happen, Luck said, the team will need to complete its financing package agreement with the city and have the county, by way of Commissioners Court, vote in favor of contributing $10 million to the project (an amount similar to what the city would contribute) by joining the city’s East Downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which includes the site.

“No one wants to commit until all the financing is lined up,” Luck said.

[…]

The Dynamo could check the city off their to-do list this month. The city and team ownership have concurred the parties are close on most points. Getting the county on board might take longer. Though discussions are ongoing, there has been no signal from the county commissioners suggesting the issue will be added to Commissioners Court agenda any time soon.

The good news for the Dynamo is that they secured the financing to cover the city and county’s share of the price, which will be rebated to them in the form of TIRZ revenues, assuming both bodies approve that plan. Because of that, they should be in a position to go forward even if Commissioners Court drags its feet. Seems like this has already gone on forever, but the end is getting closer.

Omnibus gambling bill gets committee approval

Brandi Grissom reports.

State Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said today the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee approved the omnibus gambling measure that contains language that would allow the Tigua tribe in El Paso to resume gambling at Speaking Rock.

The measure, HJR137, would amend the Texas Constitution to allow voters to determine whether gambling should be allowed in their region.

I assume what this means is that the language for the omnibus bill has been approved, and will next go to the committee for a vote to be sent to the House floor. I say that because the Texas Legislature Online shows no recent activity for HJR137, and because the listed text of the bill is different from what Grissom provides (Word doc). A draft version of this bill had been released last week, so this is progress for it. Rep. Ed Kuempel, the chair of the committee, believes there is enough support in the House for this to pass. At this point, as with everything else, it’s a matter of time.

UPDATE: And now the TLO page has been updated to reflect the fact that this bill was in fact approved by the committee, on a 6-0 vote with three members absent. So it just needs House approval, then a vote in the Senate, along with the adoption of the enabling legislation.

Omnibus gambling bill gets committee approval

Brandi Grissom reports.

State Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said today the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee approved the omnibus gambling measure that contains language that would allow the Tigua tribe in El Paso to resume gambling at Speaking Rock.

The measure, HJR137, would amend the Texas Constitution to allow voters to determine whether gambling should be allowed in their region.

I assume what this means is that the language for the omnibus bill has been approved, and will next go to the committee for a vote to be sent to the House floor. I say that because the Texas Legislature Online shows no recent activity for HJR137, and because the listed text of the bill is different from what Grissom provides (Word doc). A draft version of this bill had been released last week, so this is progress for it. Rep. Ed Kuempel, the chair of the committee, believes there is enough support in the House for this to pass. At this point, as with everything else, it’s a matter of time.

UPDATE: And now the TLO page has been updated to reflect the fact that this bill was in fact approved by the committee, on a 6-0 vote with three members absent. So it just needs House approval, then a vote in the Senate, along with the adoption of the enabling legislation.

More heat on the BCS

I realize there are about a billion higher priorities for the President and the Congress to be dealing with these days, but I still really enjoy watching these guys squirm.

At a hearing Friday before the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, three members of Congress decried the manner in which college football decides its national champion and warned government action could be implemented should changes not be made voluntarily by the sport’s administrators.

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, who has introduced legislation that would prohibit the NCAA from advertising its national champion in football as such unless it was produced via a playoff system, levied the most pointed criticisms of his peers toward the Bowl Championship Series.

“It’s interesting that people of good will keep trying to tinker with the current system, and to my mind it’s a little bit like — and I don’t mean this directly — but it’s like communism,” Barton said in his opening statement. “You can’t fix it. It will not be fixable. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to try a new model, and that’s why we’re here today.”

I can’t say I endorse Smokey Joe’s rhetoric, but I stand with him on the nature of the problem and the need for a real solution. And hey, better he focus on something he has some hope of actually understanding.

Four high-ranking college football officials testified before the subcommittee. Proponents of the current BCS system predicted that renowned bowl games would become endangered if a playoff system was initiated.

“It will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game’s history, to survive” because sponsorships and television revenue would go toward playoff games, BCS coordinator and ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “Certainly the 29 games that are not part of the BCS would be in peril.”

Okay, first of all new bowl games have been popping up like weeds even though none of them have any hope of ever having anything to do with a national championship. I don’t see why a transition to a playoff system would imperil such games. Hell, there are now three postseason men’s basketball tournaments that are not the NCAA championships. I see no reason why there could not continue to be ancillary postseason events in football; it’s not like the demand for more football is going to go down, after all. Finally, the “oldest and most established” bowls are ginormous boondoggles that drain money away from the universities and conferences that participate in them; they are long overdue for extinction. We may or may not be able to fix global warming and the financial crisis, but we can damn sure do something about that.

More heat on the BCS

I realize there are about a billion higher priorities for the President and the Congress to be dealing with these days, but I still really enjoy watching these guys squirm.

At a hearing Friday before the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, three members of Congress decried the manner in which college football decides its national champion and warned government action could be implemented should changes not be made voluntarily by the sport’s administrators.

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, who has introduced legislation that would prohibit the NCAA from advertising its national champion in football as such unless it was produced via a playoff system, levied the most pointed criticisms of his peers toward the Bowl Championship Series.

“It’s interesting that people of good will keep trying to tinker with the current system, and to my mind it’s a little bit like — and I don’t mean this directly — but it’s like communism,” Barton said in his opening statement. “You can’t fix it. It will not be fixable. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to try a new model, and that’s why we’re here today.”

I can’t say I endorse Smokey Joe’s rhetoric, but I stand with him on the nature of the problem and the need for a real solution. And hey, better he focus on something he has some hope of actually understanding.

Four high-ranking college football officials testified before the subcommittee. Proponents of the current BCS system predicted that renowned bowl games would become endangered if a playoff system was initiated.

“It will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game’s history, to survive” because sponsorships and television revenue would go toward playoff games, BCS coordinator and ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “Certainly the 29 games that are not part of the BCS would be in peril.”

Okay, first of all new bowl games have been popping up like weeds even though none of them have any hope of ever having anything to do with a national championship. I don’t see why a transition to a playoff system would imperil such games. Hell, there are now three postseason men’s basketball tournaments that are not the NCAA championships. I see no reason why there could not continue to be ancillary postseason events in football; it’s not like the demand for more football is going to go down, after all. Finally, the “oldest and most established” bowls are ginormous boondoggles that drain money away from the universities and conferences that participate in them; they are long overdue for extinction. We may or may not be able to fix global warming and the financial crisis, but we can damn sure do something about that.

In Lubbock, there is no beer

I remember as a freshman in college staying in Lubbock overnight while driving across Texas and learning what a “dry county” is. That didn’t stop us from having a few brews – we just had to cross the county line to buy them first. I thought at the time that was a dumb way to live, but whatever. Regardless, it pleases me to learn that among other things up for election this May is a local referendum in Lubbock that would allow the sale of alcohol in stores. I can respect the argument against, though I disagree with it, and in the case of the guy who says that allowing alcohol sales in Lubbock would be a reduction in freedom because then the state would be the controlling authority and not the county, I don’t understand it. I’m still rooting for the pro-beer forces to win, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. Good luck, y’all.