Seems like last week's election is just a distant memory now, doesn't it? Well, buckle up, because the 2009 Texas legislative session is officially underway as today is the first day for pre-filing bills to be introduced in the spring. My inbox is slowly but surely filling up with press releases about the goodies to come. Here's a sample:
From State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio:
House Bill 133 would require property owners to disclose their real estate sales prices to the local appraisal district. Appraisers currently have access to ample information about working class and middle class homes. In Bexar County, for example, over 95 percent of homes under $300,000 are listed in the Multiple Listing Service. But appraisers do not have access to that information for high-end and commercial properties that operate in the shadow market. As a result, appraisals and tax bills for million-dollar homes and business properties are often artificially low, leaving middle-income homeowners to make up the difference.
"Fighting for fair treatment for all homeowners continues to be one of my top priorities this legislative session," explained Rep. Villarreal.
House Bill 134 and House Joint Resolution 22 would make several additional appraisal reforms. They would establish a state Office of Property Appraisal to ensure that Central Appraisal Districts use appropriate appraisal procedures. The legislation would also improve the appraisal appeals process, ensure that homes are valued on their residential value rather than speculative value, and make additional reforms to protect homeowners.
Rep. Villarreal stated, "We must have a fair, transparent and reliable way to fund our children's education and other public investments."
From State Sen. Rodney Ellis:
Senator Ellis' comprehensive legislative package includes:
- SB 104, which will make college more affordable, requiring legislative approval for tuition increases beyond 2008-2009. Tuition rates have spiked by an average of 60% at public universities in Texas since the Legislature deregulated tuition five years ago.
- SB 117, to increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification procedures.
- SB 116, to require video recording of custodial interrogations.
- SB 115, to establish an Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions.
- SB 169, to give the governor power to grant multiple reprieves in capital cases to prevent the execution of an innocent person.
- SB 110, to prohibit the insurance industry from utilizing credit scores to determine policyholders' rates.
- SB 147, to ensure coverage for losses incurred as a result of compliance with mandatory evacuation orders.
- SB 106, providing the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Insurance with the ability to utilize prior approval on insurance rates that are deemed to be excessive.
- SB 139, to protect the integrity of elections by increasing penalties for deceptive election practices and SB 143 limiting political contributions
- SB 118, to allow eligible voters to register during early voting periods and SB 138 to make election day a state holiday.
On the first day of pre-filing for the 81st Legislative Session, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa filed S.B. 105, a tuition moratorium bill. Hinojosa's proposal would establish a two-year moratorium on tuition rate hikes and limit future increases to key economic indices.
The bill would impose a two-year moratorium on tuition increases at Texas' public universities. Following the two-year freeze, university regents could increase tuition rates only once a year, and increases would be capped by the yearly increase in the Consumer Price Index, an inflation tracker. As for fees, the bill would allow only for fees approved by the majority of student voters unless the fees are required or allowed by statute.
Senator Hinojosa is joined by a coalition of bipartisan support, including Senators Tommy Williams (R-Woodlands), Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), Chris Harris (R-Arlington), Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), and Dr. Robert Deuell (R-Greenville).