Texas State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed 9 bills on the first day to pre-file legislation for the 84th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which reconvenes from Jan. 13, 2015 to June 1, 2015.
“My top priority this session is to pass a conservative, transparent budget that meets our growing needs. I am determined to protect our successful economic formula and ease the tax burden to ensure that Texas remains a place of growth and opportunity,” said Sen. Nelson, who serves as chair of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Sunset Advisory Commission. “My legislative efforts will focus on strengthening Texas’ economy and ensuring that state services are achieving their intended outcomes. I am also working to improve our mental health system and to help guide several state agencies through the legislative stages of the Sunset process.”
Lawmakers may file legislation through Friday, March 13, 2015. Following is an overview of each bill filed by Sen. Nelson on Monday:
*Margins Tax Relief: SB 52 will make permanent the temporary 5 percent exemption for Texas businesses under the state’s margins tax. “Texas businesses carried us through the national recession by producing the jobs and opportunities our citizens needed. We now have the opportunity to take our economy to even greater heights by reducing their tax burden to promote continued growth and prosperity.”
*Zero-Based Budgeting: SB 53 requires that state agencies undergo a zero-based budgeting review at the same time they are undergoing sunset review. “We need to establish a schedule that ensures every state agency’s budget undergoes a deep scrubbing. By creating a cycle that aligns with Sunset, we can ensure that each agency’s structure – and budget – undergoes a thorough examination on a rotating basis.”
*TANF Drug Testing: SB 54 ensures individuals applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are drug-free as required of participants who receive government assistance through this program. “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to support a person’s drug habit. This bill will ensure that that a key welfare program is living up to its mission of helping recipients on a true path to self-sufficiency.”
*Veterans Mental Health Grant Program: SB 55 creates a grant program at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to support community programs for veterans mental health. Senator Nelson will seek $20 million in state matching funds over the next two years to support local efforts to help veterans struggling with mental health problems. “I’ve been deeply troubled by the problems our veterans are having as they try to access care at the federal level. This funding stream will help communities across Texas launch programs that will meet the specific needs of veterans in their area and help to deal with the psychological wounds of war.”
*Resident Physician Expansion Grant Program: SB 56 updates provisions of the Resident Physician Expansion Grant Program so that funding for resident slots can be more easily provided to eligible applicants. “While we have taken big steps to address the health care workforce shortages in Texas, we must ensure the programs we’ve put into law are working effectively to meet our goals. This bill will allow the grant program to grow while also ensuring that first-year residents in new programs can complete their residency.”
*NTTA Customer Privacy: SB 57 protects the privacy of drivers using toll facilities in North Texas by clarifying that customer information collected by the North Texas Tollway Authority is not subject to disclosure under the Public Information Act. “Texans should not need to be concerned when they drive on a toll road that their travel or billing information is publicly available. This bill protects that sensitive information that shouldn’t be disclosed to the public.
*Denton County Sheriff Enforcement: SB 58 authorizes the Denton County Sheriff to inspect commercial vehicles for safety regulation enforcement and improve the safety of drivers in Denton County by ensuring commercial vehicles adhere to federal and state regulations. This authority is already granted to several populous Texas counties. “This bill gives our local law enforcement the tools they need to protect drivers on our highways and to enforce the law.”
*Texas Council on Family Violence Funding: SB 59 will help ensure that funds appropriated to help family violence victims reach Texas shelters more efficiently. Rather than force shelters to go through a cumbersome and lengthy procurement process with the Health and Human Services Commission, this bill would appropriate funding more directly to family violence programs. “Our shelters should not have to go through this much bureaucratic red tape in order to receive the funding they need to assist victims of domestic violence. I want to ensure that the funding we approve reaches these organizations swiftly and efficiently.”
*Child Advocacy Center Clarification: SB 60 aligns the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) statutes with current practices. It clarifies that victim interviews can be conducted offsite and prohibits the distribution of victim interviews to unauthorized parties. “By ensuring our laws line up with current practices, we will strengthen our ability to protect and help child victims of abuse.”
Sen. Jane Nelson represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Megan Hanson handles the public relations for Sen. Jane Nelson.