State Capital Highlights

Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick take office



January 20 was inauguration day for Gov. Greg Abbott, successor to Rick Perry, who completed a record-setting 14 years as governor. Abbott is the 48th governor of Texas.

Abbott expressed gratitude to the people who elected him and promised to “promote policies that limit the growth of government, not the size of your dreams.”

“Texas truly is the land of opportunity, the place where anyone can achieve anything,” Abbott said. “But as great as Texas is there’s more we must do: More for the families stuck in traffic. More for parched towns thirsty for water. More for parents who fear their child is falling behind in school. More for employers searching for skilled workers. More for our veterans who return broken from battle.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, successor to David Dewhurst who served at the post for 12 years, also addressed the crowd at the inauguration. “In my campaign,” Patrick said, “I pledged to secure the border, to lower property and business taxes, prioritize, reform and improve public education, build our infrastructure and protect life, family and the Second Amendment. That’s what I pledged to do as a candidate and that’s what I will do as lieutenant governor.” Patrick is the state’s 42nd lieutenant governor.

Patrick awards chairmanships

On Jan. 21, the Texas Senate voted to cut the number of standing committees from 18 to 14 and Lt. Gov. Patrick, as president of the Senate, named committee chairs and members of each committee.

Sen. Jane Nelson, RGrapevine, was named chair of the body’s 15-member Committee on Finance and will manage the writing of a state budget to be melded with a version originating in the Texas House. Nelson served as chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services for several legislative sessions. Earlier this month, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said some $113 billion is available for generalpurpose spending in the state’s 2016-2017 fiscal biennium. For comparison, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ revenue estimate for the current 2014-2015 biennium was $92.6 billion.

Other standing committee chairmanships assigned by the lieutenant governor include: Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Committee on Administration; Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs; Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Business and Commerce; Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, Criminal Justice; Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Galveston,

Education; and Sen. Charles Schwertner, RGeorgetown, Health and Human Services.

Also, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, Higher Education; Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, Intergovernmental Relations; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Natural Resources and Economic Development; Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, Nominations; Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, State Affairs; Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Transportation; and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, Veteran Affairs and Military Installations. Sen. Birdwell was named chair of the Border Security Subcommittee of Campbell’s committee.

‘Three-fifths rule’ adopted

On Jan. 21, the Texas Senate voted on procedural rules for the current legislative session.

Notably, the body dispensed with the traditional “two-thirds rule” requiring that at least 21 members of the 31-member body agree to bring up a bill before it could be debated on the Senate floor. All 20 Republican members of the Senate and one Democrat, Sen. Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor of adopting a “three-fifths rule” so that as few as 19 members of the body need agree on whether to bring a bill to the Senate floor for debate.

In the course of a twohour debate opponents said, in effect, that the rule change would give too much power to the majority party and erode the body’s history of bipartisan cooperation and consent. Sen. Eltife said the “three-fifths rule” would help the Senate “to govern in regular session and complete our work in a timely manner.”

Unemployment rate falls

Job growth continued with an upward trend in December and Texas saw an increase of 457,900 seasonally adjusted total non-farm jobs over calendar year 2014.

December was the fifth straight month of recordbreaking annual job growth for the Lone Star State “and over the month, the state gained 45,700 jobs, marking 51 straight months of employment growth,” the Texas Workforce Commission reported on Jan. 23.

In addition, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in December, down from 4.9 percent in November and down from 6.0 percent a year ago. This was the lowest Texas unemployment rate since May 2008, Texas Workforce Commission said.

Andres Alcantar, chairman of the state agency, said, “Every major industry added jobs over the year, benefiting from a strong business climate and a growing, competitive and high quality Texas workforce.”

ED STERLING is the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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