"My five cents" - May 17, 2013
By Senator Robert Nichols, Senate District
The Texas Legislature is a two-chamber body that can resemble a three-ring circus. In the last days of session, there is so much action in both houses it can be hard to keep up. Keeping bills alive feels like a plate-spinning act, everyone is distracted by the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and there are a few freak show bills on the side. As chaotic as the process can seem, most of it is the final product of thoughtful consideration and review over the 140 days of the session.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
House says 'no' to term limits
On Wednesday the House voted against SJR 13, which would have given voters the chance to decide if they want a two consecutive term limit for the Governor and other statewide officials. You may remember me telling you that the Senate passed the measure 27-4 in March, but it failed in the House 61-80. Because SJR 13 was a proposed constitutional amendment, it would have needed to pass both chambers with a two-thirds majority to be put on the November 5 ballot.
The last time a term limit proposal made it through the Senate was 1995, and it also died in the House. If this week's vote was any indication, it could be many years before Texas joins the 36 other states that have some type of term limits for statewide officeholders.
Campus carry moves forward
On Tuesday the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed HB 972, a bill that would legalize concealed carry on college campuses. However, schools would be able to opt out each year, after speaking with students, faculty and staff. Similar bills without the opt out provision have not gotten as far.
I expect HB 972 to be heard by the full Senate in the coming days, and will be sure to keep you updated.
Campaign disclosure heads to Governor
This week was a big win for a bill I coauthored regarding campaign disclosure. SB 346 cracks down on so-called "dark money," contributions made to tax-exempt political groups who influence elections but are not required to reveal their donors. This bill would require any dark money group that spends $25,000 or more on politics to disclose all contributors who gave more than $1,000. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these groups spent more than $300 million in the 2012 campaign cycle alone.
After passing out of the Senate 23-6 last month, SB 346 passed out of the House 95-52 on Monday. It now heads to the Governor's desk and, if signed, will be a major step forward for transparency in the election process.
Cottage food bill advances
On Tuesday I was proud to vote for HB 970 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. This bill expands the ability of "cottage food" producers, individuals who make food in their homes, to produce more low-risk foods for sale and sell those foods outside the home.
Prior to 2011, it was illegal to make any foods in one’s home and sell it at all. However, in the spring of that year, we passed the first cottage food bill which provided that people could make specific low-risk foods such as cakes, cookies, and jams in their homes and sell directly to consumers, up to $50,000 per year.
The 2011 law has led to the establishment and growth of numerous small businesses across the state. HB 970 will build on this progress by allowing for other types of food to be sold, including foods such as candy, dried fruits and vegetables, and granolas. Perhaps most importantly, individuals will be able to sell these goods at new locations such as farmers’ markets, farm stands and community events.
State sea turtle chosen
Perhaps you know that the state's official flower is the Bluebonnet and official bird is the Mockingbird, but did you know that the state is about to have an official sea turtle? The legislature recently passed HCR 31 to make the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, an endangered native species found from South Padre Island to Chambers County, the state sea turtle of Texas. School children in Galveston brought the idea to their state representative who then filed HCR 31. The House and Senate passed the resolution unanimously and it was recently signed into law by the Governor. Be sure to be on the lookout for our new official state sea turtle on your next trip to the beach!