Texas legislature introduces variety of bills

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Texas senators and representatives took full advantage of their first opportunity to file legislation for the upcoming 82nd Legislative session on Monday, introducing almost 400 bills and resolutions.

The proposed bills and resolutions range from the mundane — such as a House bill that would make the hamburger the official sandwich of Texas — to controversial proposals that have bogged down the Legislature before, such as the Voter ID bill. The bill, which slowed the 81st Legislative session because Democrats used parliamentary procedures to delay, would have required Texans to show a photo ID before casting their ballots.

Two pieces of legislation introduced Monday, if passed, would directly affect UT students — a Senate bill that would modify the way the TEXAS Grant program awards scholarships and a House bill that aims to cut the costs of textbooks.

“What [the House bill] does, is it expands transparency for faculty, staff, students and parents,” said state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the chairman of the Texas House Higher Education Committee and author of the bill.

His bill would require that universities integrate a course’s book list into the course schedule, so students can see what books they will be required to read and how much those books will cost when they register for classes.

If passed, it would also require publishers to explain the differences between the new and preceding editions and inform faculty about cheaper options to the traditional hardback. Publishers would also have to offer textbooks unbundled from workbooks or supplemental CDs in an attempt to keep costs down.

“We want to let the marketplace determine the price, but we want to put in as much transparency as possible and we think that will lower the price,” Branch said.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, introduced a Senate bill that, if passed, would add new academic requirements to the TEXAS Grant scholarships that attempt to ensure that high school graduates who qualify for aid from the program are better prepared for college.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, introduced a series of immigration proposals, including a bill that’s nearly identical to Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

“In Houston alone, since 2004, gang-related crime that is connected to the drug cartels has gone up 250 percent,” Riddle said.

She also introduced a measure that would require public schools to keep a tally of the number of students who are in the country without documentation.

“The first day of bill filing is a time when some lawmakers try to stake a claim to hot button issues,” said Terri Burke, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “What we haven’t seen, are legislators staking a claim to the biggest issue facing the state: a $24 billion budget shortfall.”