Firearms on campus, Rainy Day Fund use characterize session

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While students were off during spring break, Texas lawmakers tackled legislation including concealed carry on campus and the Rainy Day Fund. The Rainy Day Fund is an emergency pot of excess revenue totaling $9.4 billion that lawmakers can use to balance the budget. State legislators, including House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said the state should tap into the fund, but Gov. Rick Perry did not want to use any of the excess revenue. A concealed carry bill — which would allow licensed carriers over the age of 21 to bring handguns onto college campuses — was originally introduced in 2009 but did not pass the House. Rainy Day Fund State troopers estimated 8,000 parents, educators and students rallied at the Capitol on Saturday protesting the proposed $10 billion cuts to public education. Rally participants encouraged Perry to use a portion or all of the Rainy Day Fund to alleviate the $15 to $27 billion budget shortfall and its impact on education. Perry, however, did not want to use the fund at all because he said it should be used for other emergencies, such as natural disasters. The House Appropriations Committee met Monday to discuss using the fund, but no one from Perry’s office showed up. The committee received the governor’s approval to tap the fund Tuesday, and members voted unanimously in favor of withdrawing $3.1 billion to balance the 2011 budget. The bill will move to the House floor and will take 90 votes to pass. Perry said in a statement he is against using the Rainy Day Fund to close the 2012-13 budget shortfall, but came to an agreement with House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Comptroller Susan Combs for a one-time withdrawal to alleviate the current budget. “[It will] close out the Fiscal Year 2011 budget gap by implementing $800 million in cuts, using $300 million from increased sales tax collections over the last few months and using a one-time draw not to exceed $3.2 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund,” Perry said in a statement. Concealed Carry on Campus The concealed carry on campus bill passed in a 5-3 vote along party lines out of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. The bill will move to the House floor, and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear testimony on a similar bill Tuesday. “College campuses do play host to violent crimes,” said W. Scott Lewis, Texas legislative director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. “This is about personal security not campus security. We are suggesting that individuals be granted the means to protect themselves.” UT students against the bill are expected to march from campus to hold a rally at the Capitol before the Senate committee meeting tomorrow. “You’re trying to address the rare day when a campus shooting occurs, but what about all the days when campus shootings aren’t occurring?” said John Woods, executive director of UT Students for Gun-Free Schools. “These bills will not make campuses safer. These bills are about an ideological agenda.”