Senate Committee

Karina Alvarez (left), an alumna of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, and Mirla Lopez, a UT alumna, go over their speeches before testifying at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Update: After over 13 hours of an emotional Senate hearing, the subcommittee on border security voted 2 to 1 to send the committee substitute for SB 1819 to full committee for review, with the recommendation that it pass.

Campbell said the bill is about policy, holding her original argument that sate university resources should first go to residents, and “not meant to harm anyone.”

“I too appreciate everybody being here throughout the whole day and your perseverance to stay here,” Campbell said. “I have listened and there are many folks that couldn’t be here today that I have listened too from my district and different parts of the state that have a difference of opinion.”

Lizeth Urdiales, ethnic studies junior at UT, sits in on the Senate hearing about a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) said the policy has worked in the state thus far and undocumented students should continue receiving in-state tuition.

“This is not a free right,” Garcia said. “They have earned this opportunity to just pay the same tuition that the other high school graduates that they attended school with are paying.”

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.  (D-Brownsville), member of the sub-committee, said he was upset to see SB 1819 gain support.

“[Senator Campbell,] I cant tell you how much I care for you and all of my brothers and sisters in the Senate, but I didn’t want to see this happen,” Lucio said.  "Not to this group or any group. Not in our state or any state in the country, which I love so dearly."

Original story: UT students, many of whom wore graduation caps and gowns, testified at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students. 

If passed, SB 1819 would repeal Texas’ version of the DREAM Act. Currently, undocumented students who have lived in Texas for at least three years and graduated from a state high school may qualify for in-state tuition at public institutions, a policy passed in 2001 and supported by Governor Rick Perry. Additionally, students must sign an affidavit agreeing to apply for citizenship if the opportunity arises.

Jesus Ochoa from Laredo, junior RTF major Sheiridan Aguirre and sophomore journalism major Marlon Saucedo prepare for their testimonies at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

The bill was heard in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security on Monday. Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), the bill’s primary author, said at the hearing she thinks state residents should fill university class spots — not undocumented students.

“At the end of the day, I think there are a finite number of spots at universities and that those should be preserved for Texas residents,” Campbell said. 

According to Campbell, there was a major increase in the number of undocumented students benefitting from in-state tuition since the act’s start. Campbell said she believes the number of students receiving benefits now numbers in the tens of thousands.

“The question is: Is Texas going to subsidize the dollars for having in-state versus just out-of-state tuition [for undocumented students]?” Campbell said. 

Freshman unspecified business major Ana Flores, an affiliate lead for the Texas Tuition Equity Campaign, marches in front of the Capitol on Monday. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Many undocumented students, especially those eligible for schools like UT, are top students in the state, according to ethnic studies junior Lizeth Urdiales. She said she believes these students are not taking spots from other students and the bill would stop top students from attending state schools. 

“You’re just basically lowering the value of a degree of any institution of higher education in Texas,” said Urdiales, who testified at the hearing. 

When undocumented students apply for in-state tuition, they submit an affidavit to their university, but the affidavit is also submitted by other students — such as certain exchange students — making the number of undocumented students difficult to track. 

According to University spokesman Joey Williams, about 700 students filed an affidavit with the UT last fall. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported more than 20,000 students filed for an affidavit in 2012, about 1.1 percent of public higher education institution enrollment. Chancellor William McRaven submitted a written testimony to the committee stating he thinks providing undocumented students in-state tuition is “the morally right thing to do.” 

Jose Trevino holds up his hand in solidarity with the students preparing to give testimony at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Journalism sophomore Marlon Saucedo attended the hearing to testify. Saucedo said he has been living in Texas for 14 years and thinks it would be unfair to “not be considered a Texan.”

“I am myself an immigrant student,” Saucedo said. “I come here because of the same reason everyone is here. I’m passionate about holding on to this right that took awhile for this community to even receive in the first place.” 

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said he believes SB 1819 would create a less diverse economic work force. He said we should be “applauding” the successes of undocumented students in the state, rather than removing tuition benefits. 

“It’s insulting to our hard-working students and their families that those in control of the Senate have decided that in-state college tuition is a border security issue,” Watson said in an email. “The students affected by this legislation are Texans. They have attended Texas schools and excelled.”

As of press time, the hearing on the bill had not yet concluded.

Lourdes Ontiveros, the mother of an undocumented college student, works on her testimony at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

As last-minute bills rush in before the 6:00 p.m. filing deadline Friday, House and Senate committee chairs said they consider higher education funding to be this session’s legislative priority.

Members are allowed to file bills through the first 60 days of the legislative session. After those 60 days are up, the session becomes more fast-paced, Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) said. Bills go in and out of committees and can come up for a vote on the Senate or House floors.

Zerwas, who is chair of the House higher education committee, said there is typically an increase in the number of bills filed in the legislature as the deadline nears. 

“The deadline always brings a flurry of activity,” Zerwas said. “There are interest groups out there that realize, all of the sudden, that they don’t have anything and they come in desperately asking to get something in.” 

While the number of bills filed is increasing, Zerwas said he does not anticipate the filing of any major new pieces of legislation.  

“I think we have seen most everything that is kind of high-profile or a high-priority issue among the members of the house,” Zerwas said. 

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said his committee is not looking to take on any more higher education bills.

“We pretty much have everything we can do a good job on this legislative session,” Seliger said. “You have to keep in mind there are bills that we have filed, and there will be a good number of bills that we will carry once they pass the House of Representatives.” 

One of the House committee’s goals, the Hazlewood Act, addresses tuition exemptions for state military veterans. At the end of January, a U.S. district court judge ruled that veterans who served in the military as non-Texas residents would be eligible for the tuition exemptions available to native Texas veterans if they established residency in the state.

Other priority initiatives for the House committee include improving student graduation rates, which will save students money in the long-term, Zerwas said. Some proposed methods include making it easier for students to get college credit through transfer courses and lowering the bar for Advanced Placement scores acceptable for credit.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee, said some of the most publicized issues the legislature is facing — the renewal of the Texas Dream Act and Campus Carry — will not be discussed within the higher education committee, since they have such broad implications relevant to a number of other committees. 

“[The speaker of the house makes] determinations, probably from a variety of standpoints, [about which committee hears which bill] … but there are also, what you could call political reasons, and certainly more global reasons that it might go elsewhere,” Howard said.

Howard said she cannot fully predict whether the Campus Carry bill or Dream Act bill will pass at this point.

According to Seliger, Senate priorities include allocating tuition revenue bonds, which are bonds to build buildings that are funded partially from the state and partially from tuition, as well as research funding.

Seliger said, to a certain extent, the committee receives their priorities and sets them according to the needs voiced by universities. 

“The priorities, the importance is set by the people in higher education for whom we make laws and policies, as well as legislative appropriations,” Seliger said.

Senate committee approves new UT System Board of Regents appointees

Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.
Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.

The Senate Committe on Nominations approved three appointees to the UT System Board of Regents Thursday.

The appointees – Sara Martinez Tucker, Steve Hicks and David Beck – must now go before the Texas Senate for a vote in order to take their positions on the board. 

Martinez Tucker was approved unanimously, while the committee approved Steve Hicks and David Beck by two 6-1 votes. Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) voted against Hicks and Beck.

Burton said Hicks and Beck have contributed to a lack transparency within the Board of Regents.

"[Hicks and Beck] have presided over a period of secrecy, privilege, and sharp rises in tuition at the University of Texas," Burton said in a statement. "The University of Texas is in need of a fresh start, with Regents concerned first and foremost with improving the strength of the University, getting tuition under control, and ensuring an admissions process that rewards the brightest students and not those with connections.”

Martinez Tucker, CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, served as undersecretary of the Department of Education during the Bush administration and as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Beck is a senior partner at the Beck Redden law firm in Houston. Both are UT alumni — Beck graduated from the UT School of Law, and Martinez Tucker received an undergraduate degree in journalism as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University. 

If approved by the Senate, Martinez Tucker and Beck will replace current regents Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell on the baord. Hicks’ term will be extended until 2021.

A surprise reshuffling of Senate committee chairmanships earlier this month left state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, a position he says he will go into with a fresh perspective.

Seliger said despite his legislative experience in higher education being limited to his service on a higher education oversight committee in 2011, the topic is of clear interest to him.

“I don’t know what to expect. This is my first standing committee chair position, and I’m just looking forward to it,” Seliger said. “Higher education is an interesting and important topic and I have already started discussions with people in higher education institutions and the experience has been very absorbent.”

Seliger said one of the issues he will bring up for discussion during the 2013 legislative session, which will begin in January, is the effectiveness of the Top 10 Percent Rule.

“We are going to discuss the [Top 10 program] — what it does and what it does not do,” Seliger said. “The law is there to increase minority enrollment, which I think is a very good idea. I don’t think it really works to do that. If so, then we should do away with it.”

The Top 10 program guarantees admission to public universities in Texas based on high school class rank.

Seliger has been in the Texas Senate for eight years, during which time he has served on various Senate committees, including one on public education.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he believes Seliger will be a quick study in his new position.

“He’s already reached out to me to talk about higher education issues,” Branch said. “We told him we would have an open door and pass him as much information about policy issues and the things we have been working on.”

Branch said he will work closely with Seliger to maintain the level of Tier One universities in the state and ease the transfer process from community colleges to four-year institutions. Tier One status identifies schools with significant research programs but has no concrete definition.

Although bills for the upcoming legislative session have not officially been filed yet, Seliger said he expects higher education funding to be another widely discussed issue in the Senate.

“We are really going to have to address funding,” Seliger said. “Higher education is important, and it’s expensive.”

He said he hopes institutions can develop satisfactory performance metrics that will allow the state to move away from enrollment-based financing and toward an approach that considers student outcomes.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is the previous chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, where she served since its formation in 2009. She said she has had extensive talks with Seliger to discuss the current issues in higher education, a fact Seliger said is a sign of a good working relationship.

“I was on her committee for higher education oversight and we worked together on legislation on other areas before so this will just sort of fit seamlessly with the work we have done together in the past,” Seliger said.

In an unexpected reshuffling of state Senate committee chairmanships, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst replaced a longtime Democrat from the Higher Education Committee.

Dewhurst announced a reorganization of Senate committee appointments for the upcoming legislative session Thursday morning, replacing the former Higher Education chair, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, with Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Zaffirini was appointed to chair the Senate Committee on Government Organization, which will oversee reviews of state agencies through the sunset legislation.

Seliger said the Higher Education Committee will continue to focus on high-quality and affordable education.

“I don’t think the committee’s priorities will change, because the priorities of higher education in Texas don’t change,” Seliger said.

He said the committee will not push programs that align with committee agendas from previous sessions.

“We won’t be strictly looking at specific programs,” Seliger said. “We are charged to look at education in the larger sense. We will focus on the overall goal of education and look for what we can do to assist universities in reaching that goal.”

The Daily Texan spoke with Zaffirini about her goals for the upcoming session, all of which revolved around higher education.

Zaffirini said she planned to pursue outcome-based funding for universities, a model endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry earlier this week. Outcome-based funding would tie the number of graduating students to 10 percent of an institution’s funding.

Zaffirini also said she hoped to increase funding for state financial aid programs after major cuts slashed aid for students during the previous legislative sessions.

“Part of affordability is financial aid, which the Legislature has reduced,” Zaffirini said. “I’m hoping to restore some of that funding now that we don’t have the same dire circumstances. It’s important that we identify how much a quality education costs and what the costs are for students.”

A champion of affordable higher education, Zaffirini served as chair of the Higher Education Committee since its inception in 2009. She chaired the Higher Education Subcommittee beginning in 2005 before it was upgraded to a regular committee. 

Zaffirini will continue to serve on the Higher Education Committee and the Subcommittee on Higher Education Funding as a regular member. She will also continue to co-chair the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency with Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Seliger said it is too early to talk about increasing funding to any program.

“Every area needs increased funding right now,” he said. “With increased expectations of higher education, we will work with and talk to universities about appropriations before moving forward.”

Seliger previously served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting during the 82nd legislative session.

Seliger’s appointment to the Higher Education Committee aims “to maximize the benefits of his interest in education and workforce development and his ability to work with all members,” according to a statement released by Dewhurst.

“This upcoming session will be difficult,” Dewhurst said in the statement. “As a lifelong businessman, I have constantly tried to challenge my colleagues and myself through new leadership opportunities and rotating assignments that require fresh conservative thinking and conservative solutions.”

Dewhurst recently lost a Texas primary runoff election. Republican Ted Cruz beat Dewhurst in August, becoming the party’s nominee for Texas Senator.

Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: Education board shuffles: New academic outlook arises from redistribution of committee positions

New Senate Committee on Higher Education chair appointed

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced senate committee appointments for the upcoming legislative session Thursday morning, reassigning former higher education chair Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

 

Zaffirini, former chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education was replaced by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. Zaffirini was reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization after serving as chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education since 2009. Previously, she chaired the Higher Education Subcommittee since 2005 before the committee was upgraded to a regular committee.

 

Seliger was appointed to the higher education committee because of his strong interest in improving public education for children, instituting innovative change and providing more school choice for parents, according to a statement released by Dewhurst.

 

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was appointed as chair of the Senate Committee on Education, replacing Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who announced her retirement last year.

 

“This upcoming Session will be difficult,” Dewhurst said in the statement. “As a lifelong businessman, I have constantly tried to challenge my colleagues and myself through new leadership opportunities and rotating assignments that require fresh conservative thinking and conservative solutions. Therefore, I am pleased to announce the following Chairs for the remainder of the Interim until the Regular Session to complete the Interim Charges.”

 

From Dewhurst’s statement:

 

Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education to maximize the benefits of his interest in education and workforce development and his ability to work with all Members. He recently served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Redistricting.

 

Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), whose leadership of the Senate Committee on Higher Education has benefited Texas students, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, where important Sunset legislation – including bills relating to the Higher Education Coordinating Board – will be considered this Session.

 

Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has been appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, due to his strong interest in improving public education for children, instituting innovative change and providing for more school choice by parents. 

 

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), who has ably served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Open Government to work on rewriting appropriate sections of the Open Government laws and increase transparency in state government operations in this age of modern communications.

 

Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation, succeeding Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) who was recently appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance. 

 

Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security, with the important responsibility of Homeland Security transferred to his Committee.

 

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which deals with local government issues.

 

Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Nominations, which handles the important job of considering Gubernatorial appointments.

 

Senator Royce West (D-Dallas), who served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence where his strong legal background will benefit the Senate as well as the Judiciary.

 

Senator Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) is appointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development to help grow the Texas economy and create new jobs.

 

Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) will serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, succeeding Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) who announced his retirement following the 82nd Legislature.

 

Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has been reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to help the Senate address federal healthcare and Obamacare challenges.

 

Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) has been reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

 

Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce after previously serving as Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

 

Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources after previously serving as Chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce.

 

Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Administration.

 

Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

 

Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) is reappointed as Chair of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.