Mary Gonz

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas House of Representatives started its discussion Tuesday of an approximately $210 billion budget.

At print time, the discussion over HB 1, which lays out the House’s proposed state budget, was over eight hours long, and legislators had discussed roughly 100 of the more than 350 filed amendments. The House had not yet reached a discussion on article three, containing higher education budget information.

Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), appropriations chair, said he and the subcommittee chairs reviewed every amendment in preparation for the floor discussion.

“There are amendments, obviously, that we will oppose, and we will state why we oppose them [or] move to table,” Otto said. “There are amendments here we will accept. There are amendments here where we will tell members we’re going to let the will of the House speak.”

At the bill’s second reading, legislators discussed public education, border security, the wage gap and abstinence education, among other topics.

The discussion started with debate over a public education amendment that Otto filed. The amendment, which ultimately passed, would give public schools $800 million in funding, contingent on the passage of HB 1759.

HB 1759 would disperse state funding for public school maintenance, operations and debt.

Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) filed an amendment, which did not pass, to study and report data on the gender wage gap in Texas.

“Women in Texas continue to face wage inequality,” González said. “Don’t you believe that your daughters, your wives, your grandchildren should all be paid equally?”

According to journalism assistant professor Mary Bock, the gender pay gap is a result of factors such as women working fewer hours to care for children, or traditionally female jobs paying less than traditionally male jobs.

“It is such a complicated issue, that a study might help us get a handle on what’s going on in Texas specifically,” Bock said. 

González filed another amendment, which would increase funding for colonias, housing communities generally located on the border, by about $345,000. The funds would be moved from the Department of Public Safety budget, which receives more than $565 million in the current proposal, an almost $94 million increase form the current budget. This amendment also failed.

About seven hours into the reading, legislators began a discussion on abstinence funding in the state. Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) proposed an amendment that would transfer $2.5 million from funds dedicated to HIV and STD prevention to an abstinence education program. At the reading, Spitzer said abstinence is the only way to guarantee safe sex and HIV prevention.

The conversation got personal when Spitzer told his fellow representatives he was abstinent until marriage.

“[My parents] established that in me, and I hope to establish that in other children, so they can do the same thing,” Spitzer said.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington), who opposed the bill, said it was a mistake to take money from funds working to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

“I think abstinence is a valid program, but money to STD and HIV are equally valid as well,” Turner said.

The amendment passed 97–47.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

In a continued effort to prioritize higher education in this year’s legislative session, a group of six legislators are working to provide a tax exemption on certain textbooks. 

Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso), Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) and Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), individually filed bills that would offer part-time or full-time students at accredited public or private universities a tax exemption on textbooks each semester. 

If passed, each of the bills would set a time period during which students could purchase textbooks tax-free. 

“As we discuss curving tuition cost and financial aid opportunities, it was important for us to look at the spiking cost in textbook costs that students have to purchase each year,” Hernandez said.  

Canales, Hernandez and Schwertner’s bills set aside a week-long exemption period at the start of each semester. Zaffirini’s bill set aside 10 days, Lucio’s set aside one month and González’s set no time limit on the tax exemption.

Michael Kiely, course materials director at University Co-op, said the first week of the semester is typically the busiest for textbook sales and said the store would support sales tax exemptions.

“I’m not entirely sure what the impact of a sales tax exemption would have on textbook sales, but I can’t help but think it would be a positive thing for the consumer,” Kiely said in an email to The Daily Texan. “This is an initiative that would help lower the cost of course materials for students at UT, and the Co-op would be in favor of that.”

Canales said he hopes the bill will help more students afford day-to-day expenses while attending college. 

“Education is the greatest equalizer, so, essentially, what these bills do is they make education more affordable,” Canales said.

Schwertner said passing a textbook tax exemption bill is “the least we can do” to aid students who are struggling financially.

“The fact is, the cost of higher education is rising faster than Texas families can … keep up,” Schwertner said. “The price of tuition, fees and textbooks have all risen dramatically over the last decade, and, collectively, they are turning the dream of a college education into a nightmare for more and more Texas students.”

Since 1999, similar bills have been filed in the State House of Representatives and Senate but failed to pass, with the last bill filed in the 83rd legislative session. Zaffirini said the bill failed because of concerns over revenue loss.

Zaffirini said her most recent bill will only apply to students eligible for financial aid — a factor she thinks will lessen the bill’s financial impact on the state and increase its chances of passing. 

“In the past, we have heard opposition from certain municipalities that rely on sales tax revenue from textbook sales,” Zaffirini said. “We are hopeful that they will be more amenable to this session’s revised legislation.”

Hernandez said she thinks lowering the cost of higher education is an opportunity for Republican and Democrat lawmakers to work together.

“There are so many issues we can work on in a bipartisan fashion,” Hernandez said. “I think this is one of them. We are interested in helping our college students not graduate with so much debt and making education more accessible to everyone.”