Terry Canales

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.”

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Four Texas lawmakers are making voter turnout among college students a priority by proposing bills that would make university-issued ID cards an acceptable form of voter ID.

The bills, filed in both the House and Senate by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), would allow students to present a university-issued photo ID as a valid form of  voter ID. 

Watson said his bill, if passed, would make voting more convenient for students.

“Those in control of the Capitol have created unnecessary burdens for folks who don’t already have an acceptable form of ID to vote,” Watson said in an email to the Texan. “This is an easy way to begin removing those burdens.” 

In May, Student Government sent a formal letter in support of student IDs as a valid form of voter ID to the UT System Board of Regents. The System approved the letter as a legislative priority for the University. Chris Jordan, SG chief of staff, authored the letter and said he is excited to see support for this initiative in the legislature. 

“We’re not the first ones to say this is an issue,” Jordan said. “But we’re just glad to get the conversation started.”

In October, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas’ voter ID law, which requires voters have a state-issued photo ID to vote. Texas is one of seven states that requires voters to present photo IDs before casting a ballot. Other states request ID but do not require it, and 20 states do not require any ID.

Under the current voter ID law, there are seven acceptable forms of voter ID in Texas, including a Texas driver’s license and a concealed handgun license. Canales said most states that require voter ID also allow student IDs as a form of voter identification.

“Basically, this would be pushing conformity with the other voter ID states,” Canales said.

Israel said expanding voter ID to include student IDs is a secure and efficient way to increase voter turnout among college students. 

“Those who suggest that this is another opportunity for fraud are incorrect,” Israel said. “All the information that we give to the county is double checked, and there has to be a reassurance there, as we move through this process, that this is simply about creating more opportunities to vote.”

History senior Max Patterson, director of SG’s Hook the Vote agency, said the use of student IDs as voter IDs would make voting easier for out-of-state students.

“For out-of-state students, if they don’t get an election ID certificate or aren’t in the process of getting a new drivers license, they have to use their passport, which can be difficult if they don’t already have their passport at UT,” Patterson said.

Canales said he hopes the ability to use university-issued IDs as voter IDs will encourage college students to vote regularly.

“I think that if we do make it readily accessible through their student ID, we definitely are not exasperating the problem,” Canales said. “We are actually creating more avenues for college-age students to vote.”