House members gathered under the Capitol dome for more than 15 hours Friday and again Sunday to hash out details of the 2012-13 biennium budget, which passed in a 98-49 vote mostly along party lines.
Lawmakers piled on more than 200 amendments to House Bill 1 — several of which attempted to ease the hit to universities and financial aid.
The Senate will vote on their budget version in the coming weeks. Both budgets will then go into a joint committee where members from both chambers will work on one final version.
Outside the Capitol, public interest groups including Texas Impact protesters held a daylong vigil Friday to mourn the “death of state services.”
“Teachers across the state, who equipped themselves to serve the children of the state of Texas are being forced out of the position they love and put on the unemployment line,” said Louis Malfaro, secretary-treasurer of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. “So, today we mourn the death of Texas education.”
Legislators proposed about 73 amendments dealing with education, at least 11 of which attempt to increase financial aid funding.
Lawmakers did not pass any amendments to support TEXAS Grant funding. The original House budget proposes cutting TEXAS grants in half — or by nearly 35,900 from 2011 to 2012 — which would eliminate their availability for incoming students. Several lawmakers spoke passionately about restoring those funds.
Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, proposed an amendment — which failed — that would have transferred $24 million from the Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills Development Fund into TEXAS Grants and Texas Equalization Grants.
“The TEXAS Grants program has been extremely, extremely slashed in this budget,” Isaac said. “The cuts to the grants are too much, and this is one small way we can help underprivileged families, hardened by economic burdens we are facing in today’s economy. We need kids going to these schools, so we can improve our economies.”
Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, echoed Isaac’s sentiments by asking members to restore funding to financial aid to help students afford college. His amendments, which were shot down, proposed prioritizing TEXAS Grants if the Legislature taps into the Rainy Day Fund, a $9.4 billion emergency fund lawmakers can use during financial difficulties.
“TEXAS Grants is a program that pays dividends,” Villarreal said. “This is a program we created some time ago. We told our high school students that if you take rigorous courses and study hard, graduate high school and pursue college, we will be there for you to help afford college.”
According to one amendment that did pass, authored by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, if universities, such as UT and Texas A&M, can fund Gender and Sexuality Centers that teach about “alternative sexual practices,” they should equally fund “traditional values.”
Christian said his amendment would not infringe on a university’s right to provide alternative sexual practice education, it just expands on what they are required to offer.
“Currently, UT and other schools have a gender and sexuality center for alternative sexual practices. I’m not treading on their right to do that,” he said.
A Bill is Born:
All bills filed during this legislative session will face seven stages before they become law. Each session, lawmakers must pass a budget for the upcoming biennium.
1. Bill filed in House
2. In Appropriations (Committee until March 23)
3. House floor voted (on the bill April 3)
4. Out of Senate Committee
5. Voted on by Senate
6. Sent to Governor
7. Bill Becomes Law