Editor’s note: In this new weekly series, CultureMap gives you the highlights, fun facts and juicy tidbits about what is happening down in Austin while the Texas Legislature is in session.
First bill of the session
The big news this week was the passage of a $4.8 billion bill that funded Medicaid through the rest of the year. Due to some budget tricks in the 2011 session that you really don’t want us to explain here, the program was set to run out of money in mid-March, and 3 million people would lose coverage.
Before you panic, realize that the lawmakers knew what they were doing and fully expected this — for the most part. The House passed it unanimously, as much a testament to the popularity of House Appropriations Committee.
A win for Powers
Monday was undoubtedly a win for UT president Bill Powers. His relationship with both Gov. Rick Perry and the university’s board of regents has been scrutinized lately, with some even whispering his job may be in jeopardy. Monday, however, saw lawmakers in both the House and the Senate passing resolutions supporting Powers as UT’s fearless leader. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst went even further, addressing the Senate in defense of the board of regents’ “character assassination” of Powers.
Freedom for students
Over in the Senate, a bill was filed that would allow high school students a bit more freedom in choosing what to study. In addition to the state mandated curriculum, students can enhance their diplomas with “endorsements” in things like technology or the arts. As someone who chose the arts, I urge all high schoolers to consider that technology track. You’ll make a lot more money and you may even have health insurance.
One more day of P.E.
Children all over Texas may be rejoicing if the Senate passes SB 504, which would eliminate the spinal curvature exam in schools. On the downside, this means they can’t get out of gym class that day.
They giveth, and they taketh away
If Monday saw high school students potentially getting a bit more freedom, Tuesday saw some of it being taken away. A bill in the House would require all students to obtain parental consent for sexuality and family planning classes. The phrase “family planning” obviously means contraception, but it is also a dog whistle for that most horrible of horrible words in the Texas Legislature: “abortion.” Because that’s what they teach in high school, you know. All About Abortion 101.
Stop the noise
Another bill would make it a criminal offense to be too loud. If you exceed a certain decibel level (85 during the day, 70 at night) and a justice of the peace verifies it, you may be charged with disorderly conduct. Old men on porches everywhere are rejoicing.
Brews on tap in Lege
Wednesday was Craft Brewery Day at the Capitol, also known as the Best Day Ever. The Senate referred four bills that would attempt to loosen regulations on craft breweries in Texas. Among other things, this would allow craft breweries to double the amount of beer they make every year and sell it on the wholesale level.
Pass the hypodermic needle
Over in the House of Representatives, an interesting bill was deferred to committee that would, in essence, create a DNA super base. If passed, this bill would require anyone arrested for a felony to be forced to give a DNA sample. Just a note: It doesn’t mean you actually have to be convicted, just arrested.
Cultural diversity in the doctor’s office
On a different note, a House bill that would create a “Cultural Competence Requirement” for certain university-level health education programs. This aims to educate healthcare providers on different cultures and how to treat patients while respecting these differences.
As the session ambles on toward summer, we expect things will get pretty interesting. In addition to the hot topics of gun licenses and abortion, we’ll also be covering the legislation about Texas culture and music, tourism, and, of course, the bill that would make it illegal for UT and Texas A&M to not play a Thanksgiving Day football game.