Ed Sterling

AUSTIN - A $182.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal years 2010-11 on April 1 earned passage in the Texas Senate.

The Senate proposal, now called Committee Substitute SB 1, includes $11 billion in federal stimulus money. CSSB1 must be reconciled with HB 1, the House version to be rolled out later this month.

Lawmakers will have until the end of May to deliver the finished product to Gov. Rick Perry, who may sign or veto it.

The governor repeatedly has said that he will reject a state budget proposal if it includes federal stimulus funding that requires the state to adhere to future spending obligations.

CSSB 1 includes a provision restricting the use of federal stimulus funds. It directs state agencies to prioritize one-time expenditures and authorizes the Legislative Budget Board and governor to prevent expenditures that would result in future fiscal obligations to the state.

The 10-member Legislative Budget Board is composed of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the chairs of the House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the Senate Finance Committee, plus two House members appointed by the speaker, and three Senate members appointed by the lieutenant governor.

Not counting the federal stimulus money, the Senate version is a modest increase over the current state budget.

Here are a few estimates of the larger appropriations in CSSB 1, based on a chart of all funds published by the Legislative Budget Board:

• $75 billion for public education;

• $60 billion for heath and human services, including Medicaid;

• $20 billion for economic development; and

• $11 billion for criminal justice.

Bill would expand CHIP eligibility

Texas families currently ineligible for children’s health insurance sponsored by the state could buy into the program under SB 841, a bill now under consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program now covers almost half a million children from low-income families, but Texas still leads the nation in uninsured children.

Families currently eligible for CHIP make 200 percent of the federal poverty level or about $44,000 annual income for a family of four. SB 841 features a graduated buy-in program for families earning 200 to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and would cover a family of four with an annual income up to approximately $66,000.

To control costs, SB 841 limits enrollment to 2,500 children the first year and 5,000 the second year, but has no cap in the third year and beyond.

SB 841 author is Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and coauthors, Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, Royce West, D-Dallas, and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Sobriety checkpoint bill moves

The Senate on March 31 approved legislation creating guidelines for law enforcement to use in operating a temporary checkpoint on a highway or street to stop motorists and test their breath, blood or urine to determine if they were driving while intoxicated.

Law enforcement that could conduct a sobriety checkpoint would include the Texas Department of Public Safety, the sheriff’s department of a county with a population of 250,000 or more and the police department of a municipality with a population of 500,000 or more.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, author of SB 298, said his bill addresses that fact that Texas leads the nation in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and is one of only 11 states that does not allow law enforcement officials to conduct sobriety checkpoints due to a lack of established guidelines.

The bill will be assigned to a House committee for further consideration.

Bill requires live ERCOT hearings

The House State Affairs Committee approved committee substitute to HB 1783 by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton. The bill would require the Public Utility Commission and the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas to broadcast their public hearings and open meetings via live Internet video. The bill now moves to the full House for further consideration.