State Capital Highlights by Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus on May 21 jointly announced a $3.8 billion tax relief package for Texas businesses and homeowners. 

According to the announcement, the agreement reached by Patrick and Straus on a tax proposal, along with additional legislation, includes:

1. A 25 percent permanent reduction in the business margins tax;
2. A $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption, beginning in 2015, subject to passage of a constitutional amendment adopted in the November election; and
3. SB 1760, legislation requiring a 60 percent vote of the governing body of any taxing unit wishing to adopt an increase in property taxes that exceeds the effective tax rate.

“Texas leaders have come together to advance conservative principles that will improve the lives of Texans and continue to make Texas the model for doing business,” Abbott said. “Every dollar businesses and homeowners pay in taxes is a dollar that could be invested in new jobs, higher wages and stimulating the Texas economy.”

Meanwhile, the passage of a state budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the Legislature’s primary task, is in its final stages. The buzz around the Capitol before Memorial Day weekend was that with tax relief resolved, an agreement on the budget that will satisfy the governor’s expectations will soon follow.

Unemployment numbers reported
Texas Workforce Commission on May 22 reported Texas has added an estimated 287,000 seasonally adjusted jobs over the past year including a modest gain in April with the addition of 1,200 positions during the month. 

The state unemployment rate remained steady at 4.2 percent in April, down a full percentage point from 5.2 percent a year ago. Texas continues to trend well below the national unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

Job gains for April were led by the Leisure and Hospitality industry, which added 6,900 positions. The Information industry enjoyed its largest monthly gain for the industry since June 2000 with the addition of 3,400 jobs in April. 

Other Services gained 2,800 jobs during the month followed by Trade, Transportation and Utilities, which expanded by 2,100 positions.

“We know that there are still folks who are looking for good-paying jobs in our state and we encourage them to take advantage of the many resources made available through Texas Workforce Solutions,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Through our Workforce Solutions offices around the state, staff that can help steer job seekers to employment and training opportunities. With more than 260,000 available jobs currently posted on, job seekers have good options here in Texas.”

Legislators agree on e-cig bill
SB 97 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The Senate concurred with House amendments on May 18, allowing the legislation to proceed to the governor’s office for a final signature.

According to the Senate news service, House provisions added to the bill would strengthen on-line sales restrictions and the penalty for selling e-cigarettes to minors would be a fine of up to $500, the same as selling tobacco products to a minor. If Gov. Abbott signs the bill into law, it will take effect on Oct. 1.

E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid containing nicotine that is inhaled by the user. Hinojosa expressed concern that use of “vaping” products is growing among younger Texans, saying, “We now have many minors using e-cigs in school because they think that it is a way to avoid smoking tobacco cigarettes.”

A 2014 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Federal Drug Administration shows e-cigarette use increasing from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent of high school students and 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent of middle school students in a single year.

Weekend patrols to increase
Texas Department of Public Safety on May 20 announced a plan to increase trooper patrols this Memorial Day weekend on Texas roadways. Troopers will be looking for drunken drivers, speeding, and seat belt and other traffic violators statewide.

Last year during the Memorial Day weekend, DPS troopers arrested 413 drunk drivers and issued 5,439 speeding citations, 1,053 seat belt and child safety restraint tickets, and cited 684 drivers for driving without insurance. Additionally, troopers made 182 fugitive arrests and 168 felony arrests.


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