By BRIAN SMITH
State Rep. Phil King on Thursday discussed the latest legislative session and current special session during a meeting of the Parker County Republican Women.
King said the issues being discussed include transportation, redistricting, education and pro life. Education continues to be a top priority that state officials are trying to get a handle on. He talked about a recent bill passed that would cut the amount of standardized tests needed to graduate high school from 15 to five. King said tests have become the focus of the education system instead of educating students.
He said lawmakers are also trying to loosen up the track to graduation. Roughly 20 years ago, it was wrongly determined that all children were going to college.
“That was hurting the amount of students taking vocational jobs which are really good, high paying jobs,” King said. “We want to allow children and their parents to tailor an education based on the child’s strengths.”
Students will also be allowed to earn dual vocational credits with local community colleges under a joint operating agreement if the bill is passed.
The Legislature also began to take a look at educator pensions under the Teacher Retirement System. King said the TRS is the seventh largest pension system in the world and is operating $26 billion in the red. Bringing teacher associations, unions, school districts and others to the bargaining table helped get rid of some bad policies.
Water has also been a hot button issue. Voters approved a $6 billion bond issue in 2011 but entities couldn’t access it because of some legal issues not allowing entities to charge taxpayers until the project was complete. Voters will go back to the polls in November to consider a measure that will allow $2 billion to be taken out of the state’s rainy day fund as kind of a “bridge” to get many of the water projects funded under a low interest loan system, King said.
Legislators also passed a bill during the past session authorizing random drug testing for those asking for unemployment compensation. King said Republicans had the votes for a similar bill authorizing random drug testing for welfare recipients but a last-minute Democratic filibuster kept the bill from being considered.
The Legislature’s recent passing of a $97 billion budget, which had the largest number of majority party members voting against it in history, did nothing but show “the lack of discipline in the budget process,” King said.
He said Health and Human Services are eating up too much of the budget, now equalling what is being spent in education. Much of that comes from Medicaid and has been forced on legislators by hospitals trying to recoup money, King said.
The increased HHS budget erased an estimated $8 billion in additional revenue many legislators wanted to use to budget water projects, transportation issues and more. With the state growing by 1,200 people a day, infrastructure and roads need to be addressed to keep the state atop the best places for doing business, King said.