DALLAS -- A bill that would provide tuition revenue bonds for 62 Texas higher education construction projects won a House committee's approval, even though outgoing Gov. Rick Perry has not added the issue to the call for the legislature's second special session of the year.
House Bill 5, sponsored by Dan Branch, R-Dallas, won approval in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. However, House Appropriations chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said the bill would not be sent to the House for a vote unless Perry adds it to the call. The bill was sent to the House Calendars Committee.
Ignoring pleas from the state's rapidly growing colleges and universities for TRB authority, Perry sought a showdown with Democrats over abortion restrictions instead.
After Democrats managed to stymie the bill to restrict abortion in the first special session, Perry called a second special session on the issue, along with a $900 million per year transportation funding measure. The abortion bill was not a major issue in the regular session of the 2013 legislative session that ended May 27, whereas transportation and higher-education funding were.
Bills that would have provided $900 million per year for transportation from the state's $12 billion rainy day fund died in both the regular and special sessions when time ran out. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Perry acolyte, made the abortion measure a priority over transportation funding.
In the second special session, both the abortion bill and the transportation funding have won key votes. The Senate passed the transportation bill last week, but the House was wrangling over some key provisions. After passage in the House, the abortion measure was before the Senate on Friday.
In the regular session, Branch told the House Appropriations Committee that it was important to pass the tuition revenue bond measure for Texas to attract talented students and faculty in the future.
As an example, he said, engineering students and faculty would be drawn to the University of Texas at Austin's proposed $310 million Cockrell Engineering Education Research Center, currently slated for completion in 2015.
Not passing the bill would adversely affect smaller and newer schools that might not have money to pay for construction on their own, Branch argued.