As you all know this Sunday begins daylight savings time. The Legislature is taking this very literally as we ‘spring forward’ into high gear and begin to move bills through committees and off the floor.

Here are five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol:

1. Double Nickels passes on the Senate Floor

Senate Bill 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 5, which were the first bills to be heard on the Senate floor this session, have been voted out of the Texas Senate and sent to the House. I am thankful to Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick and my colleagues in the Senate for their support of this bill. As our state continues to grow, our economy and much more depends upon having a safe and reliable road system.

This bill authorizes that each fiscal year, the first $2.5 billion in vehicle sales tax revenue to be put into the state’s general fund. The next $2.5 billion collected would go to the State Highway Fund, to be used for the states highway infrastructure. Any revenue collected beyond $5 billion a year would be split with 50 percent going to the State Highway Fund, 20 percent to education and 30 percent to the general fund.

1. Exemptions for Veterans Organizations

Representative Otto and I have filed, SB 918 and HB 2260, which would add veterans organizations to the list of property exemptions which are not required to file a new application annually. Currently, a veterans organization must submit an application for property tax exemption each year. This often creates difficulty for the volunteers serving these organizations as they often change each year. This bill will not require them to file annually, but if the ownership of their building changes or the appraisal district feels they need to refile to update the records, they will have to do so.

1. Senate Finance Workgroups

Senator Jane Nelson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has announced workgroup assignments for the committee. As the budget has eleven distinct parts, Senator Nelson has divided these up into four workgroups to ensure the members are able to fully examine the details of the budget. Each workgroup will then present their findings to the committee as a whole.

I have been named Chairman of one of the workgroups which covers areas such transportation, regulating agencies like the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well as natural resources. I am grateful to Senator Nelson for this opportunity and look forward to working with the members to determine the state’s budget for the next two years.

1. Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish

I have co-authored Senate Joint Resolution 22, by Senator Brandon Creighton, which proposes an amendment to the Texas constitution to uphold and protect the right of Texans to hunt and fish as a preferred method of managing the state’s wildlife population.

Hunting and fishing has long been a part of Texas’ heritage, and if you have been to my Capitol office, you know I am a fan of this tradition. By adding this ‘right’ to the Constitution, we will be able to protect the sporting traditions in our state from groups who would like to ban hunting. Hunting and Fishing are also effective methods of managing the state’s wildlife population.

If passed by both chambers, the resolution will be sent to the voters in November 2015. Currently, 18 states have a similar version of this amendment in their state constitutions.

1. Celebrating Texas’ Independence Day

This week on March 2nd we celebrated Texas’ Independence Day. Set on the anniversary of the signing of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico, Texas Independence Day is a reminder of our state’s rich history and the legacy of freedom we must still protect. After the declaration of independence was signed, Texas went on to operate as a stand-alone Republic for 10 years until it joined the United States by a vote of the people.

While Texans are proud Americans, we still hold on to much of the individual spirit from our time as a separate nation. As the Texas legislature faces challenges this year, it is good to reflect on the courage and bravery exhibited by Texas’ founders. They left a legacy of freedom, self-reliance and ingenuity that still inspires our state today.

Senator Robert Nichols
FOR THE RECORD