Last week was the deadline to file bills in the Senate. While approximately 2,000 bills were filed in the Senate and 4,000 bills in the House, not all of those will receive a committee hearing or go to the Senate floor. The upcoming weeks will be filled with committee hearings and passing bills through the Senate to the House.

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

  1. Tax Savings for Homeowners

Senate Bill 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 1, by Senator Nelson were approved in the Senate Finance Committee this week. These measures would cut school property taxes by $2.2 billion over the next two fiscal years. This means the average homeowners school property taxes would be cut by approximately $200. Schools will be held harmless, meaning the state will cover the cost of tax relief.

SB 1  would set the residence homestead exemption amount at 25 percent of the median home value in the state. This would take it from $15,000 to approximately $33,500 and would continue to increase as the value of houses statewide goes up. This will provide just under $2.2 billion in tax relief to homeowners.

As it is a constitutional amendment, if approved by the Legislature, this proposal will go to the voters in September 2015.

  1. Business Tax Relief

Two other bills SB 7, by Senator Nelson, and SB 8, by Senator Schwertner, both of which provide franchise tax relief for businesses in Texas, were also approved by the Senate Finance Committee. SB 7 would permanently reduce the rate of the business franchise tax by 15 percent. This would provide approximately $1.8 billion in cost savings over the biennium.

SB 8 would allow businesses with $4 million or less in annual revenues to be exempt from paying the franchise tax. It is estimated this tax cut would provide an exemption to 61,000 of the 117,000 businesses currently subject to franchise taxation. This will save businesses approximately $380 million per year, an average of $6,200 saving per year for each business. Texas’ small businesses are important drivers for new employment which in turn helps the growth of our state’s economy.

  1. High School Graduation Committee

This week the Senate voted out SB 149 by Senator Seliger, which would create a special graduation committee for students who have been unable to pass up to two of the five end-of-course exams currently required to graduate from high school.

These individual graduation committees, which would be made up of parents, principals, counselors and teachers, would consider a variety of factors to determine a student’s eligibility for graduation. These include grades, coursework, attendance rate and the scores on college entrance exams. The committee must also assign and consider the completion of a project or a portfolio of work which would demonstrate the students proficiency in the subjects areas of the exams they have failed.

This bill would expire in September 2017, providing an opportunity for the 85th Legislature to determine whether the program has worked as intended.

  1. Banning E-Cigarettes

This week, the Senate passed SB 97, by Senator Hinojosa, which prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. E-cigarettes are battery-powered cartridges which heat up flavored liquid and produce an inhaled nicotine vapor. These products do not contain the tar and carbon monoxide found in regular cigarettes but can contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

Under SB 97, the penalties for violating this rule would be the same as for other tobacco products as vendors could face fines up to $500 for selling e-cigarettes to minors. People under 18 would also be banned from possessing or using the devices. There are 41 other states who have prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to minors due to the potentially harmful health consequences.

  1. The Big Dance

March madness is upon us and much like session, where bills compete in committees to get to the final dance on the senate floor, college basketball teams have recently competed to make it to the Big Dance. Five Texas teams have made it and one of those is Stephen F. Austin State University located in Nacogdoches, which I proudly represent in Senate District 3. For the second straight season and third time in the school’s history the SFA Men’s Basketball team will compete in the NCAA Tournament. While we should all cheer on Texas’ teams in this tournament, I will be cheering a little louder for SFASU.

Senator Robert Nichols (R) – District 3