Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 127: HIV Funding in Jeopardy

Today is the 127th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House reconvenes at 10 am. The Senate will briefly come back from an overnight recess at 8 am, then will officially start it's day at 11 am.

Last night the conference committee on HB 1 (the budget) laid out their proposed compromise on what are considered the less controversial portions of the budget. The conference committee is made up of five members of the House (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and five members of the Senate (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor). Their job is to come up with a compromise between the House's proposed state budget for the next two years and the Senate's proposed state budget for the next two years. The largest sticking point is public education spending. The committee did not lay out their proposal on how to fix the four billion dollar difference in public education spending in the two versions of the budget.

The conference committee's proposal uses the House's numbers for funding the state's HIV/STD prevention programs (including the HIV Medication Assistance Program), spending 19.1 million dollars less than what advocates say is needed to keep track with the increased rate of infection. The committee's proposal is far from finalized and they will continue to take input from other lawmakers and the public. The HIV/AIDS coalition of Texas has issued an action alert to members of the public asking them to contact the conference committee and demand that HIV/STD prevention programs be fully funded. There is an easy to use form e-mail generator here.

No word on whether the conference committee will restore Wayne Christian's (R-Center) "family and traditional values" amendment that was left out of the Senate's version of the budget. The amendment would require state universities that appropriate state funds to finance LGBT resource centers to equally fund "family and traditional values centers." The amendment is designed to defund the LGBT resource centers but would likely have little effect, even if restored, since most resource centers are funded by student fees, not state appropriations.

It may not matter. The budget is the only thing that the legislature is constitutionally required to pass. If they are unable to reach a comprimise before the 140 day session ends on May 30 the governor may be forced to call a "special session." Special sessions are called to consider specific legislative issues that arise between regular sessions, they can last for months or hours depending on how long it takes the legislature to resolve the issue. Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), who is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Austin American Statesmen that he thought it was unlikely that the House and Senate would agree on how to fund eduction, making a special session likely. Said Ogden: “I don’t think we’re going to agree on a funding level for education before a special session.” If a special session is necessary the budget will have to be drafted starting from scratch.

SB 723, the anti-trans marriage bill, is not on the Senate's intent calendar for today, but remains on the regular order of business. As the 45th bill on the regular order it is extremely unlikely that the Senate will consider it today. In order to become law the bill must pass out of the Senate and be voted out of House Committee by midnight on Monday. At this point every hour SB 723 is not considered is another nail in it's coffin.

The Senate Education committee will receive testimony this morning on HB 1942, the compromise "super" anti-bullying bill crafted by the House Public Education Committee and passed out of the House two weeks ago. The committee is scheduled to meet at 8:30, but may start late since the Senate has to meet briefly this morning to finish up yesterday's business. You can watch the hearing live here.

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