Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst names Senate Higher Education Committee

Joshua Fechter

On Friday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named the seven members of the Senate Higher Education Committee, which is expected to deal with topics that will directly impact the University.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University will keep an eye on the committee, which consists of four Republicans and three Democrats. He said the University expects the committee to address a fixed tuition bill, which would require universities to offer students fixed-rate tuitions over a four-year period. The bill proposing fixed tuition has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives.

“We look forward to working with them this semester on issues that are important to the University,” Susswein said.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, replaced state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, as chair in October 2012. Zaffirini, who chaired the committee since its inception in 2009, will serve on the committee as a member.

Jenifer Sarver, spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, said she believes Zaffirini will continue to advocate for higher education and said she views Seliger as a friend of UT.

“Under [Seliger’s] leadership, we hope the Legislature will restore funding for higher education, stand for quality, good governance and transparency from our governing boards, and stand against ideological meddling and untested ‘reform’ efforts on our campuses,” Sarver said.

Seliger has not filed any bills related to higher education during this session. However, he has expressed interest in examining funds for the TEXAS Grant Program, which supplies grants to college students with financial need. Funds for the program remain unchanged from the levels approved by the Legislature during the previous session.

Seliger has also expressed opposition to the state’s Top 10 Percent Law, which requires public universities to automatically admit students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The Legislature modified the automatic admission program for UT in 2009, allowing it to automatically admit enough students to fill 75 percent of its total admitted students under the Top 10 Percent Law instead of any top 10 percent graduate. For the current crop of graduating high school students, UT will likely admit about the top 7 percent of seniors.

During this session, Zaffirini filed a series of bills related to higher education, including a bill that would revamp the B-On-Time Loan program, which provides zero-interest student loans that may be forgiven if students complete their degrees within four years for a four-year degree and five years for a five-year degree, maintain a 3.0 grade point average and do not exceed their degree plan by more than six credit hours.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, will serve as vice-chair. Last year, Watson led a citywide campaign to pass Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that raised property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, to help fund the establishment of a UT medical school and teaching hospital.

State Senators Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Dan Patrick, R-Houston and Royce West, D-Dallas, will also serve on the committee.

Last week, Birdwell filed a bill that would allow concealed carry license holders to carry concealed handguns while on university campuses and would prevent universities from establishing rules prohibiting concealed carry. President Powers came out against the bill the same day.

Duncan, Patrick, Seliger, West and Zaffirini will also serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which will analyze proposals for the state’s higher education budget for the 2014-15 biennium when it begins to meet Wednesday.

Published on January 23, 2013 as "Seven senators named to education committee".