Members rush to file higher education bills before legislative filing deadline Friday

Eleanor Dearman

As last-minute bills rush in before the 6:00 p.m. filing deadline Friday, House and Senate committee chairs said they consider higher education funding to be this session’s legislative priority.

Members are allowed to file bills through the first 60 days of the legislative session. After those 60 days are up, the session becomes more fast-paced, Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) said. Bills go in and out of committees and can come up for a vote on the Senate or House floors.

Zerwas, who is chair of the House higher education committee, said there is typically an increase in the number of bills filed in the legislature as the deadline nears. 

“The deadline always brings a flurry of activity,” Zerwas said. “There are interest groups out there that realize, all of the sudden, that they don’t have anything and they come in desperately asking to get something in.” 

While the number of bills filed is increasing, Zerwas said he does not anticipate the filing of any major new pieces of legislation.  

“I think we have seen most everything that is kind of high-profile or a high-priority issue among the members of the house,” Zerwas said. 

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said his committee is not looking to take on any more higher education bills.

“We pretty much have everything we can do a good job on this legislative session,” Seliger said. “You have to keep in mind there are bills that we have filed, and there will be a good number of bills that we will carry once they pass the House of Representatives.” 

One of the House committee’s goals, the Hazlewood Act, addresses tuition exemptions for state military veterans. At the end of January, a U.S. district court judge ruled that veterans who served in the military as non-Texas residents would be eligible for the tuition exemptions available to native Texas veterans if they established residency in the state.

Other priority initiatives for the House committee include improving student graduation rates, which will save students money in the long-term, Zerwas said. Some proposed methods include making it easier for students to get college credit through transfer courses and lowering the bar for Advanced Placement scores acceptable for credit.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee, said some of the most publicized issues the legislature is facing — the renewal of the Texas Dream Act and Campus Carry — will not be discussed within the higher education committee, since they have such broad implications relevant to a number of other committees. 

“[The speaker of the house makes] determinations, probably from a variety of standpoints, [about which committee hears which bill] … but there are also, what you could call political reasons, and certainly more global reasons that it might go elsewhere,” Howard said.

Howard said she cannot fully predict whether the Campus Carry bill or Dream Act bill will pass at this point.

According to Seliger, Senate priorities include allocating tuition revenue bonds, which are bonds to build buildings that are funded partially from the state and partially from tuition, as well as research funding.

Seliger said, to a certain extent, the committee receives their priorities and sets them according to the needs voiced by universities. 

“The priorities, the importance is set by the people in higher education for whom we make laws and policies, as well as legislative appropriations,” Seliger said.