Austin, TX – When the Texas Legislature convenes today, lawmakers will embark on a 140-day session to take up bills ranging from serious financial matters to playful proposals. Here are some of the expected highlights:
STATE BUDGET: It's the only piece of legislation lawmakers must pass before they adjourn June 1. Comptroller Susan Combs says state revenue will drop about $9 billion in the coming two-year budget cycle.
HURRICANE IKE: The financial fallout from the Category 2 hurricane that hit southeast Texas will take a toll on the state budget and play a large part in attempts to update the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Legislators also will consider whether to supply money to a disaster account they created in 2007 but never funded.
COLLEGE TUITION: Some lawmakers want to temporarily freeze tuition at state universities, but higher education leaders warn that could disrupt their budgets.
TOP 10 PERCENT: The state policy granting automatic college admission to those in the top 10 percent of their high school class will be on the table again. The University of Texas says the policy prevents it from having a say in which freshmen are admitted, but proponents say the policy promotes diversity and is working well.
STEROID TESTING: A $6 million high school steroid testing program put in place in 2007 is up for debate. Lawmakers will decide whether to keep it, scale it down or eliminate it.
TRANSPORTATION: Gov. Rick Perry's vision of building roads to relieve traffic congestion will continue to be a leading item, as it was last session. Lawmakers are looking closely at public-private construction partnerships and whether to change the oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation. Perry says his proposed road network dubbed the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, but some toll road projects will press on as planned.
GAMBLING: Casino gambling advocates are expected to make another push to bring Las Vegas-style gaming to Texas, possibly as an attempt to revitalize hurricane-ravaged Galveston. Texas Indian tribes also will try anew to authorize limited casinos on their land.
SMOKING: Citing health concerns, a bipartisan group of legislators will attempt to establish a ban on smoking in public places.
ABORTION: Abortion opponents will try to pass legislation requiring doctors to make ultrasound images of a fetus available to a woman for viewing before she has an abortion. Anti-abortion activists also want to make ``Choose Life'' specialty license plates available.
DINOSAUR: A 60-foot-long extinct vegetarian, the pleurocoelus, is currently the official state dinosaur. One lawmaker want to change it to the paluxysaurus, a reptile researchers believe was unique to Texas.