Senate approves drug-testing bill

Two Senate bills making the award of certain financial benefits for certain individuals contingent on drug testing were passed by the Senate last week and have now moved to the House for consideration.
SB 11 by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would require applicants for benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to submit to a screening for controlled substance use. If the screening assessment indicates good cause to suspect drug use, an applicant would be required to submit to a drug test. A person who fails a drug test would be allowed to retake the test after six months before they could receive benefits. Notably, the children of an applicant who fails a drug test would still be able to receive benefits through a “protective payee.”
SB 21 by Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would amend the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act so that the Texas Workforce Commission may run a drug test on applicants for unemployment benefits who fail a pre-screen test and work in certain industries, such as transportation.
In other action, the Senate approved legislation proposing to increase the number of charter schools that could operate in Texas from 215 to 305 incrementally over the next six years. SB 2, by Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick, R-Houston, also would give the state the authority to close charter schools after three years for poor performance.

Google plans big for Austin
Corporate officers of Silicon-valley based Google Inc., accompanied by Gov. Rick Perry and officials with the city of Austin, on April 9 announced a plan to install Google Fiber — an ultra high-speed fiber optics broadband network with Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second — in Austin in mid-2014.
Google launched a similar broadband infrastructure project in Kansas City, Kan., a few months ago.
One gigabit per second is about 100 megabytes of information transfer per second, or about 100 times faster than what is considered a fast Internet connection presently in the United States.

Sales tax revenues climb
State Comptroller Susan Combs on April 10 reported that state sales tax revenue in March was $1.98 billion, up 5.5 percent compared to March 2012. Combs said her office plans to send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their April local sales tax allocations totaling $521.9 million, up 6.8 percent compared to April 2012.

Drought affects H2O rights
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on April 5 informed water rights holders that the agency may need to administer water rights on a priority basis, as long as drought conditions persist.
If restrictions become necessary, junior water rights, or those rights issued most recently, are suspended or adjusted before the senior water rights in the area, the agency said.
Texas remains under a drought-related emergency disaster proclamation originally issued by the governor on July 5, 2011.

Water release is welcomed
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, on April 5 reported an announcement by the International Boundary and Water Commission that Mexico will release water from an upstream reservoir to recharge Falcon and Amistad Reservoirs.
“This move,” he said, “marks the first time in quite some time Mexico has responded to Texans’ pleas to uphold the 1944 Treaty which allocates water that enters the Rio Grande River.”
“I am pleased to hear Mexico is finally taking first steps to resolve their water deficit with the United States. However, with a water deficit that stands over 400,000 acre-feet a onetime release from one reservoir will not solve the Valley’s water woes.”

TxDOT launches campaign
The Texas Department of Transportation on April 8 began its new “Talk-Text-Crash” campaign to coincide with National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
As part of the campaign to get Texans to stop using their portable communications devices for text messaging while they are driving, TxDOT said it is asking Texans “to do their part by making a simple commitment to focus on driving when they get behind the wheel.”
Although all the age groups are represented in the total number of traffic crashes caused by distracted driving, of the 90,378 traffic crashes in 2012 in Texas, the top two age groups are: 28,443 ages 16-24 and 23,784 over the age of 45, TxDOT reported.

Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association.

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