REP. WAYNE SMITH COLLABORATES WITH LEE COLLEGE ON DUAL-CREDIT LEGISLATION

May 20th, 2015

AUSTIN–Following close collaboration with Lee College, State Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) authored and co-authored legislation that would increase access for high school students seeking to enroll in dual-credit courses at public colleges and universities. House Bill 505 passed both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate and is now at the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

H.B. 505 amends current law relating to a prohibition of limitations on the number of dual credit courses or hours in which a public high school student may enroll. Currently in Texas, high school students may not be enrolled in more than two dual-credit courses per semester and the opportunity to participate in these courses is limited to juniors and seniors unless a student in a lower high school grade level obtains a waiver to allow participation. Studies show that students enrolled in dual credit courses are more likely to complete high school and enroll in college. State law allows both school districts and colleges to obtain state funding for dual credit courses, allowing a student to take more higher education courses at a reduced cost. H.B. 505 prohibits the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) from adopting any rule that would limit the number of dual-credit courses or hours in a which a student may enroll while in high school or in a given semester or academic year and, following an amendment by Rep. Smith, removes limitations on the grade level at which a high school student may be eligible to enroll in a dual-credit course if those students are able to meet the academic requirements currently in place.

“House Bill 505 brings Texas closer to the goal of expanding access to higher education for all students while maintaining rigorous academic qualifiers,” Smith said. “By removing limiting factors such as grade level and the maximum number of courses allowed in a given semester, Texas high school students can advance their education earlier in their academic career and thereby enter into their chosen profession timelier.”

Lee College offers a variety of dual-credit opportunities to allow high school students to gain college-level credit, and has seen the participation in the dual-credit program grow considerably in the last few years.

“Lee College and the other 49 Texas community colleges are excited about the passage of H.B. 505, co-sponsored by Representative Wayne Smith,” Dr. Dennis Brown, Lee College President, said. “Through Rep. Smith’s efforts, all Texas high school freshmen through senior students who are college-ready will be able to begin pursuing college courses through the state approved dual-credit program. Rep. Smith’s legislation will assist students in more quickly building their college transcript, and earning transfer and technical certificates and degrees much sooner.”

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Representative Wayne Smith represents Texas House District 128, including Baytown, Deer Park, La Porte, Crosby, Highlands, Morgan’s Point and a portion of Pasadena.


Texas House Passes Bill to take Public Integrity Unit from Travis County Prosecutors

April 21st, 2015

(Austin, Texas) Today, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 1690, which will relocate the Public Integrity Unit from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to the Department of Public Safety, giving the Texas Rangers the authority to investigate public integrity offenses.

“I’m proud to have supported this bill,” said Wayne Smith (R-Baytown). “It’s important that the citizens of Texas have confidence in the agency that’s responsible for upholding the public’s trust.”

The change removes the power of the Travis County District Attorney, a county elected position, to prosecute statewide elected officials, government employees, and officials elected in other districts and counties. Under 1690, the investigation process in these cases would be handled by the Texas Rangers and then referred for prosecution to the elected official’s home county.

“I’m proud to support HB 1690. We owe it to our citizens to transfer the responsibility of protecting the public trust out of one county office and vest it in our premier law enforcement agency, the Texas Rangers,” said Kenneth Sheets (R-Dallas), a joint author of the bill.

The House passed HB 1690 with a vote of 94-51, with near unanimous support from the members of the House Republican Caucus.


Texas House announces $4.87 billion tax cut package

April 8th, 2015

{via The Austin American Statesman}

The Texas House’s Republican lead tax policy writer announced a $4.87 billion tax cut package Wednesday that includes across-the-board cuts to the business franchise and sales tax rates.

House Bill 31 would cut the 6.25-percent state sales tax rate to 5.95 percent, costing the state $2.3 billion over two years but saving the average household of four $172 per year.

House Bill 32 would cut the business franchise or “margins” tax rate by 25 percent across-the-board and also lower an “EZ” calculation rate, which state Rep. Dennis Bonnen said “will substantially lower the cost of compliance for thousands of small businesses.”

The Angleton Republican, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, described the plan as superior to the $4.4 billion tax cut plan the Texas Senate already has approved, which cuts property — rather than sales — taxes and also includes an across-the-board business franchise tax rate, but favors smaller businesses in that it also exempts an additional 61,000 of them from having to pay the tax at all.

The Senate’s school property tax cuts would save homeowners more than $200 a year on average in 2016 and 2017.

But Bonnen said at a Capitol news conference Wednesday that the House plan is the “biggest, broadest and boldest tax plan that will have been proposed this legislative session.”

He argued that a property tax cut would be masked by local tax increases and skyrocketing appraisals, citing $14 billion worth of property tax cuts the Texas Legislature passed in 2007 that he said no one really noticed.

A sales tax rate cut is “tangible tax relief that will benefit families of all sizes every time they buy something,” he said. “Texans won’t have to take our word for it that we cut their taxes … they will see it.”

He also described the package as “the only tax cut plan that has widespread support from business groups,” referencing big business opposition to the Senate’s plan because it favors small businesses.

That was backed up by a Wednesday statement from the Texas Association of Business, which said, “the House tax cut plan will benefit all Texas citizens and businesses. It is fair, balanced, and is a winner for everyone.”

House Democrats rebutted the plan Wednesday, though, emphasizing it is not a “Texas House plan” but one proposed by House GOP leadership.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said it is “irresponsible” of the House — and Senate — to take money off the table when they have yet to settle on a budget plan that addresses several pressing needs, including relieving traffic congestion and funding a fast-growing program that waives tuition for military veterans or their families.

“You can’t give away the store and not have met the state’s immediate needs,” Turner said.

(END)


Texas House Passes Conservative Budget

April 1st, 2015

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Today, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 1 and took an important step toward finalizing a budget that will be balanced and fiscally responsible for the next two years. The Texas House budget dramatically reforms state government through increased transparency, and addresses the needs of our growing state while staying below the constitutional spending cap. HB 1 invests significant resources in public schools, boosts formula funding for higher education, invests additional general revenue in transportation, and promotes border security and public safety. Additionally, HB1 accomplishes this by limiting overall spending growth to less than what is necessary to account for population and inflation increases.

“I am very proud that the Texas House passed a two-year state budget that lives within our means, came in well under the spending cap, and prioritized for essential state services such as education, transportation, border security and public safety. The public demands that we be good stewards of their tax dollars while meeting the future needs of the state and promoting continued economic prosperity. I believe we have done this in the budget that we passed.”

Following this vote, HB 1 now heads to the Texas Senate. When the Senate passes their version, HB 1 will head to a conference committee for final approval.


Texas House of Representatives Creates Long Term Plan to Secure the Texas Border

March 19th, 2015

(Austin, Texas) Today, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 11, a bill aimed at creating a comprehensive long term solution to Texas’s border security problems. Specifically, HB 11 authorizes an additional 300 DPS troopers for border security operations, criminalizes the act of inducing a person to enter the country illegally, strengthens state smuggling laws to effectively target the organized criminal element infiltrating our border, along with other reforms. The legislation also protects local control by creating the “Texas Transnational Crime Intelligence Center”, which would be staffed by local police and sheriffs to serve as a real-time, around-the-clock intelligence hub for state and local law enforcement agencies.

Upon passage of HB 11, the bill author Chairman Dennis Bonnen stated that, “Texas would be the only state in the nation with a consistent plan, unlike our federal government, that Texans can count on to address criminal activity at our border and make our communities much safer.”

Chairman Bonnen’s bill also found the support of many South Texas Lawmakers, whose districts are hardest hit by their proximity to the border. “By establishing a long term plan to secure our border, we are ensuring the lasting safety of our Texas families. I am proud to join my House colleagues on both sides of the aisle in achieving such a historic bipartisan solution,” said Representative Rick Galindo.

“The Texas House Republican Caucus is proud to support HB 11,” said Chairman Tan Parker. “Today House Republicans fought to protect Texas citizens by giving local law enforcement the tools necessary to protect our border, including tougher penalties for the cartels and gangs that operate on our southern border, threatening the safety of our state and country.”

The bill passed the Texas House today with overwhelming Republican support.


HAWTHORNE: Time for Texas to take aim at copper theft

March 18th, 2015

By Brian C. Hawthorne
Sheriff, Chambers County

Across the Lone Star State, Texans are seeing incidents of copper theft in epidemic proportions, from church air conditioners, to copper wiring in or around private homes and retail stores, to telecommunications and electric and cable provider equipment. Criminals typically target copper and other metals because they can quickly and easily convert these materials into quick cash by selling them to scrap metal dealers or other metal recycling companies.

Not only is stealing copper and other certain metals illegal, but these crimes also create public safety risks in our communities. The impact to communications networks, electrical grids, emergency services, air conditioning and heating systems, and other industrial or mechanical systems these criminals target for theft can cause substantial and even life-threatening harm to others.

In fact, curbing copper and other metal theft is so critically important to our state that the Texas Sheriff’s Association has made this one of our top 10 issues for our lawmakers to address this legislative session. A ban on cash transactions for the purchase of copper and other materials is the best tool to prevent these crimes.
For example, in a 2012 incident in Hugo Point County Park in rural Chambers County, criminals stole all the underground wiring responsible for supplying electricity to all the facilities in the park. Overhead lights in the parking and boat launch areas along with water in the bathrooms and water fountains were no longer available to visitors. In addition to this being a very serious safety hazard, it also resulted in a drain on law enforcement investigation resources and more than $100,000 to replace and repair the damaged areas.

Additionally, law enforcement officers across the country have noted copper and metal thefts also tend to support other criminal activity. The thieves can take the stolen copper or metal to a scrap metal dealer and quickly obtain cash to support drug habits and/or other illicit, cash-based activities. The prospect of stealing valuable metals is both desirable and relatively easy for criminals. This is especially frustrating when the data shows that there is an easy legislative fix to prevent this from happening.

This is why many law enforcement leaders support eliminating immediate cash transactions for the sale of copper and other metals. Instead, requiring payment by check, money order or electronic funds transfer is a better solution. Removing the quick cash option leads to a decrease in metal theft. This idea is not new. Twenty-six states, including Oklahoma and Louisiana, restrict these cash transactions, in whole or in part.

Texas Sens. Brandon Creighton and Larry Taylor and Reps. Dade Phelan and Wayne Smith have filed legislation to eliminate these cash transactions. I encourage my fellow law enforcement officers and Texans to show their support for Sens. Creighton and Taylor and Reps. Phelan and Smith for their outstanding leadership to combat this crime.

These four men are championing necessary legislation that is a win-win for Texans. It will help deter metal thefts and protect the public from being placed at unnecessary risk. The bills will pose no adverse limitation on any reputable scrap metal dealer.

It is time for Texas to take aim at copper theft and embrace changes needed to deter these crimes.
Chambers County Sheriff Brian C. Hawthorne is on the Board of Directors of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, past president of the Texas DPS Officers Association and former vice chairman of the National Troopers Coalition.


State Rep. Wayne Smith Joins Lawmakers to Pass Stronger Border, Safer Texas Act

March 2nd, 2015

AUSTIN – Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) and a bipartisan group of Texas House members today called for passage of House Bill 11, the Stronger Border, Safer Texas Act, because it will strengthen border security and help law enforcement stop border-related crime wherever it occurs across the state.

“Border security is a federal responsibility but Texas cannot afford to wait for Washington to act,” said Smith. “The Stronger Border, Safer Texas Act will permanently strengthen the presence of DPS Troopers on the border, curb the flow of the cartels’ supply lines and create a new team of investigators who will help police crack down on crime syndicates wherever they operate in Texas.”

Key provisions of House Bill 11, co-authored by Rep. Smith, include:

• Hiring of certified police officers at the DPS Trooper II level and authorizing 10 hour work days for DPS Troopers serving in the border region, ending the current practice of periodically shifting officers from other parts of the state.

• Creating a DPS Officer Reserve Corps of retired officers who will assist police statewide with background investigations, sex offender compliance checks and other duties.

• Imposing tougher penalties for smugglers, and classifying human smuggling as organized crime.

• Cutting the cartels’ supply lines with new southbound checkpoints within 250 yards of the border to curb the flow of stolen vehicles, guns and money from being smuggled into Mexico.

• Establishing a multiagency border crime information center in the Rio Grande Valley led by local law enforcement with assistance from DPS.

• Requiring law enforcement entities to adopt the National Incident Based Reporting System to ensure the transparency and uniformity of crime data throughout the state.


Texas House Republican Caucus Fights for Texas Teachers

February 25th, 2015

(Austin, Texas) House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto announced on the House floor today that the House will fully fund TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired public school employees of Texas. Chairman Otto was joined in this announcement by House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chairman Trent Ashby and members of the Appropriations Committee, Chairman of the Committee on Pensions Dan Flynn, and other members of the Texas House.

“I want to reassure every member in the House and every retired teacher that the House will fully fund TRS-Care,” said Otto. “This issue is too important to go unaddressed so I commit to you today that the House will fund our obligations to our retired teachers.”

The TRS-Care retiree health insurance program was created in 1986 and now has roughly 240,000 participants. The TRS-Care shortfall is expected to be approximately $768 million by the end of the 2016-2017 biennium. Chairman Otto is committed to providing TRS-Care with all necessary additional funding to ensure the future sustainability of this vital program. Considering 95 percent of our retired school employees do not receive Social Security benefits, securing this funding will prevent any drastic change in access to affordable health care to our retired teachers.

“I was privileged to be in attendance today at the Appropriations meeting and fully support Chairman Otto’s efforts and thank him for his leadership on this matter,” Chairman Flynn said. “Texas teachers are a large part of molding the Texas leaders of tomorrow and many teachers and retirees have expressed their concerns on this matter. I am glad the House will address the shortage of funding for retiree health care over the next two years as we continue to assess long-term solutions in my committee for those who served our state and our school children for so many years.”

The Texas House Republican Caucus is proud to support this initiative by Caucus members Chairman Otto and Chairman Flynn to fully fund TRS Care and honor the commitment made by the Texas Legislature to provide adequate health care at an affordable cost for our public education retirees.


Representative Sylvester Turner, Representative Wayne Smith, and Representative Dan Huberty urge the Texas Legislature to Support Legislation Allowing for Electrocardiogram Screening for Student Athletes

February 11th, 2015

AUSTIN, TX ~ Today, State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), State Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), State Representative Dan Huberty (R-Houston), and Scott Stephens, President of the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation, urged the Texas Legislature to support legislation that will allow for electrocardiogram screenings (ECGs) as part of the University Interscholastic League (UIL) pre-participation requirements for student athletes. The legislators have introduced HB 677, HB 767, and HB 779, respectively. Representatives of medical and educational entities joined today in support of the legislation, including Pat Shuff, CEO of Cypress ECG; Dr. Keith Moore, Superintendent of Crosby ISD; Holly Farmer and Pamela Velasco of August Heart, as well as numerous other medical professionals and supporters.

Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of death among school-age athletes. Further, student athletes are 4.5 times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death than students not participating in competitive sports. Though student athletes in Texas are currently required to receive a physical in order to participate in UIL activities, the traditional physical does not sufficiently detect the underlying cardiac abnormalities that can lead to sudden cardiac death. An ECG provides for greater detection of cardiovascular diseases that predispose athletes to sudden cardiac death.

“This bill would save the lives of student athletes who are currently in danger of sudden cardiac death because they have an undiagnosed condition”, said Rep. Sylvester Turner. “These deaths are preventable and we have the resources to inform Texas parents if their child is at risk. The legislation does not require parents to take any medical action in response to an ECG. Regardless of the information the ECG provides, any medical decisions regarding the student athlete remain at the parent’s discretion.”

The legislation filed is an extension of the momentous efforts by Scott P. Stephens of the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation to screen all athletes in Texas schools. Three years ago, Stephens lost his son Cody to sudden cardiac death and believes that he would be alive today if he had received an ECG. Cody was only a few weeks away from graduating from Crosby High School and had received a football scholarship to Tarleton State University.

“After I lost my son Cody to sudden cardiac arrest in May of 2012, I discovered that the #1 killer of student athletes is sudden cardiac arrest. Texas has a great opportunity to lead the nation by being the first state to enhance the current pre-participation examination by including an ECG twice in a student athletes career. By including an ECG we can find many of these at risk athletes before their families have to endure an unimaginable yet preventable loss,” said Mr. Stephens.

Currently, student athletes are required to have physicals and parents are responsible for this cost. The cost of ECGs can range from $0-15 and many schools districts provide ECGs for free.

“It was an easy decision to author a bill that would require heart screenings for student athletes who already take physicals before they play. If we can save even one kid’s life, it will be worth it, ” said Rep. Wayne Smith.

The Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation has been a part of screening over 30,000 student athletes in its 2 year history. Mr. Stephens is continuing to receive extensive support from legislators and various organizations who understand the value and critical need to ensure every student athlete receives an ECG.

“In an attempt to ensure the health and safety of our Texas students, I, and several other members, will be partnering with the Cody Stephens Foundation to monitor the heart health of UIL athletes – our children”, said Rep. Dan Huberty. “It is essential that we protect every student’s life to the best of our ability and the Cody Stephen’s bill will go a long way to ensure that we do just that.”


Committee Assignments for the 84th Legislative Session Announced

February 4th, 2015

AUSTIN, TX – Committee assignments for the 84th Legislative Session were announced today and State Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) will again serve as Chair of the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures and on the House Committee on Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Rep. Smith also served on these committees during the 83rd Legislative Session and Interim.

The House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to business, industry, trade, gaming, and the sale of alcoholic beverages. It also has oversight of several key commissions including Licensing and Regulation, the Texas Real Estate Commission, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The House Committee of Culture, Recreation and Tourism oversees the state’s parks, fish and wildlife, shrines, monuments and memorials. Included is the maintenance and oversight of the Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Battleground. Rep. Smith passed legislation to ask voters to approve the bonds to dry berth the battleship in Harris County.

“I am honored to be chosen to continue to serve as Chair of an important committee that handles licensing and oversight for several industries important to our local and state economies including business and trade,” said Smith. “I am also proud to serve on the committee that will handle the welfare or our state’s parks and historical resources, including the Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Battleground which are of great historical importance to the people of my community and our state.”