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Guest column: Setting priorities for the 83rd legislative session
By Sen. Jane Nelson, guest columnist
On Monday, we mark the "unofficial" start to the 83rd Texas Legislature with pre-filing day. This is the first opportunity for legislators to file bills for the upcoming legislative session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 8, 2013.
Over the course of the session, lawmakers will introduce thousands of pieces of legislation on everything from education to transportation to economic policies. During the last legislative session, 5,796 bills were filed. Of those, 1,374 were signed into law by the governor.
I believe in limited government, and it always concerns me to see so many new laws introduced every session. However, it is important to recognize that -- in addition to addressing problems -- you need a new law to get rid of an existing law.
As we approach the next legislative session, our primary focus continues to be on the economy. For Texas families and businesses to succeed, we have to protect the healthy business climate we have built in Texas. We are fortunate to be recovering faster than the rest of the country, but we are not out of the woods yet. We must remain firm in our commitment to fiscal responsibility.
We must also continue to meet our basic needs -- including addressing our highways, meeting the growing demand for energy and ensuring that Texas children have access to a great education. These will be major priorities of the upcoming session.
On the first day to file legislation, I am introducing several bills that relate to my role as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Because these services account for a third of our state budget, I continue to look for new ways to ensure that we are making the best possible use of our tax dollars -- while keeping our commitment to children, seniors and Texans with disabilities.
Among the bills I am filing Monday are proposals to root out the epidemic levels of fraud and abuse that are robbing us of the resources we need to deliver state services. My legislation will not only enhance our ability to detect fraud, it will help us deal more swiftly and harshly with those who game the system.
I am filing a bill to reform our the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, commonly known as welfare, to strengthen work and job training requirements; institute drug testing for high-risk participants; and tighten rules to prevent these funds to be used for alcohol, tobacco and other prohibited uses.
Because of our maturing population, it is important that we look for ways to reshape our approach to long-term care services and ensure seniors and Texans with disabilities are receiving high-quality care through efficient programs.
My first batch of pre-filed legislation also includes measures to help parents protect their children from identity theft and to eliminate obsolete government reports. I am also working on additional bills to reform mental health, protect victims of domestic violence and address the growing need for primary care in Texas.
While I will be fighting hard for these pieces of legislation, I will also be on alert to stop bad ideas from becoming law. I rely on your input to identify legislation that will negatively impact your business, your family and our community, along with your ideas on how to improve our state government.
I personally read every email, letter or message that arrives in my office, so please do not hesitate to contact me. E-mail is the quickest way to reach me at Jane.Nelson@senate.state.tx.us. Your input helps me better represent you in the Texas Senate, and I look forward to your comments during the pre-filing period and throughout the upcoming session.
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