AUSTIN - Through the week of March 23-27, the House Appropriations Committee and its various subcommittees toiled away at producing HB 1, a state budget for fiscal years 2010-2011. Hopes are that the budget bill may reach the House floor for debate in mid-April.

Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, on March 27 said, “We are faced with very difficult and uncertain times in our economy. We have to make some difficult decisions.”

Speaker Joe Straus said he’s confident the narrowly divided 150-member House, composed of 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats, can work together to pass a budget without the necessity of a special session.

Despite the ponderous weight of passing a budget on House shoulders, the lower chamber did manage to vote out the committee substitute to Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ HB 873, a bill that recognizes Texas is behind other states in offering film incentives.

Intended to create movie industry jobs in Texas, HB 873 lowers the state grant threshold for a film or television program from a minimum of $1 million in in-state spending to $250,000 and lowers the percent that must be filmed in Texas from 80 percent to 60 percent.

Senate bills advance to House

The Texas Senate approved more than 60 bills during the week of March 23-27 and sent them on to the House for consideration.

Here are a few of those bills, to be scrutinized by House panels in the coming weeks:

• SB 158 by Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, requiring a school district to notify parents if a nurse is not assigned to a public school campus.

• SB 175 by Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, amending the “Top 10 Percent” law governing the number of students who may automatically be admitted to the University of Texas at Austin.

• SB 188 by Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, creating a hypodermic needle-exchange program to reduce the spread of communicable diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis.

• SB 297 by Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, granting resident tuition rates and fees at public institutions of higher education for certain veterans and their spouses and children.

• SB 424 by Van de Putte, establishing and implementing school-based flu vaccination programs.

• SB 503 by Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, requiring public notice of the name of each finalist for the position of superintendent of a public school district.

• SB 745 by Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, authorizing a state agency to allow its employees to submit travel vouchers electronically.

• SB 476 by Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, amending nurse staffing and overtime rules.

• SB 506 by John Carona, R-Dallas, restricting operation and movement of motorcycles during periods of traffic congestion.

• SB 572 by Shapiro, relating to transportation safety training requirements for certain child-care providers.

• SB 730 by Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, relating to an employee’s transportation and storage of firearms or ammunition while on certain property owned or controlled by the employee’s employer.

‘Under God’ remains in pledge

A Dallas federal judge on March 27 ruled the phrase “under God” in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional.

The court’s decision rejected a lawsuit filed by a Dallas couple that argued that the state pledge violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Legislature added the words to the state pledge in 2007.

In support of the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty are constitutional. Texans can rest assured that we will continue defending their children’s ability to recite the state Pledge of Allegiance each morning.”

SBOE alters science

language

The State Board of Education on March 27 voted 13-2 to change teacher manual language said to cast doubt on the scientific theory of evolution with the assertion that the various schools of thought have strengths and weaknesses.

The new language promotes the use of empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing, “including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students.”