Governmental Affairs > Legislative Update > Feb. 13, 2015 (Vol. 5, Number 4)

Feb. 13, 2015 (Vol. 5, Number 4)

This Week in Austin...

From questionable contracts and campus carry to college admissions and rainy day funds, the political climate in Austin was filled with debates, plans and compromises –a typical week for the Texas Legislature. As the session moved on in the state’s Capitol, DCCCD’s focus moved hundreds of miles east to Washington, D.C., and the U.S. House and Senate.

Students Make Our Case in Washington...

Each year, the Community College National Legislative Summit is strategically held in Washington, D.C., to give higher education leaders an opportunity to share their priorities and needs with U.S. Senators and Representatives on the Hill.

Students tell our story best. Their first-hand experiences, life challenges and educational growth at DCCCD and other community colleges are compelling, especially during face-to-face encounters as they visit with legislators and staff members during a round of appointments throughout the conference. A number of years ago, DCCCD began taking students to the conference and on legislative visits because their first-hand testimonials prompted elected representatives to listen and take action on their behalf. Our district was the first institution to try student advocacy, and many other colleges across the U.S. have followed suit. It’s an approach that works and has an impact on outcomes.

This year, Chancellor Joe May and Dr. Justin Lonon, vice chancellor for public and governmental affairs, accompanied three students to the four-day event: Jose Carreon, El Centro College; Carolina Lunardi-Correa, Brookhaven College; and Savyata Gomden, Richland College.

  • Jose, who is involved in SGA and Sigma Alpha Lambda, was El Centro’s Beauchamp Student of the Year in 2014; he plans to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a bachelor’s degree in radio, TV and film.
  • Carolina, who came to the U.S. from Brazil in 2010, is a student ambassador and business major at Brookhaven; she is active in SGA, Phi Theta Kappa and other organizations, can speak three languages fluently and has completed five semesters of law school in Brazil.
  • Savyata, a native of Nepal, is majoring in computer science and is a Richland Honors Academy student. Also a student ambassador, she supports women’s empowerment, breast cancer awareness and environmental conservation efforts. She is actively involved in Women in Math and Science and the Society of Women Engineers groups.

A feature story about the conference, including comments from Carreon and Correa, ran on the Associated Press wire service Thursday and was picked up nationally by outlets across the country. Read more here: Officials advocate for community colleges on Capitol Hill.

DCCCD’s representatives attended general sessions and seminars that addressed community college priorities and policies; state meetings and a community college Congressional forum; visits to House, Senate and executive branch offices; plus tours and receptions. One of the highlights of the conference was a speech on Wednesday by Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, who said that this time and the NLS conference “is the moment for community colleges to shine.”

A faculty member at Northern Virginia Community College, Dr. Biden also said, “We all know that the responsibility for educating students is not the student’s alone. It is a responsibility that belongs to all of us. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to fulfill this responsibility – to meet the needs of the actual community where they live... We all reap the benefits when our citizens are well-educated and well-trained. It means that our economies are more vibrant, and our future is brighter.”

Attendees also enjoyed a Congressional forum with a number of speakers, plus a national news media panel, featuring Ann Compton from ABC News, Stephanie Cutter from CNN News and William Kristal from The Weekly Standard. They also heard from other speakers, including Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor; Clarence Anthony, executive director for the National League of Cities; and Ted Mitchell, Undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Back to Campus Carry...

Open carry and campus carry gun bills moved forward through the Texas Senate on Thursday, and the legislation is receiving much attention across the state, especially on college and university campuses where higher education officials oppose open carry on their campuses – including DCCCD. The Senate Affairs Committee passed bills that would lift a ban on concealed handgun carry on university campuses (Senate Bill 11) and also would allow license holders to carry holstered handguns openly (Senate Bill 17). Both measures passed, 7-2, and now will proceed to the full Senate. Here’s the Texas Tribune’s full story: Open, Campus Carry Bills Pass Senate Panel.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Senate Affairs Committee considered and adopted only one amendment, which changed the campus carry bill, clarifying that – even if an open carry bill becomes law – gun owners would be allowed only to carry concealed handguns at the state’s colleges and universities.

The hearing lasted nine hours, and witnesses began lining up before that – shooting victims, gun owners, students, police and parents who “pressed committee members to pass, reject or change bills that have become a Republican party priority and dominated the early weeks of the 140-day session,” according to the Austin-American Statesman. Read the article: Open carry, campus carry bills advance to Texas Senate.

Other Bills and Business...

Other hot topics that received attention included:

  • a shift in the Rainy Day Fund, recommended by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who wants lawmakers to allow his office to invest a portion of the Rainy Day Fund more aggressively (with a potentially greater risk of loss)
  • the Kroll Report, a review of the admissions process at the University of Texas at Austin and whether persons in high positions had undue influence on the decision making process for admissions (which concluded that intervention was rare but had occurred)
  • discussion concerning the no-bid Medicaid fraud software contract awarded to 21CT by the Health and Human Services Commission.

House Speaker Joe Straus also took a stand yesterday and said that Texas should continue to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students, a topic that under debate this session as some legislators seek to repeal the 2001 lNoriega Bill – a move which is supported by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Straus said that Texas should guard its reputation as “a place of opportunity, and I personally don't want to be a party to anything that sets us back.” He added that legislators should think about what kind of signal Texas is sending about itself and how it treats young people if they take action to repeal the law. For more details, read this Dallas Morning News story: Texas House speaker backs keeping in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants.

The beat goes on...

Throughout the 84th session of the Texas Legislature, we will continue to have information on the DCCCD website where you can track bills of interest to the district.

Our list will be updated regularly. Categories include:

  • budget measures
  • local taxes/appraisal reform/revenue caps
  • baccalaureate degrees
  • handguns
  • transfer
  • undocumented student tuition
  • college readiness
  • dual credit/early college
  • boards
  • tuition and tuition exemptions
  • financial aid

Please contact us if you see a bill of interest or if you have any questions.

As the 84th session evolves, we will call upon many people in the DCCCD family to support our advocacy efforts.

Newsletter published by the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs, Dallas County Community College District. Please contact Justin Lonon for more information about DCCCD’s legislative initiatives.