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A Head Start on the Big Stuff

With eight weeks to go in the legislative session, lawmakers got a running start at their big issues: water, education and the budget.

Bill sponsor State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, is surrounded by members at the front mike while debate continues on H…

Easter is the real break in the session, with most of what follows constituting the blur we’ll remember when this one is over.

They all start slow. Maybe not this slow, with no crises spurring action or a governor’s agenda presented as a package of emergencies.

Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry entered the frame almost three months ago saying they had education, water and the budget on their minds. The House has voted on two of those and has the budget set for next Thursday, after the Easter break. The Senate knocked out the budget and is ready, sort of, to take on the education bill.

More on that in a minute.

Legislators have the opportunity to get the really big stuff done early — before their own rules create that familiar bill-killing funnel in the last weeks of the session. Those deadlines create chances for opponents who otherwise wouldn’t get their way.

The House, which doddered through its first major bill, found its footing this week. On the education bill, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, amiably got his way on every amendment that came up during a long day. The next day, Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, did the same thing.

The outsiders who scared the spit out of the Legislature two years ago didn’t leave a mark this time. Maybe later.

Back to that education bill: The House version would let students off the hook on college-prep courses like algebra II as diploma requirements. Most colleges will still require them — Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp said as much in front of a TribLive audience this week, with University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa nodding in agreement. But the high schools wouldn’t, if the House gets its way.

That scratches an itch voters were complaining about in Democratic and Republican regions, but it split the business community. The career track proponents don’t think those courses are necessary for kids who want to finish high school and go to work, perhaps adding an associate degree or training later. The professional track types want high school graduates to be ready for college when they complete high school.

The House would cut the number of required tests from 15 to five — answering a strong demand from voters. Members stuck with Aycock on the diploma requirements, but the fight moves now to the Senate, where businesses and advocates of the current, more demanding curriculum are getting some traction. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, apparently has the votes to bring the bill up for consideration, but might need to agree to hold the line on standards to go forward. That’s apparently where the governor is weighing in, too.

The bill could be up next week, depending on the maneuvering. 

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