April 20, 2007

"Ft. Bliss will grow faster than any base in the U.S. With these bills, and with the Inner Loop contract at TxDOT, we send a strong message that Texas supports our troops."

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,

AUSTIN – This week, Senator Shapleigh unanimously passed five bills out of the Texas Senate aimed at preparing El Paso and other defense communities for the impact of the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

"Ft. Bliss will grow faster than any base in the U.S.  With these bills, and with the Inner Loop contract at TxDOT, we send a strong message that Texas supports our troops," said Senator Shapleigh. 

Senator Shapleigh is working with Representatives Pat Haggerty and Norma Chavez to pass the bills successfully in the Texas House of Representatives. 

The 2005 round of BRAC is expected to bring to Ft. Bliss and El Paso over 20,000 soldiers.  Current estimates place the total net population gain, including family members and other military dependents, at over 49,000 by 2011.  BRAC is also expected to have a $4 billion annual impact on the local economy.

Here is more information on the Inner Loop project and the four bills on their way to the Texas House of Representatives:

  • Inner Loop - on February 28, 2007, Senator Shapleigh helped negotiate with the Texas Transportation Commission to approve an order to allow TxDOT to enter into a contract worth up to $350 million to complete El Paso's Inner Loop.  The Inner Loop is a key project related to addressing the infrastructure needs posed by the incoming troops and dependents.  The single largest highway project in El Paso history, the Inner Loop is an intersection project between Biggs Army Airfield and Fort Bliss, located at Fred Wilson Blvd. and Airport Road.
  •  S.B. 962 - helps build the fourteen new schools that troops and families will need.  The bill reduces a school district's wealth per student by 25 percent for instructional facilities allotment (IFA) purposes if the district must construct, acquire, renovate, or improve an instructional facility as a result of incoming BRAC students.  Currently, prioritization of IFA funding exists in the event that insufficient funds are appropriated to cover all submitted requests for aid.  Districts that submit a qualified request for IFA funding are ranked from poorest to wealthiest and the requests are funded until the limit of funds has been reached.  S.B. 962 will help BRAC-impacted school districts secure the IFA funding necessary to properly serve the children of military personnel transferring due to BRAC.
  • S.B. 1913 - helps El Paso with hiring retired teachers in order to meet the enormous demand of up to 300 teachers for the 10,000 new school children moving to El Paso by 2011.  Currently, retired teachers are allowed to be rehired, but the employing school district must pay to the Teacher Retirement System a surcharge of 12.4 percent of the teacher's salary.  This is due to a federal law prohibiting a retiree from paying into their retirement fund once they are already receiving benefits.  The bill will allow BRAC-impacted school districts to hire a retired teacher without having to this surcharge, thus making well-qualified, experienced teachers available to school districts at the same cost as other teachers.
  • S.B. 960 - assists military dependents transferring into Texas schools either due to BRAC or deployment of their parents or guardians.  Currently, the law allows for students transferring into Texas schools to use their SAT or ACT scores to "test out" of the math and language arts portions of the TAKS exit exams.  However, this statute is limited to students who transfer in during the second semester of their senior year of high school.  For military dependents, S.B. 960 will extend this provision to the dependent's junior or senior year and require TEA to establish performance levels that would allow a student to test out of the social studies and science portions of the TAKS exit exams.
  • S.B. 1912 - assists teachers moving into the community as a result of BRAC.  Texas law provides for a one-year temporary teaching certificate for teachers to use while the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) determines what tests the teacher must take to be certified in Texas.  The bill will extend the temporary certification period for one year past the date that SBEC informs the teacher of the required tests.  This will ensure that teachers in BRAC-impacted districts have an adequate time in which to comply with SBEC's testing requirements.
  • S.B. 855 - helps protect our state's service-members and their dependents from predatory loans.  The bill establishes a 36 percent interest rate cap on military borrowers and dependents and mirrors recent federal legislation (“Talent Amendment”) that will become effective in October 2007.  The federal legislation was passed after the Department of Defense concluded that payday lending and other high-cost lending products are a threat to national security and destructive to troop morale while being actively deployed.  Although the federal law has been passed, this bill is necessary because it gives our state regulators a role, thereby increasing the likelihood of compliance. 

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