Dying in Committee, Part 7

Don't ask why some bills pass and some don't. The answer will make your head spin.

The House has stopped hearing new bills, so while some bills work their way onward to becoming law, others never make it. How this happens almost seems arbitrary.

What is it? House Bill 956, sponsored by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

What would it do? When selecting a course textbook, university lecturers would have to take the price into account and make sure it would be valid for at least three years. Aside from cost savings, students could take advantage of the secondhand market, both as seller and buyer.

Why would it be good? On March 12, the House Higher Education Committee heard damning testimony about academic textbook publishers. Representatives heard that the textbook trade in Texas, worth $1 billion per annum, is dominated by a handful of large firms. Witnesses said they regularly update books when they do not need to or bundle in needless, price-boosting material like unrelated textbooks, workbooks, and software. College lecturers simply put the latest version on their reading list and don't pay any attention to the fact that they could be landing students with massive book bills. A single legal textbook sets a student back $150. The committee heard that a student taking 12 credit-hours in accounting at Sam Houston State will spend $400 per semester on texts, as can a graduate journalism student at UT-Austin. These books have no resale value - because, by the time they run the course again, a new edition will be out. Several universities opposed the bill, not because it placed an additional burden on them but because it didn't go far enough in tackling the root problem: the publishers.

What are the odds of it passing? Dead. It got out of committee but never made it on to the House calendars.

So why are we still talking about it? Because yesterday Hochberg's other big textbook bill, HB 188, got voted out of the Senate Education Committee.

What would that one do? The State Board of Education picks which textbooks schools can use: They select them on a strict cycle, so schools have to get good usage from them. This would allow the SBOE to select new books midcycle if the school can get them for a cut price.

So? That sounds good? Yeah, but the bill analysis says that the reason some books may need replacing midcycle is because "publishers may have supplemental or niche materials that do not cover a subject's entire curriculum, or the publisher may have materials that were not ready or available when the subject's textbooks were purchased." Doesn't that sound like the kind of supplemental materials Hochberg hated in his other bill?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

State Government, Legislature, Education, Dying in Committee, Text books, Academic Publishers, Scott Hochberg

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