Senate committee passes bill to reduce costs associated with handgun licenses despite budget concerns

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The state’s fees to obtain and renew handgun licenses are among the highest in the country, but a bill passed by the Senate on Monday seeks to reduce these costs.

Senate Bill 16, sponsored by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, proposed a $40 license to carry fee, which is $100 less than the current cost. Additionally, the bill sets a $40 annual renewal fee, $30 less than it is now. While the bill passed in a 26–5 vote, senators raised concerns about the bill’s impact on an already limited budget.

The Senate’s proposed budget of $106.3 billion, which passed unanimously out of the finance committee Wednesday, is significantly lower than the $209.4 billion budget adopted at the end of the last legislative session. While committee chairwoman and state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said the budget is still a work in progress, the reduced budget limits the amount of additional funds that can be used on new initiatives.

“We’re trying to prioritize where we spend money and where we reduce money,” Nichols said. “The determination is we think it’s important that people have the right to bear arms.”

The new fee rates would decrease the state’s revenue by more than $15 million in 2018.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said she believes SB 16 is inconsistent with the legislative goal of limiting financial implications on bills.

“You’re trying to reduce, but there’s no replace,” Garcia said. “There’s no replacement of this revenue to the state in any other item or bill that you’re passing to ensure that we can meet all our needs.”

While Nichols said he agreed with Garcia that legislators should avoid proposing bills that reduce state funds, Nichols said he believes it is vital to pass his proposal this year.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he believes the state charges Texans too much to renew and apply for a handgun license. Watson said he would vote for the bill under normal circumstances but could not justify supporting the negative financial impact on the budget.

“During this rough budget time, we’ve been told that we have to prioritize our needs over our wants,” Watson said. “Today, I don’t believe this is a need that we should be prioritizing.”

A House of Representatives committee will take the next step in determining the advancement of this bill.