Odds and ends from the Capitol
On March 9, the Senate speedily passed Senate Bill 643, the long-awaited state school reform bill creating an independent ombudsman and whistle-blower protections for the state's facilities for citizens with developmental challenges... The Senate Finance Committee is considering slashing the Texas Youth Commission budget by 40% to reflect its reduced size and changed role... Scott Swearengin, the city's assistant director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, testified before the House Committee on Public Education against House Bill 727, which would close public schools serving as emergency shelters. The city and Austin Independent School District both oppose the bill, citing AISD's success in keeping students and evacuees separate during Hurricane Ike as proof the current rules work... Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, has filed HB 6, requesting the state release $933 million from the rainy-day fund for Hurricane Ike reconstruction, as well as several disaster insurance reform bills... A new opinion by Attorney General Greg Abbott clears the way for Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, to explore running for governor without quitting his seat; Berman said if he runs, it will be on an anti-illegal immigration platform... Not everyone hates the Texas Department of Transportation: Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, applauded the agency for approving $10 million to renovate FM 1460 in Williamson County... Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, has filed HB 1910, which he calls a bill of rights for toll-road users, requiring extra signage so drivers don't get hammered for going down the wrong lane... San Antonio Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon and Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis have filed bills (HB 498 and SB 115) seeking to create an innocence commission... Friday (March 13) is the filing deadline for nonlocal and nonemergency bills and joint resolutions. For breaking news and analysis, visit austinchronicle.com/legeland or sign up to www.twitter.com/legeland.