News Roundup: Can't Stop the Rain
Or the Lege, for that matter
By the News Staff,
7:00AM, Tue. May 26, 2015
In this week's News Roundup, storms pummel Austin and surrounding cities, the Lege stumbles toward the end of the 84th Session, and more.
• Flooding continued yesterday, May 25, causing road closures, forcing some to leave their homes, and leading the Town Lake Animal Center to evacuate its animals into foster homes. However, AISD is operating on a regular schedule today, Tuesday, May 26. For a firsthand report on the flooding in San Marcos, see "Flood of Memories," May 25. To find out how you can help flood victims, or to find help for yourself, see "Memorial Weekend Flood Assistance," May 24. – Amy Kamp
For more photos of the flooding, visit the Chronicle's gallery Scenes From the Memorial Day flood.
• A long and fraught weekend under the dome, with deals struck, collapsing, revived, and shambling back into the chamber as the increasingly toxic and fractious 84th Legislature shambles to its end. Guardians of those living at the Austin SSLC saw their first win this weekend when the House passed a bill, originally meant to close the historic home for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities by 2017, that included a provision preventing its closure (see "House Delays Closure of Austin SSLC," May 23,); the House rejected Senate-authored cuts to the Hazelwood grants for veterans and their children (see "Lege Lines," May 15). Yet the Senate has strong-armed the House into taking up campus carry legislation – a measure opposed in polls by both a majority of Texans and UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven.
Most notoriously, the House almost devolved into a fist fight after Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, harangued House Calendars committee chair Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, when the ban on abortions for fetal abnormalities in Senate Bill 575, failed to get a hearing date before the end of the session at Sine Die. Even though Stickland had to be escorted away by security, Cook folded, reconvened the committee (sans seven of the eight members, including two Republicans, who had voted against a hearing), and shoved the controversial measure onto the Major State Calendar.
Some resolutions seem more like throwing in the towel. For example, the House seems set to adopt the homestead exemption increase proposed by the Senate, even though House Ways and Means committee chair Dennis Bonnen, D-Angleton, has said that homeowners will be lucky if they get two years' benefit out of the change. – Richard Whittaker
• The Lege has proved determined to move forward on HB 3994, which severely restricts access to judicial bypass of the parental consent requirement for an abortion-seeking minor. The bill passed its second reading in the Senate on Monday, and is scheduled for a third and final reading today, Tuesday, May 26. For a detailed report on Monday's actions, see "Anti-Abortion Bill Aimed at Minors Advances," May 25, and follow the Chronicle's Mary Tuma on Twitter for updates. – A.K.
• Kick the Can: City Council plowed through a fairly heavy agenda last Thursday, May 21, although it did so by again kicking to the curb a couple of high-profile items. The “Lamar Beach” matter – Item 39, a proposed long-term extension of the Parks & Recreation Department contract with the West Austin Youth Association concerning the use of the WAYA ball fields, the Beach area, and Town Lake Metropolitan Park – was “postponed indefinitely,” despite its previous review in the Open Space, Environment, and Sustainability Committee, while waiting for completion of the master plan. And despite its lengthy detour through three separate Council committees, the same fate befell the long-simmering Decker Lake golf course proposal; Council deferred any decision on the conversion of a portion of the fallow park land, instead moving to create another Council “working group” to address “Eastside development” in general. District 1 Council Member Ora Houston was not delighted with the delay – saying there had been quite enough postponement, and contrasting the development progress along Waller Creek – but said her “trust” in Mayor Steve Adler led her to support the postponement (which passed unanimously).
In other actions, Council:
Postponed to June 4 a decision on the property tax homestead exemption – discussion is leaning toward an expanded exemption, but precise amount and form still to come;
Moved forward (second reading only) on extensions of the three major taxi franchises (still working on the precise details for final approval);
However, did approve on all three readings a resolution to direct city staff to explore the feasibility of a fourth franchise, presumably the “co-op” franchise requested by drivers;
Approved a resolution asking for an increase in the city employee minimum wage to be included in the upcoming FY 2016 staff budget proposal (for Council consideration);
Approved as well a resolution to convene a working group on “fair chance” hiring practices for private employers (to improve hiring possibilities for ex-inmates);
Discussed, but did not yet decide, whether to move forward on a challenge to the commercial property valuations of the Travis Central Appraisal District (will first meet May 26 with other jurisdictions to discuss possible joint action)
Passed on first and second readings only a proposal to end reduced Austin Energy rates for major commercial users; expected to return for third reading soon. – Michael King