A Good Catholic Girl

On the Lege

EDITED BY ROBERT BRYCE

Missing the Target: She's only been in office five months, and she's already been targeted as a Christian-hating liberal by ultra-conservative groups. Freshman Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), representing District 50 on the east side of town, was the subject of a recent mail-out sent by the American Family Association of Texas (AFAT). "You've been targeted by an Anti-Christian lawmaker," reads the envelope. "Will you help me stop her campaign of bigotry?" pleads AFAT Executive Director Wyatt Roberts, who claims Dukes publicly stated that groups identified with the "religious right," like AFAT, were "the same people that cast a vote for Adolf Hitler in the '30s and '40s." Roberts exhorted AFAT members to fill out and return the enclosed "Petition to Stop Anti-Religious Bigotry."

Being labeled "anti-Christian" and a "bigot" rather annoys the 32-year-old Dukes, a self-described "good Catholic girl" and successor to Wilhelmina Delco, who held the seat for 20 years before retiring last year.

"My comments were directed toward supremacists," Dukes says, adding that the AFAT mail-out manipulated her statements out of context. She says that Roberts harangued her and her staff until she received him in her office and warned him to stop the harassment. Roberts' version of their meeting, according to his missive, is that Dukes "has stubbornly refused to retract her statement." She admits she did tell Roberts that until his group denounced the Ku Klux Klan and marched on Martin Luther King Day, she'd continue to regard them as supremacists.

Has the squabble cast a pall on her first term in office? "Not at all," Dukes replies. "If you're effective, you'll please some people and anger some others."

Dukes currently serves on two House committees, the Environmental Regulation and State, Federal & International Relations committees. Most of the legislation she has filed relates to environmental and urban affairs. She looks forward to the debate over HB 2994, which she authored. The bill would add a one-dollar fee per semester per student at the University of Texas, and use the money to install a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Forty Acres. She expects the bill to reach the House floor over the next few days. Another Dukes bill, HB 3133, would allow Travis County to establish an airport authority, if the voters want one. The board would not be a taxing entity, and the members could be appointed or elected.

Dukes would be the first to agree that she's likely to follow the footsteps of her mentor, Delco. "We are alike in many ways," she says. But following her steps doesn't necessarily mean grinding a hole in them, and Dukes says that even when she might differ with her predecessor, Delco isn't the type to criticize her.

And, say, was that really Dawnna Dukes sharing a giggle on the House floor a few weeks ago with ultra-conservative Rep. Warren Chisum, D-Pampa, the head of the Conservative Caucus? Well, he is her committee chairman, after all. But still! Warren Chisum?! "What people need to realize is that you have no permanent friends or enemies," says Dukes, "just permanent issues."- Roseana Auten


THE TEXAS CAPITOL - HOME OF THE $79,000 PARKING SPACE: As visitors enjoyed the festivities connected to the restoration of the Texas Capitol last week, one area wasn't on the tour: the new $54 million, 250,000 square foot, 685-space parking garage dug 65 feet into the ground under the vast new Capitol Extension.

Yes, the new restoration of the Capitol is nice. But how much did those parking spaces cost? According to Dealy Herndon of the State Preservation Board, the subterranean parking spaces cost taxpayers nearly $79,000 each. But Herndon quickly adds that the spaces aren't just for dignitaries. She says the garage functions "as basically an office garage for the Capitol." Every office gets at least a few spaces and assigns them at will, she says. "The House, the Senate, and the Governor's office get preference, but each legislative office gets X number of spaces."

Herndon says the state looked into and rejected other options, including leasing an already existing parking garage which, at four blocks, was determined to be too far from the Capitol. As for building a new garage, Herndon says such a project was deemed too expensive, although she says no one "costed out" the idea to see what the actual price tag would be.

A quick call to the City of Austin allows a comparison. In 1992, the city bought a 1,000-space parking garage for the new Convention Center for $6.2 million. That amounts to about $6,200 per parking space. $79,000 here, $79,000 there... pretty soon you're talking real money. - Andrea Barnett


ONE PERSON'S TOILET: SB 1017 is the latest Austin-bashing bill that everyone loves to hate - even the daily paper railed in a recent editorial against this measure, which could keep Austin from enforcing any water quality regulations in its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Add in two more bills like SB 298 and SB 650, both authored by Sen. Bill Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant), and you have a recipe for lousy water quality from Muleshoe to Brownsville.

State law currently sets the standard for any "unclassified" streams - waterways where the existing water quality is unknown - at 5.0 milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen (mg/L). Cities that use this "unclassified" water are expected to treat their effluent until it reaches that standard before they send it on downstream. And under state law, if a city can prove that the water quality is naturally lower than 5.0 mg/L, they can get a variance to downgrade from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).

Ratliff's SB 298 would lower that standard to 3.0 mg/L, supposedly because it is nearly impossible to get a TNRCC downgrade. One of Ratliff's aides, who asked not to be named, claims that no one has gotten such a downgrade in the last three years. But in fact, according to the TNRCC, the agency has 28 downgrades pending, and expects to grant all of them, probably by this summer.

Dwayne "Sparky" Anderson, state program director with Texas Clean Water Action, says that not only will SB 298 force people downstream to pay for cleaning up their neighbors' waste, but it could cost Texas the opportunity to compete for federal loan money to build sewage treatment plants. And it's not just naked vegetarians and wild-eyed environmentalists who are opposing the bill. "We're against the bill," says Jim Sagnes of the Texas Shrimp Association. He says the lower dissolved oxygen parameters could hurt shrimp, which need unpolluted fresh water inputs. Sagnes says that if the current standard is lowered, "we're going to run into problems."

Ratliff's other water quality bill, SB 650, will ensure that Texas' water quality standards for stormwater discharges are no more stringent that those set by the federal government. Meanwhile, Ratliff's fellow Republicans in Congress are doing their best to eviscerate the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, both of which are up for reauthorization this year.

SB 298 and 1017 have both passed the Senate. SB 650 has been approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee and is waiting for a vote by the full Senate.

- Andrea Barnett


READIN' AND WRITIN': The House Public Education Subcommittee approved on Wednesday, April 26, its version of the overhauled state education code. The bill is expected to go to the full House for a vote by the end of this week.


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