Naked City

Legislative Briefs

Both Gov. Rick Perry and Lege leaders began to concede last week that reforming the Texas school-finance system would likely require a special session. Since most Texas school districts benefit from the current "Robin Hood" system of recapture payments, it's awkward for lawmakers, even Republicans, to readily endorse the growing determination of wealthy districts to allow poorer ones to sink or swim on their own. House leaders were only able to safeguard votes to approve the GOP's budget proposals by agreeing to design a replacement for Robin Hood before it's abolished outright. Serious arm-twisting will be needed to get any agreement on what that replacement should be. According to Capitol rumors, rank-and-file lawmakers would prefer a January 2004 special session -- after the filing deadline for the 2004 party primaries. Conversely, GOP leaders are thought to prefer a November session, so they can wield the implicit threat of a well-funded primary opponent against any member who doesn't cooperate on the floor. No doubt the Texas Association of Business will have plenty of "educational" election fliers at the ready as well. -- Michael King

On April 16, HB 801, by Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, which effectively abolishes all 43 of the state's multijurisdictional narcotics task forces, passed the House as an amendment to the chamber's budget bill. The measure forbids the governor's office from granting money to such task forces. (Grants to individual agencies would be unaffected.) The task forces, including our own Capital Area Narcotics Task Force, have come under heavy fire from foes that question their methods and outcomes, noting that the task forces operate with little or no oversight. The scandalous 1999 busts in Tulia were the work of rogue Panhandle task-force cop Tom Coleman; all Tulia convictions have now been overturned. Task-force operations have also led to controversy and scandal in Hearne, Denton, Floresville, San Antonio, Midland, Waxahachie, and elsewhere. In Travis Co., the CANTF has seen several high-profile disasters. In 2001 alone, Travis Co. Sheriff's Deputy Keith Ruiz was killed while assisting CANTF officers execute a search warrant in Del Valle; the task force carried out an amazingly inept marijuana raid in Hazy Hills where the alleged pot turned out to be ragweed; and another Del Valle incident ended with the death of an unarmed 19-year-old sleeping on a couch as officers were executing a search warrant. -- Jordan Smith

Naked City's award for Dumb Bill of the Week goes to HB 1172 by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson. The bill harrumphs, "A primary purpose of the public school curriculum is to prepare thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism and can function productively in a free enterprise society with appreciation for the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage." To that end, Madden continues, the public school curriculum must: 1) promote "patriotism ... free enterprise ... and basic democratic values"; 2) teach only those historical events which meet "a reasonable test of historical significance"; and 3) address controversial issues "in a balanced manner that reflects multiple viewpoints." If you think item three strikes a blow for pluralism and frankness, think again. According to Madden, 4) "the public school curriculum [must reflect] an overall tone that portrays the United States as a country that has overcome its mistakes and emerged as the freest, most democratic nation in the history of the world." Anybody who says otherwise, fire his balanced behind. -- M.K.

Perhaps prompted by passionate testimony regarding the efficaciousness and moral implications of the death penalty during meetings of the House criminal jurisprudence committee, which she co-chairs, Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Pit of Hell, has filed legislation that would change an executed inmate's legal cause of death. Currently, the death certificate of an executed inmate explains his or her passing as "homicide" -- that is, the inmate was killed. Riddle apparently thinks "homicide" means only "murder," and her HB 2090 would end that, listing instead the cause of death as "judicial execution." Now there's a difference worth noting. "We must have consistency and we must have truth," Riddle told skeptics on her committee. -- J.S.

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