Lege Notes

Odds and ends from the 79th

Lege Notes
Illustration By Doug Potter

4Public ed steamroller and privatizer HB 2 is picking up a faster pace, as the bill from House Education Committee Chair Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, has landed in the Senate Education Committee for hearing. Plano Republican Florence Shapiro, chair of the Senate committee, announced her expeditious intentions Tuesday, March 29, saying that Tuesday, as well as Thursday and Friday, were all slated for hearings on the controversial bill. Public speakers might find themselves April fools, however, as the chair steadfastly hammered home the point that public testimony is to be limited to three minutes. From here, April 5 was mentioned as the hard target date for laying out the committee substitute bill, and April 14 as the date for laying out amendments. Shapiro then said she wanted the bill voted out of committee by April 21 at the latest. HB 2 then travels to the Senate floor for a second and third reading, then, most probably, to the business-friendly desk of Gov. Perry for approval. – Wells Dunbar

4Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, continue to beat the state income tax drum, though the concept does not appear to be gaining any traction. This week, the message was that appraisal creep could easily devour a 50-cent property tax cut in only four years. On the other hand, a midrate income tax, such as the one used in Kansas, could generate $34.6 billion in revenue, making the current struggle over $5.4 billion in property tax reductions look rather paltry by comparison. Under the Texas Constitution, two-thirds of that total revenue, $23.1 billion, would have to go to reduce property taxes, and the remaining $11.5 billion would go toward education. Local school district tax rates would be somewhere around 15 cents, and 70% of Texans would see net tax reductions. While neither Rodriguez nor Shapleigh claim strong support for the measure, Shapleigh says some businesses, and even a few Republicans, privately support a state income tax. Under the constitution, voters would both approve the tax and set the tax rate and any increases to that tax rate. The constitution does not require a supermajority to send an income tax referendum to the voters. – Kimberly Reeves

4What may well be a filled-to-the-gills marathon hearing on school vouchers will be held Wednesday before the House Public Education Committee at the Capitol. Legislators will take testimony on three bills (HBs 12, 1263, and 3042), all proposing a system of tax-funded private school vouchers. The favorite of the provoucher crowd appears to be HB 1263, which would initiate a pilot program for low-income students in five urban counties, including Travis Co. The most far-reaching is HB 3042, which would make publicly funded vouchers available to all students. All three bills would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from neighborhood schools across the state. For more on the bills and the hearing, see www.capitol.state.tx.us. – Amy Smith

4The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas has issued a call to arms to fight an anti-gay measure expected to go to a public hearing on Monday. The House State Affairs Committee will consider a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 6) that would follow the lead of several other states in defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The bill, filed by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, carries the names of 59 House members as co-authors – more than half of what's needed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment in the House. Three of the co-authors serve on the committee that will take testimony on the bill. It's likely the hearing won't get under way until late afternoon and will last well into the night. Check www.lgrl.org for updates. – A.S.

4Some 20 constituents and members of the Travis Co. delegation broke bread together Tuesday morning in the first of four informal breakfast meetings at the Capitol. Tuesday's gathering included representatives from Austin Community College, according to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' office, which organized the first event. Area residents are invited to attend the biweekly meet-ups, scheduled for April 12, April 26, and May 10. Breakfast – continental fare, mostly – is served from 7:30-8:30am in the Texas Agriculture Museum, Room 1W.14 at the Capitol. – A.S.

4Legislation that would strengthen the prohibition of corporate and union money in political campaigns appears to be gaining support from House members, even as it sits idle in committee. At last count, HB 1348 had 36 co-sponsors – 27 Republicans and nine Democrats – representing every corner of the state. The bill seeks to avoid future doses of criminal investigations and civil claims currently pending against leaders of Texans for a Republican Majority and the Texas Association of Business. The legal entanglements grew out of a campaign finance scandal touched off by the two groups' use of corporate money in the 2002 legislative races. – A.S.

4The first of a number of bills that could set back the regional water quality efforts in Central Texas was set to go to the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday. The SOS Alliance has called SB 574, authored by Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, the "grandfather bill" because it goes further to lock in more aspects of a submitted subdivision plat, no matter how old that plat is, if the developer has made a "good faith" effort to move the process forward. Armbrister called continuing efforts by cities to set limits on development "troubling." A second bill, authored by Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, would limit any efforts to disallow impervious cover above 45%. – K.R.

4Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, provided no demonstrations as to what he considered to be "sexually explicit" cheerleading or dancing at Tuesday's House Public Education Committee meeting – instead, Edwards told the committee that most people "know it when they see it." And most people have seen a lot of Edwards and his issue lately because the Houston lawmaker has done more than 60 interviews on this bill, including Today and Good Morning America. Bulletin boards across the Internet are rife with jokes about the bill and just how anyone could measure explicitness. As much joking as Edwards' bill has generated among lawmakers, it's not, as the ACLU suggested, a slap at shorts and tiny half-shirts in South Pacific, although it does appear to be open to abuse. David Anderson, general counsel to the Texas Education Agency, told the House Public Education Committee that the agency could set standards through a series of challenges, most likely backed up by video documentation. – K.R.

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Texas Legislature, Patrick Rose, Rick Perry, Lesbian / Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, HJR 6, Warren Chisum, Gonzalo Barrientos, Texas Agriculture Museum, HB 1348, Texans for a Republican Majority, Texas Association of Business, campaign finance, Eliot Shapleigh, Eddie Rodriguez, state income tax, mid-rate income tax, Bullock amendment, HB 2, House Education Committee, Kent Grusendorf

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