Lege Notes

Odds and ends (mostly odds) from the 79th

• Remember all those past sessions when Austin lawmakers had to fight off the attempts of then Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, to turn the former Mueller Municipal Airport site back into an airport? Wilson's last gift to Austin before his departure from the Capitol was the creation of a general aviation airport in Central Texas. That suited Central Texas just fine, because Bergstrom had limits on just how much space it would put aside for smaller private aircraft. That was four years ago. Unfortunately, there was a slight problem. It looks like Wilson did everything necessary to create the airport except create a mechanism to fund it. Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, laid out legislation this week in the House Transportation Committee, HB 2656, which would actually allow the TxDOT to put its own dollars aside to create the airport, which is still in the works. – Kimberly Reeves

• An appraisal cap bill suffered a painful defeat Tuesday as the House followed the sage advice of Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, who said, "The time to kill a snake is when you've got the hoe in your hand." The remark nearly brought the House down and ultimately worked to bring down one of Gov. Rick Perry's top "tax reform" bills for the session. Local government officials had lobbied against the measure, fearing the proposed constitutional amendment – HJR 35 – would paralyze their ability to pay for services. The bill needed 100 votes to pass – a formidable challenge given its bipartisan opposition. Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, took the proverbial hoe in hand and struck the fatal blows with an amendment that would have rendered the bill useless. Proponents quickly moved to table the amendment but lost once, 69-73, lost a second time on verification, 66-77, and lost a third and final time when Villarreal's amendment passed 81-65. City and county government officials aren't out of the woods yet, though. Another bill – this one capping the amount of revenue that local entities can collect (HB 1006) – was scheduled for House consideration at press time Wednesday. Amy Smith

Asbestos lawsuits have bankrupted some 60 companies, Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, told a Senate committee Monday in introducing a bill that would limit the number of claims filed in Texas. What Janek didn't dwell on was that one of the bankrupt companies – Montana-based W.R. Grace & Co. – was the target of a federal probe that led to recent indictments of seven company officials who "knowingly and negligently" exposed employees to asbestos-contaminated materials, which are blamed for the deaths of 200 Grace employees. Labor advocates and representatives of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association were among those registering opposition to Janek's SB 15 during a public hearing. Asbestos litigation is high on Gov. Rick Perry's priority list this session, as it was last session when a similar bill failed. – A.S.

• An anti-gay-marriage bill cleared a House committee on Monday en route to the House floor, where sponsor Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, has promised to revive a harsher substitute bill that would ban all civil unions, domestic partnerships, and contractual arrangements between unmarried couples, period. The State Affairs Committee rejected Chisum's substitute but granted him the lesser of two evils – the one that would alter the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate before it can be placed on a statewide ballot in November. More than half of the needed 100 House members have already signed on as co-sponsors of HJR 6. Gay-rights lobbyists expect the House to vote on the measure before the end of April. On Monday, Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, cast the lone dissenting committee vote on Chisum's bill, while two other expected "no" votes went missing in the absence of Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Mike Villarreal, both San Antonio Democrats. – A.S.

• Thursday, April 7, representatives of Human Rights Watch and the Equal Justice Center convened at the Capitol to trumpet HRW's new report, "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants," which maintains that the extremely dangerous work is made even more so by unscrupulous employers preying on a largely immigrant and minority workforce. Demands from the report include making employees eligible for workers' compensation, letting them organize unions, making immigrant employees aware of their rights, and passing a law "to reduce line speed … to reasonable levels that do not create a constant, foreseeable and preventable risk of injury." An amendment from Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, to include farmworkers in Texas' workers' compensation system fell on the floor. The next step might be a conference committee between the chambers, as the Senate previously passed out similar legislation. – Wells Dunbar

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Legislature, Ron Wilson, Mueller Municipal Airport, Austin Bergstrom International Airport, Mike Krusee, House Bill 2656, appraisal cap, Fred Hill, Rick Perry, Dwayne Bohac, Mike Villarreal, asbestos, Bryan Blevins, Provost Umphrey, W.R. Grace & Co., Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Gov. Rick Perry, Kyle Janek, gay marriage, HJR 6

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