Lege Notes

Odds and ends (mostly odds) from the 79th

• Even by the House of Representatives' own contentious standards, the April 21 floor debate over HB 1006 was rife with sniping and backbiting. Seeking to cap local property tax rates, the bill from Rep. Carl Isett, R- Lubbock, calls for "truth in taxation" through making residents aware of any increases, and allows for rate-rollback elections. Opponents, led by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, disagree with the detrimental effects the bill would have on local government, and with the state prescribing a one-size-fits-all model of taxation. In a successful performance April 12, Villarreal offered an amendment that seemed to leave HB 1006 dead in the water; but the bill was resurrected, and when debate resumed, the pissing contest did too, with Villarreal saying Isett's bill "[put] the cookie jar on the bottom shelf," in forcing rollbacks many communities can't afford. The bill seemed to be on the same track as last time, with Villarreal intent on shutting it down. But Speaker Tom Craddick exercised damage control and postponed it, and on April 26, HB 1006 finally passed out of the House and to the Senate. – Wells Dunbar

• It's getting harder and harder to swing a dead cat without hitting someone fed up with excessive test preparation in Texas schools. So, you'd think Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, would have an easier time getting a hearing for HBs 1612 and 1613. The bills would augment the current high-stakes test regime, whereby students can be held back or fail to graduate based on their performance on TAKS tests, with "multiple criteria" assessment. That is, instead of subjecting test-failers to intensive tutoring in test-taking strategies, schools could use a combination of teacher recommendations and grades for a more holistic assessment. Olivo points out that TAKS-prep tunnel vision isn't something that only concerns low-performing schools – parents at exemplary schools also complain of it sucking the life out of the challenging learning experiences their baby Einsteins deserve. Of course, it's no easy feat to divert the accountability machine, no matter how slightly, perhaps not coincidentally because that machine generates the school rankings that will be used, under HB 2, to usher low-performing schools into a pipeline for privatization. – Rachel Proctor May

• The Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week passed a bill that would limit police use of consent searches during routine traffic stops. Police use consent searches when they want to search a vehicle but lack probable cause to do so. Foes of the searches say that they're no more than a tool for racial profiling and do not net police high contraband seizure rates. As such, they argue, consent searches are a waste of valuable police resources. Meanwhile, police have bemoaned the possibility of losing the right to request a search based on an officer's training, experience, and intuition. In the end the committee compromised, amending the bill, SB 1195, authored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to ban consent searches unless a motorist agrees to the search in writing, on a yet-to-be-designed, standardized form. A similar measure, HB 2418, by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, is still pending in committee. Jordan Smith

• The Austin Toll Party is flooding Capitol lawmaker offices with e-mails calling for a hearing on House Bill 3363. Authored by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, HB 3363 calls for a two-year moratorium on toll collection – but not construction of toll projects – while the state completes a financing study for both the Trans-Texas Corridor and other toll projects. The Toll Party says Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, has refused to hear the bill. Krusee's office says the bill could still be scheduled but that a proposal on the issue, offered as an amendment to the House appropriations bill, was defeated. Corridor Watch, a separate statewide watchdog group on toll roads, is planning a rally on the Capitol steps on Tuesday morning to protest highway conversions to toll roads. – Kimberly Reeves

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Texas Legislature, HB 1006, property tax rates, Carl Isett, truth in taxation, Mike Villarreal, Tom Craddick, HB 2, HB 1612, HB 1613, Dora Olivo, TAKS, multiple criteria assessment, SB 1195, Chuy Hinojosa, consent search, racial profiling, HB 2418, Harold Dutton

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