Lege Notes

Odds and ends (mostly odds) from the 79th

• The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a measure that would reregulate university tuition in 2008. The lege deregulated tuition in 2003, and a year later college costs skyrocketed at Texas public universities, with regent-set tuition increasing as much as 37% in a single year at UT-Austin. The reregulation measure, an amendment to Rodney Ellis' SB 1228, requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to study the impact of deregulation, and the Legislative Oversight Committee to present a report and recommendations to the Legislature Jan. 1, 2007. At that point, legislators could move to reauthorize deregulation; otherwise, tuition would automatically be reregulated starting in 2008. "It is time to put the horse back in the barn and require the Legislature to do its job funding Texas universities," Ellis said. – Rachel Proctor May

• Back in January, Austin Democratic Rep. Eddie Rodriguez vowed to do whatever it takes to win passage of a bill – the first of its kind in Texas – that would allow cities to establish affordable housing districts in low-income neighborhoods. Last week, Rodriguez realized that goal when HB 525 cleared the House on a voice vote. In its current form, however, the bill only applies to the city of Austin – a strategic decision that helped avoid prolonged negotiations with multiple jurisdictions, all with different housing needs. Gonzalo Barrientos is expected to carry the bill in the Senate; if it passes, it would allow the city to establish some variation of a Community Land Trust in East Austin. While new to Texas, these types of nonprofit programs have enjoyed a fair amount of success in other states. In principle, CLTs differ from other affordable housing programs because they allow low-income residents to buy their homes while leasing the land underneath the dwellings. The program might be slow to get off the ground locally, but one can be certain that other cities – particularly Dallas and Houston – will be watching Austin's performance on this score. – Amy Smith

• Hard to believe it's been two years since House Democrats made a run for the border (Oklahoma) to thwart an out-of-left-field redistricting directive from U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The Killer D's surprise departure delayed passage of the weirdly shaped congressional map and royally pissed off DeLay – making the Holiday Inn stay in Ardmore all the more delicious. To commemorate that momentous quorum-busting maneuver, former Mayor Kirk Watson will host a celebration to benefit the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, a group that grew out of the redistricting effort. The fundraiser takes place May 18, 6:30-8:30pm, at – where else? – the Holiday Inn (this one in Austin), 3401 S. I-35. More info at www.texashdcc.com. – A.S.

Weed Watch: Despite the valiant efforts of Texans for Medical Marijuana and the group's thousands of supporters – including doctors and patients – it appears that Rep. Elliott Naishtat's medi-pot bill, HB 658, is dead. The bill would create an affirmative defense to prosecution for pot possession by patients who use the drug for a bona fide medical condition, and would forbid law enforcement from investigating doctors who have discussed the use of marijuana with their patients. So far, 26 states have passed various laws recognizing the benefits of medi-pot. According to Rep. Terry Keel – who first authored medi-pot legislation in 2001 – Naishtat's bill is just one vote shy of making it out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee that Keel chairs. But Capitol sources say that securing that one more favorable vote is unlikely at this late date. – Jordan Smith

• Among several bills introduced this session aiming to boost the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard – the amount of overall energy generated from renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass – SB 533, sponsored by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House Regulated Industries Committee today, Thursday. Public Citizen's Tom "Smitty" Smith calls the bill "well-intentioned, but woefully inadequate," increasing the state's RPS to about 5% by 2015 from the current goal of about 3% by 2009. "The new goal isn't aggressive enough to make Texas the renewable energy leader it should be," said Smith, nor is it big enough to trigger the construction of new transmission lines needed to transport sizable amounts of cheap West Texas wind power to market in the cities. Public Citizen has long advocated a 10% by 2010, 20% by 2020 RPS goal. Observers hope vigorous debate in the House committee will forge a more aggressive bill, which Smith says would create "more good jobs for Texans, cleaner air in our cities, greater new tax revenues for our schools, and lower electricity costs for consumers." Daniel Mottola

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Legislature, Tuition deregulation, UT-Austin, Rodney Ellis, Tom Delay, Ardmore, Kirk Watson, Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, Weed Watch, medical marijuana, medi-pot, Elliott Naishtat, Terry Keel, Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, HB 658, Texans for Medical Marijuana, Eddie Rodriguez, Community Land Trust, affordable housing, House Bill 525

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