Odds and ends (mostly odds) from the 79th
Moreno's death (see funeral photos, next page) also cast a pall over events marking the second anniversary of the flight of the House "Killer D's," who boarded a bus on May 11, 2003, to Ardmore, Okla., where they holed up in a Holiday Inn for a week and frustrated GOP-driven efforts to redraw a congressional map. An anniversary celebration had already been planned in Austin for next week. Former Mayor Kirk Watson will host a fundraiser Wednesday, May 18, to benefit the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, a group that grew out of the redistricting brouhaha. The event will be held 6:30-8:30pm, at the Holiday Inn, 3401 S. I-35. For more info, see www.texashdcc.com. A.S.
The Senate passed the House's property tax reduction bill in a marathon session Tuesday night, stripping its own proposed statewide property tax and replacing the House business tax with its own mix of poisons, which included a revised franchise tax, a cigarette tax, an alcohol tax, and a half-cent sales tax. Just as it appeared the bill was about to sail to victory, Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, pulled out an amendment on video lottery terminals, which gambling opponent Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, immediately quashed. In the end, the Senate's version passed on a margin of 21-10, with an almost equal mix of Democrats and Republicans voting against it. In his stump speech at the end of the debate, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said the state needed to work harder to address the expanding underclass rather than consolidating wealth into the hands of the rich. The tax equity note on CSHB 3 showed that the highest-income Texans took almost no hit under the bill. Kimberly Reeves
The Senate passed the sunset bill on the Texas Education Agency on Monday, but only with a solemn promise from sponsor Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, that he wouldn't add vouchers in the conference committee process. Vouchers were mentioned in the committee hearing on Senate Bill 422 the only way an amendment can materialize on the Senate floor and senators were antsy about last-minute surprises from an otherwise innocuous bill. During debate, three Democratic senators made Jackson promise not to accept a voucher amendment in conference committee. That probably brought a sigh of relief from TEA, since SB 422 is the only vehicle to continue the agency, and a voucher amendment would mean blood on the floor in either chamber. Meanwhile, the "outright" voucher bill, HB 1263 by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, is scheduled to make its way to the House floor Thursday. Kimberly Reeves
A bill to slow down the rollout of the Health and Human Services Commission's Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, known as TIERS, has died in a House committee, says sponsor Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. TIERS, which integrates the enrollment of recipients into various welfare programs, has limped along in an almost two-year trial run in the Austin-San Marcos area, and Dukes fears a full rollout could be disastrous for those enrolled in welfare programs. Problems with a similar type of software program in Colorado resulted in people stranded without benefits, an alarming prospect for those in an agency working with the state's poorest residents. Dukes wanted stringent testing of TIERS, under a full caseload, before it was rolled out in welfare offices across the state. The rollout has been delayed twice already. The HHSC, for its part, promises not to bring out the software before it is fully tested, but Dukes is not worried about the agency. She's worried about lawmakers, who may see the $400 million saved under the new integrated eligibility software as a deal too good to turn down as they finalize the state's budget. K.R.