Lege Notes

• A relaxed and confident Gov. Rick Perry, appearing more aggressive and a bit more gubernatorial than he has in prior attempts on school finance, unveiled his school funding plan during a news conference on the first day of the special session. "Our mission is crystal clear," Perry told reporters. "The people of Texas expect action. They say, 'Pick a plan and pass it.' To my friends in the Legislature, I say, 'Here's the plan. Here's the plan. Pass it.'" Perry called his $12 billion plan middle ground. Actually, what he has proposed is the safe fallback plan, what the Legislature could pass if all other negotiations fail. Given the ongoing clash between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, such a strategy could be a wise one. The two Houses may have an appetite for more, but Perry has proposed the floor – a 30-cent tax decrease with an increased $7,500 homestead exemption, closing a couple of loopholes and tossing out plans to replace the franchise tax because "no one has saluted that flag," he said. The plan also gives a modest $1,500 raise per year to Texas teachers. (For more on the special session, see "On The Lege.") – Kimberly Reeves

Perry vetoed the public education budget, and along with it, the modest increase to the state's minimum salaries. Teacher groups have offered no real protest to the repeal of the 2.6% bump to the minimum salary, which would have provided an increase of about $670 a year to those on the bottom of the salary schedule and $1,130 at the top. The special session has brought at least four pay raise plans for teachers to consider, one from each house, a third from the Democrats, and a fourth from the governor. Under Perry's school finance proposal, teachers would get a $1,500 per year pay raise. This, too, got a rather tepid response from teacher groups, who would prefer to see the Senate's plan to increase teacher pay to the national average. – K.R.

• Perry pulled out the axe last week to veto several criminal justice reform measures, including the much hyped HB 2193, which would've retooled the state's probation system. Perry also killed SB 1195, which would've required police to document, in writing or on video, a motorist's permission for police to conduct a so-called consent search (a search where police lack probable cause). But he did sign into law SB 60, codifying the life-without-parole sentencing option. (Unfortunately, the bill removes the life-with-parole option, meaning that in death penalty cases, Texas' system still only provides two options: life-without-parole or death.) He also put pen to HB 1068, creating a statewide Forensic Science Commission to oversee all crime lab operations and to investigate potential problems at individual crime labs. – Jordan Smith

• Gay rights activist Randall Ellis has left his executive director's post at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, signaling a major shift in the group's direction as it girds for battle in the 2006 election. The LGRL board will hire a statewide campaign director to lead opposition to the constitutional ban on gay marriage, which goes to voters next year. Ellis, a former aide to Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said Monday that the job now requires a seasoned campaign strategist. "That's not my strength," he said, adding he'll remain active in the cause as he weighs several career options. LGRL is devoting its time, money, and resources to the proposed marriage amendment, not to mention redefining itself in the process. The campaign effort will draw its strength from a board-based coalition of national, state, and local groups, according to an LGRL press release. – Amy Smith

  • More of the Story

  • Grandma vs. Cowboy

    Can Strayhorn lasso Perry? Maybe the Lege will tell.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rick Perry, school finance reform, David Dewhurst, Tom Craddick, public education budget, special session, teacher pay raise, criminal justice reform, HB 2193, SB 1195, SB 60, life-without-parole, HB 1068, Forensic Science Commission, Randall Ellis, Lesbian / Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, Garnet Coleman

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