Lege Notes

Odds and ends – mostly odds – from beneath the pink granite dome

• At the state Capitol these days, lawmakers are just as certain about what they won't pass as they are uncertain about what they will pass. Nevertheless, Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has proposed a new version of school finance (SB 8) that's conservative enough to pass the House but moderate enough to win some support from both rural Republican senators and the education community. Still, as Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said in a hearing on Monday, the Senate's No. 1 job is to craft a bill that works, not just one that could pass. Even as SB 8 was getting its hearing this week, key lawmakers were meeting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and members of Perry's staff, as well as a handful of conservative House members, to discuss what sort of plan could pass this session. Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, have one solution – a bare-bones bill (SB 37) that includes a teacher pay raise, health insurance, and textbooks. Teachers groups have been privately lobbying to get this passed, and it appears to be the preferred piece of legislation in both House and Senate. Dewhurst noted, however, that the bill "does little to improve public education." – Kimberly Reeves

• Gov. Perry signed SB 20 into law Monday, doubling Texas' goal for the total amount of energy generated from renewable sources (mainly wind turbines, but also solar, biomass, and geothermal) to 5,880 megawatts by 2015, a predicted 5% of Texas' total consumption – and enough to power 2.3 million homes and offset the pollution of 1.1 million cars, according to Texas Public Interest Research Group advocate Luke Metzger. The bill's most admired quality is its directive to the Public Utility Commission to streamline utility investment in building new power lines to solve the problem of moving the abundant West Texas wind energy to the big cities that crave it. In comparison to the 20 other states with renewable energy standards, Texas' standard ranks second after California in overall megawatts, but in the middle of the pack in terms of percentage, according to Jeff Deyette of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who emphasized Texas' potential to become a national renewable energy leader given our vast wind and solar resources. – Daniel Mottola

• Texas' annual Sales Tax Holiday is this weekend. Shoppers can save on a variety of clothing items Aug. 5-7, but, as Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn noted in a press release, not on backpacks and schools supplies. "I have repeatedly asked the Legislature to add backpacks and school supplies to the Sales Tax Holiday, along with kids' safety gear such as bicycle helmets and car safety seats, and also sewing supplies … for families that make their own clothes," Strayhorn said. "Regrettably, the Legislature has not acted upon my recommendations, and requests from parents across this state, to add those items to the Sales Tax Holiday to help reduce the cost of getting the kids ready for back-to-school." Hmm, perhaps the next governor, whoever that might be, could work on that? Of course, this official press release came from Comptroller Strayhorn, not gubernatorial candidate Strayhorn. – Lee Nichols

Chris Bell may be best known as the former Houston congressman who filed an ethics complaint against Tom DeLay, but from here on out he'd like to be recognized as the next governor of Texas. After spending the last year on an exploratory stumping mission across Texas, Bell announced last week his intentions to seek the Democratic nomination for the state's top job. He's the first Democrat to join the governor's race, but he could face an uphill battle if former state Comptroller John Sharp also decides to take the plunge. Meanwhile, political donors typically associated with the Democratic Party – trial lawyers and former House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes – are dropping big bucks in the coffers of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary. Bell, whose campaign finance reports show he raised $153,000 through June, will kick off his campaign in Austin on Aug. 14. He delayed announcing until his wife, Alison, received a clean bill of health from her doctor after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. – Amy Smith

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Legislature, Chris Bell, Tom DeLay, John Sharp, Ben Barnes, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Alison Bell, Rick Perry, Florence Shapiro, Robert Duncan, Senate Education Committee, David Dewhurst, Kevin Eltife, Rick Perry, Rodney Ellis, Anne Dunkelberg, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Medicaid, Judith Zaffirini, Charles J. Barnett

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