Capitol Briefs

• Two more state reps last week entered the increasingly crowded field of lawmakers seeking to regulate the use of electroshock Taser guns, with bills that seek to further regulate their use. San Antonio Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer filed House Bill 1535, which would require training and weapon registration for all civilian Taser owners – a law patterned after the state's concealed handgun law. The idea came from San Antonio police concerned about "the nature of this weapon and its anti-law enforcement implications," he said in a press release. Police are trained in the weapon's use and are, at least theoretically, required to use the weapon in a safe manner and only in response to certain threats of force. As it stands, however, there is no such requirement for private ownership and use. "We owe it to our law enforcement to ensure that Texans register their Tasers and have the proper training to use these weapons responsibly." Meanwhile, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, is taking a different approach to Taser safety with HB 1304, which would impose a year moratorium on all Taser use, in order to allow a "comprehensive" review of their use by police. "We need a one-year moratorium on Tasers to ensure the public safety of our citizens," Coleman said in a press release. "At times, Tasers have been used improperly by law enforcement officers to subdue individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others." Coleman argues that the state needs to develop uniform policies and procedures governing Taser use by police. "This is a serious issue, and we should have a statewide policy that can be used for all law-enforcement agencies across the state," he said. – Jordan Smith

• Texas is one step closer to sentencing repeat child molesters to the death penalty, as HB 8 continues its rapid sprint into the law books. On Tuesday, the House passed "Jessica's Law" – authored by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball – on a 119-25-1 vote. Aside from alleviating the possibility of reduced sentences for good behavior and stretching the statute of limitations in molestation cases – measures applauded by victim's rights groups – the bill also gives prosecutors the option of pursuing the death penalty for sexual assailants who strike children younger than 14 twice or more. The bill originally looked headed for passage even earlier, late last week, but qualms that the threat of capital punishment would encourage attackers to kill the witness to their crime – the child victim – slowed it momentarily. Unfortunately, other concerns – that the death penalty option would silence reporting, as most molesters are family members – didn't weigh on lawmakers' minds as heavily. While it may have been a politically popular bill – witness its center-stage placement in the campaigns of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott – it got little support from the Travis Co. delegation. Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Elliott Naishtat, Donna Howard, Eddie Rodriguez, and Valinda Bolton all voted "no"; Mark Strama was Austin's only "yes." The bill now goes to the Senate, and if successful there, to the governor for approval. Rodriguez called HB 8, heavily lauded by David Dewhurst, "gubernatorial electoral politics in action. … Even our notoriously tough Texas prosecutors did not request the death penalty for HB 8." – Wells Dunbar and Kimberly Reeves

• Twenty-five Senators, including Kirk Watson, filed a bill on Tuesday that would put a two-year moratorium on comprehensive development agreements like Trans-Texas Corridor 35. Comprehensive development agreements allow private companies to lease public facilities such as roads for a 50- or 100-year period, reaping the profit of tolls. Before toll road opponents rejoice, however, they should understand that the real crux of concern is not toll roads, per se, but allowing outside companies to make a profit off of them. Some lawmakers are more inclined to have the state issue the bonds and operate the toll roads, than to see a company like Cintra Zachry make the profit. – K.R.

• Leaders in the House and Senate have filed a bill to replace the high-stakes exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test in high school with 12 high-stakes end-of-course exams. The proposal has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the tests are a better gauge of knowledge, more complete and given to students closer to the time the content is taught. And because a passing score is cumulative, it gives students weak in math and strong in English – or vice versa – the chance to miss passing a test by one or two questions without serious consequence. On the minus side, these tests are still high stakes; students still have to have an overall passing rate on all 12 tests in order to graduate high school. – K.R.

• This session's omnibus water bill, SB 3, got a beating from farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists during a hearing on Tuesday, primarily due to plans to set aside thousands of acres of land for potential future reservoirs across the state. On the other hand, the bill's conservation measures and acknowledgement of the environmental flow issue got gold stars from many in the audience. Environmental flows are those in-stream water flows necessary to preserve the delicate ecosystems of the state's bays and estuaries. During testimony, Ken Kramer of the Lone Star Chapter of the Texas Sierra Club recommended that sponsor Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, pull out the reservoir component in order to make sure the rest of the good measures passed. The bill was left pending in committee. – K.R.

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