News highlights from the week of May 7th
City Council meets today (May 7) with an agenda that includes another attempt to rein in the CAMPO 2040 Plan (specifically a proposal to add four toll lanes to MoPac where it crosses Town Lake), more controversial commission nominees by CM Don Zimmerman, and public hearings on small-lot developments and "accessory dwelling units." See "Council: And the Nominees Are ..."
Declaring "We need to give cities and counties every available tool to reduce property taxes for homeowners and improve affordability," Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, announced the state Senate passage of SB 279 (and constitutional amendment companion SJR 20); the proposal, which now goes to the House and potentially the voters, would allow local jurisdictions (e.g., Austin) to provide a "flat-amount" property tax exemption, less regressive than the currently allowed, up-to-20% exemption currently under consideration by City Council.
STAR Flight resumed air ambulance transport missions on Tuesday after a week spent inactive in the wake of flight nurse Kristin McLain's accidental death. Director Casey Ping said that all search and rescue, firefighting, and law enforcement-related activities will remain suspended until further notice, saying the county service needs to "make sure the crews are mentally ready to provide those services" before deploying them again.
Jade Helm fever has warped the Texas political brain. After Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the multistate special forces training exercise, both former Gov. Rick Perry and ex-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he went too far in smearing U.S. forces, but both implied it was OK to worry about the White House enacting martial law.
Conservative activists with concealed cameras are harassing Texas lawmakers, even badgering one at dinner with his wife. The group has been linked to Austin-based political consultant Joseph Basel, previously convicted of similar tactics against former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Austin's first presidential candidate has officially declared, but don't get too excited. Austin-born California resident and former AT&T Senior Vice President Carly Fiorina told Good Morning America that she is running for the GOP nomination in 2016. Expect a heavy dose of "y'all"s and cowboy boots on her first campaign visit.
Pot enthusiasts have reason to casually rejoice, now that HB 507 has been voted through the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and on to the House Calendars Committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $100.
Meanwhile, Austin police announced a bust of a marijuana "grow house" in South Austin that netted 400 plants from a rental house that had been remodeled to optimize indoor growing. Police said they had not yet made an arrest, but were questioning a person of interest. Almost simultaneously, APD issued an arrest warrant for a man connected to a grow-house bust last September, charging him with a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.