Texas Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — An issue of a supremely contentious nature, redistricting, is
the reason lawmakers are still at work in a 30-day special session, and a
great deal of citizen input is being gathered before the coming House
and Senate floor debates.

When Gov. Perry called the special
session on May 27, it was his intention that the Legislature would move
quickly to make “permanent” the redistricting maps drawn by a federal
court last year and used in the November 2012 election. With that task
behind them, the Legislature then might take up other matters of the
governor’s choice. But Perry has added nothing to the call, perhaps
seeing that redistricting is sufficiently demanding on its own.

Meanwhile,
the Texas House of Representatives on June 3 met briefly and recessed
until June 17 to give its Select Committee on Redistricting time to
conduct public hearings in Austin and other cities (Dallas on June 6 and
San Antonio on June 7). The Texas Senate adjourned until June 12 and
its Select Committee on Redistricting met at the Capitol, received
citizen input and scheduled more hearings to receive additional input
from citizens in Corpus Christi on June 7 and in Houston on June 8.

June
17, when the full House next meets, will be 21 days into the special
session, leaving only 9 days for legislation to pass. If the Legislature
had succeeded in drawing legally viable redistricting maps in 2011—the
year after the decennial U.S. census was taken—lawmakers would not be
spending this month in Austin. But the current maps are interim maps:
They were not meant to have a long shelf life or furthermore last until
the 2020 census.

Lawmakers and citizens have already noted that
the population clusters in urban areas have grown mightily since the
2010 census, suggesting that today the court-drawn maps would not
survive the scrutiny Texas must undergo by the U.S. Department of
Justice or the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, because of Section 5 of
the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Section 5 subjects Texas and certain other
states and jurisdictions to enhanced scrutiny in voting-related matters
because of a history of racial discrimination.

A potentially
dynamic aspect to Texas redistricting is the pending outcome of a U.S.
Supreme Court case in which Shelby County, Alabama, is seeking to have
Section 5 declared unconstitutional, asserting that racism in voting
practices is no longer an issue. The high court, after months of
processing and deliberation, should render its ruling any day now.

Service animal bill signed
Gov.
Perry on June 7 ceremonially signed HB 489, legislation passed in May
that enables citizens with disabilities to be accompanied by their
service animals in all public places without having to show the animal’s
qualifications or certificates.

“For veterans suffering from
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a service animal can be a strong part
of their recovery and a comforting presence in the midst of what can
feel like chaotic and stressful situations,” Perry said.

Authored
by state Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and sponsored by Sen.
Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, HB 489 takes effect Sept. 1.

TxDOT to privatize ‘IT’
Texas
Department of Transportation on June 3 announced it has signed a
five-year, $190 million contract with Plano-based NTT DATA to privatize
most of its information technology (IT) functions.

NTT DATA will
be responsible for application maintenance and development, customer
support, network and telecommunications systems support, professional
support services and IT security. Agency officials said the partnership
“will help the agency realize greater efficiencies and allow TxDOT to
reinvest savings into other priorities.”

DPS joins in Roadcheck
Texas
Department of Public Safety announced last week its troopers,
inspectors and investigators would participate in intensified commercial
vehicle inspections from June 4 through June 6 as part of Roadcheck
2013, a nationwide three-day enforcement effort to increase motor
carrier, vehicle, driver and cargo safety and security.

DPS
troopers looked for 18-wheelers and buses with serious equipment
violations involving brakes, tires, lights and loading standards and
drivers not in compliance with state and federal requirements, the
agency said. DPS officials said personnel also would be on the lookout
for aggressive passenger vehicle drivers, the cause of most commercial
vehicle crashes.
Bexar disaster declared

Gov. Perry on June 6
issued a disaster declaration for Bexar County because of severe
flooding there May 25 through May 27. Three people are known to have
died as a result of the flooding, and according to the City of San
Antonio, the city and Bexar County have identified more than 200 homes
that have been affected.