State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — June 16 was the deadline for the governor to veto or approve
legislation passed in the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Gov.
Rick Perry beat the deadline by two days, releasing a list of vetoed
and approved bills on June 14. Just a few among the 24 bills Perry
prevented from becoming laws by strokes of his pen were:
HB 217 —
prohibiting school districts from selling beverages with added
sweeteners, milk with more than one percent fat or juices less than 100
percent juice.

HB 950 — providing uniformity between state and
federal anti-discrimination laws so that employees and employers have
consistent laws governing employment relations.

HB 2836 —
requiring all statewide standardized tests to be determined valid by an
entity independent of the Texas Education Agency or the State Board of
Education.

HB 3063 — giving state-sponsored competitive
advantage to some Texas communities over others in attracting aerospace
industry businesses.
SB 15 — adding to the management
responsibilities of boards of regents of institutions of higher
education and would expand the training requirements of individual
regents.
SB 17 — providing for a free-of-charge, state-provided
school safety-training program for certain employees of a school
district or charter school that does not have a peace officer or
security personnel assigned full-time to the campus.
A few from the list of bills Perry put his signature of approval on include:
HB
8 — revising statutes relating to protective orders issued for victims
of human trafficking and the offense of human trafficking;
SB 21 — requiring mandatory drug screening as a condition for the receipt of unemployment benefits;
HB
308 — allowing public school students and staff to use traditional
holiday greetings and display religious scenes and symbols on school
property.

However, SB 1, the state’s general appropriations bill
for fiscal years 2014-2015, suffered a number of line-item vetoes by
the governor. One of those vetoes was of the budget for the state’s
Austin-based Public Integrity Unit, a state agency tasked with
investigating ethics complaints lodged against public officials.

In
explaining his veto, Perry wrote, “Despite the otherwise good work the
Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support
continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a
time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit
has lost the public’s confidence. This unit is in no other way held
accountable to state taxpayers, except through the state budgetary
process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.”

In
April, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, chief of the
Public Integrity Unit, was arrested on a charge of driving while
intoxicated. After serving a short jail sentence, she was released. Some
lawmakers pressured Lehmberg to resign, but she chose to remain in
office.

Redistricting bills move
The Texas Senate, in special
session on June 13, approved the four major redistricting bills Gov.
Perry originally called state lawmakers to pass in the current special
session of the Legislature.

Senate bills 1, 3 and 4, as
tentatively approved by the Senate, would preserve the federal
court-drawn maps of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts and Texas
House districts.

Those three bills were passed on split votes
with 16 Republicans voting aye and 11 Democrats voting nay. SB 2,
relating to the redistricting maps of state Senate districts, was
approved on a unanimous vote. All four bills move to the House, where
that body’s select committee on redistricting will take up and consider
its own set of bills relating to the districts as redrawn in 2012 by a
San Antonio federal court. Differences in the House and Senate versions
of the bills would have to be worked out in a conference committee.

Perry adds to session call
On
June 10 Gov. Perry added items relating to the funding of
transportation infrastructure projects to the special session call and
June 11 he expanded the call to include two more items: legislation
relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and
facilities; and legislation relating to establishing a mandatory
sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a
17-year-old offender.

Revenue goes up again
Texas Comptroller
Susan Combs on June 12 reported that state sales tax revenue in May was
$2.26 billion, up 7.9 percent compared to May 2012.

She
attributed the increase to collections from the information services and
construction sectors, and said, “restaurants also showed notable
growth” and “oil and natural gas-related activity remains a major source
of strength.”