State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN —The Texas House and Senate, closing in on the end of the
second 30-day special session, postponed floor debates on the future
funding of transportation projects until July 25.

Lawmakers likely will place that funding decision squarely in the
hands of the electorate in the form of a proposed constitutional
amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot.

But headlining last week's Capitol action was Gov. Rick Perry's July
18 signing into law of House Bill 2, passed by the House and Senate on
July 13. The legislation bans abortions after the 20th week of
pregnancy, requires physicians who perform abortions to have hospital
admitting privileges at a facility within 30 miles, mandates that only a
physician may dispense or administer abortion-inducing drugs and
requires licensed abortion facilities to meet the same minimum safety
standards as ambulatory surgical centers, beginning Sept. 1, 2014.

Perry said HB 2 “ensures that anyone performing abortions in Texas
is doing so in a facility that is safe, clean and prepared to deal with
any emergencies that might occur — a reasonable, common sense
expectation for those caring for the health and safety of Texans.”

However, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who led opposition to the
bill in the Senate, said, “Shamefully, the Texas Senate just voted to
pass a law that will leave tens of thousands of Texans without access to
preventive and life-saving care, all to further an extremely partisan
agenda. Some may believe that that this fight has been waged and won
with this final vote today, but they are wrong in so many ways. The
fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.”

Davis and a number of other Senate and House Democrats said HB 2 and
similar bills likely would spur lawsuits over state infringement of
constitutionally protected rights.

Bill merges institutionsGov. Perry on July 14
ceremonially signed SB 24, legislation passed June 14 to reorganize The
University of Texas at Brownsville and The University of Texas-Pan
American in Edinburg into one university within the University of Texas
System. The new university is to be christened with a new name by the
end of the year.

The medical school is slated to open in 2016. UT-Pan American has
been the home of the statutorily authorized medical school in South
Texas and the facilities and operations of the Lower Rio Grande Health
Center associated with The University of Texas Health Science Center at
San Antonio. Under the legislation, the new university and medical
school will be able to tap into the $14 billion Permanent University
Fund.

More job growth in JuneTexas' unemployment rate
remained at 6.5 percent in June, with the state economy adding 5,800
seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in the month, the Texas Workforce
Commission reported on July 19.

The national unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent in June,
according to statistics compiled and released by U.S. Department of
Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Economic growth in Texas has proven to be diverse, consistent, and
long-term,” said Andres Alcantar, chair of the Texas Workforce
Commission. “The annual job growth across all industries continues to
provide opportunity for Texas job seekers.”

Education stats go online


Education Commissioner Michael Williams on July 19 announced the
public posting of “2012 Snapshot: School District Profiles” on the Texas
Education Agency website www.tea.state.tx.us.

“Snapshot,” Williams said, provides an overview of public education
in Texas for a particular school year. In addition to state-level
information, this website contains a profile about the characteristics
of each public school district and charter school.

Williams noted that “Snapshot” summary tables provide district
information in some common categories, and a peer search function
permits grouping districts according to shared characteristics, but
“Snapshot” does not provide any campus-level information.

Sales tax holiday aheadThis year's state sales tax
holiday is set for Aug. 9 to 11, per Senate Bill 485 passed by the
current Legislature.

During those days, most clothing, footwear, school supplies and
backpacks priced under $100 will be exempt from sales and use taxes,
saving shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.

All qualifying items sold during the holiday period qualify for the
exemption, including items sold online, or by telephone or mail, and
lay-away plans can be used again this year, according to the state
comptroller's office.