State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — As the end of a second, 30-day special session inched closer
last week, the Texas House and Senate fell short of reaching a
compromise on a path toward the future funding of transportation
projects.

During that time span, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who
presides over the Senate, House Speaker Joe Straus and key lawmakers
worked out strategies in back and forth messages, in hopes of bringing
House Joint Resolution 2 and House Bill 16 to final votes on July 29 and
30, the last two days of the 30-day special session.

Gov. Rick Perry said he would call a third special session if the
Legislature failed to act in accordance with his wishes, that is, to let
voters decide via constitutional amendment if sizable-yet-limited
withdrawals from the state's $12 billion Economic Stimulus (rainy day)
Fund henceforth should be devoted to future transportation projects.

Wording for the Nov. 5 ballot measure — if approved by the
Legislature as currently written — reads: “The constitutional amendment
to provide for revenue from motor fuel taxes to be used solely for
constructing, maintaining, and acquiring rights-of-way for certain
public roadways and to provide for the transfer of certain general
revenue to the economic stabilization fund and the available school
fund.”

If approved by voters, the requirement that one-fourth of certain
net revenue from the motor fuel tax be allocated to the available school
fund will end. That revenue would be used to acquire rights-of-way for
public roadways other than toll roads and for the construction and
maintenance of those public roadways.

Voting rights battle shiftsA month ago, in Shelby
County, Alabama v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 4 of
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional.

To some observers, the court's 5-4 decision meant Texas and a number
of other states would no longer be subject to federal preclearance
before any changes to state election laws could take effect. To others,
the court's action meant more legal action lay ahead. Last week — those
who sensed more legal action would come — may be right.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on July 25 announced the justice
department would ask a federal court in Texas “to subject the State of
Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5
of the Voting Rights Act.” Holder said his request to “bail in” the
state to require it to obtain “pre-approval” from either the justice
department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes
is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting
discrimination is found.

“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was
presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as
well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against
racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized — we
believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a
preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices,”
Holder added.

Attorney General Greg Abbott reacted to Holder's announcement,
saying, “The Obama Administration shouldn't deny in Texas what is
allowed across the country.” Likewise, Gov. Rick Perry said Holder's
expressed intent “casts unfair aspersions on our state's common-sense
efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

On June 25, the day the Supreme Court released its decision in
Shelby County v. Holder, Texas Secretary of State John Steen posted a
list of acceptable forms of identification that prospective voters could
present at a poll before casting a ballot.

Court ruling favors EPAThe U.S. Court of Appeals in
Washington, D.C., on July 26 ruled in favor of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency in State of Texas v. EPA, 10-1425.

The State of Texas had appealed EPA's takeover of the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality's regulation of carbon-emissions
from power plants and smokestack industries for not meeting the January
2011 deadline relating to the regulation of greenhouse gases.

The Texas Attorney General's Office said plans are to review the ruling.

George Mitchell dies – Texas philanthropist, oilman, real
estate developer, billionaire and native of Galveston George P. Mitchell
died July 26 at age 94.

A 1940 graduate of Texas A&M, Mitchell pioneered the process of
hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas exploration, now a widely used
technique.