State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

the governor-ordered task of passing legislation to fund future public transportation projects.

House Joint Resolution 2 failed on July 29. Had the proposed
constitutional amendment passed, Texans would have voted yes or no to a
plan to tap the state's $12 billion Economic Stimulus (rainy day) Fund
to the tune of $1 billion every year for use in transportation projects.
On the House floor, Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the primary author of
HJR 2, asked Gov. Rick Perry not to call another special session on
transportation right away and suggested lawmakers might do a better job
next spring, after party primaries.

But on the 30th and final day, Gov. Rick Perry called a third
special session to begin immediately. “When it comes to transportation,”
Perry explained, “the stakes facing our state could not be higher and a
failure to act now could take years if not most of a decade to correct
as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life.”

In the third special session, some lawmakers appear ready to act in
accordance with the governor's wish for a quick and permanent method to
fund transportation projects, while others will keep with constituents
who are in less of a rush, possibly seeing enough at stake to warrant a
longer look at the funding question and how it might dovetail with other
areas of the state budget. In any case, the Legislature has about four
weeks to continue working on the problem.Combs reports condition

In a July 31 letter to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of
the House and members of the Legislature, Comptroller Susan Combs
reported the state's oil and natural gas production taxes are performing
better than expected this year.

Combs projected those taxes to generate an additional $900 million
in fiscal 2013, one quarter of which is available for general purpose
spending. And that amount is in addition to the $683.1 million available
for general purpose spending and not appropriated in the 2014-2015
biennium.

The additional remaining $675 million of severance tax revenue
available in the current year will be part of a $2.37 billion transfer
into the Economic Stimulus (rainy day) Fund in November, Combs
said.Federal relief to come

President Barack Obama on Aug. 2 signed a major disaster declaration
and in doing so overruled the Environmental Protection Agency's June
decision to reject Texas' request for relief for the town of West.

A fertilizer plant in West exploded on April 17, causing the loss of
15 lives and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Gov. Perry, members of Congress and others appealed the EPA's
ruling. On Aug. 2 Perry released a statement saying, “This, along with
the disaster relief funding provided by the Texas Legislature, will help
this community rebuild their infrastructure, school district and public
works as quickly as possible.”Justice Hightower dies

Retired Texas Supreme Court Justice Jack Hightower, 86, died Aug. 3 in Austin.

Hightower was born in Memphis, Texas, and started his law practice
in Vernon after graduating from Baylor Law School in 1951. He went on to
serve as a state representative, state senator and assistant attorney
general. In addition to his seven years (1988-1996) on the state Supreme
Court, Hightower also served 10 years as a member of Congress.

Burial was set in the Texas State Cemetery on Aug. 7.Race attracts candidates

Three current officeholders have entered the race for Texas attorney
general: Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, state Sen. Ken Paxton,
R-McKinney, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Smitherman's law degree is from the University of Texas, Paxton's is
from the University of Virginia, and Branch's is from Southern
Methodist University.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who has served as the
state's chief legal officer since 2002, on July 14 announced his
candidacy for governor after Gov. Perry on July 8 said he would not seek
another term.

DPS report DWI arrests

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 1
announced Highway Patrol troopers made 1,124 driving-while-intoxicated
arrests, June 28 through July 7, the agency's holiday-related special
enforcement period.

During the 10-day period, enforcement resulted in more than 15,700
speeding citations, more than 2,400 seat belt and child safety seat
citations, 720 fugitive arrests and 602 felony arrests.