State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — Concerns over the state's upkeep of paved roads in oil and
gas production and exploration zones in South Texas and West Texas
emerged and have continued since July, during the second special session
of the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Legislators from affected districts expressed alarm over a Texas
Department of Transportation plan to patch crumbling pavement with
gravel instead of ordering higher quality road maintenance and repair.

On Aug. 28, TxDOT announced a 60-day period for counties “to review
plans to convert damaged roads to high-end unpaved roads in the state's
energy-producing areas before proceeding with the work” and during that
evaluation, the agency would “not move forward on converting other
damaged roads unless there is an immediate safety concern.”

“We believe our plan to potentially convert 83 miles of
significantly damaged roads in the energy sector is the safe and
sensible solution with TxDOT's available funding,” TxDOT Executive
Director Phil Wilson said. “At some point, when drilling activity has
subsided and more funding is available, we plan to rebuild these roads
to paved farm-to-market levels.”

TxDOT is planning town hall meetings on the topic with legislators, local elected officials, property owners and communities.

Laws take effect Sept. 1

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 29 publicized a list
of some of the new laws to take effect Sept. 1. Here are short notes on
just a few of them:

HB 347 expands current limitations on cell phone use in an active
school-crossing zone to include the property of a public elementary,
middle or junior high school for which a local authority has designated a
school-crossing zone.

HB 1174 increases minimum fines for the misdemeanor offense of
passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading children. The minimum
fine increases from $200 to $500 and the maximum fine increases from
$1,000 to $1,250.

SB 181, a law that took effect on May 24, allows a motor vehicle
operator the option of using a wireless communication device (such as a
cell phone) to display motor proof of insurance information as evidence
of financial responsibility.

SB 510 expands the state's Move Over/Slow Down law by requiring
drivers to move over or slow down, depending on the roadway, when
approaching a stationary Texas Department of Transportation vehicle with
its lights activated and not separated from the roadway by a
traffic-control device.

HB 625 clarifies that the penalty for operating a vehicle on a
public highway without displaying the two license plates assigned to the
vehicle is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine not to exceed
$200.

SB 275 increases the penalty for leaving the scene of a motor
vehicle accident resulting in the death of a person and failing to
render aid from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.

Ed chief notes anniversary

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams on Aug. 28, the 50th
anniversary of the historic civil rights “March on Washington” noted the
continued importance of closing the achievement gap among all students
in Texas.

Among points Williams made was this: “Education continues to be the
great equalizer. And in a state where the majority of our students are
now Hispanic or African-American, closing the achievement gap takes on
increasing significance for the future prosperity of Texas.

“It is the reason I purposely chose to make that factor a major
component of our state's new accountability system. The results of this
year's ratings as well as recently announced numbers on graduation rates
and ACT scores show that Texas has made tremendous strides.”


State's notes sell well

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Aug. 27 announced the sale of some
$7.2 billion in state Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes, continuing an
annual practice begun in 1987 under the direction of then-Comptroller
Bob Bullock.

Money from the sale helps fund public school payments early in the
fiscal year and manage cash flow between the start of the fiscal year
and the arrival of tax revenues later in the year, Combs said.

“TRANs” sold at this sale received an interest rate of 0.201 percent,
a historic low rate for the state's one-year notes, Combs said. “The
best ratings from Wall Street ratings firms and strong demand for Texas
notes helped drive down the borrowing cost,” she said, adding that
buyers bid about $16.7 billion, more than twice the amount offered for
sale.