State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association —

AUSTIN — A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 3 rejected a case challenging the constitutionality of a 2011 Texas election law regulating deputy voter registrars.

In a 2-1 ruling, the majority of the panel said the plaintiffs Voting for America Inc., Brad Richey, Penelope McFadden and Project Vote Inc. “have not made a clear showing” that certain provisions of the law violate their First Amendment rights or are preempted by the federal Voting Rights Act.

Plaintiffs challenged these five points in the state election law:

(1) Prohibition of non-state residents from serving as volunteer deputy registrars;

(2) Prohibition of a volunteer deputy registrar from serving as such in more than one county;

(3) A compensation provision;

(4) Prohibition from photocopying or scanning voter registration applications submitted to a deputy voter registrar but not yet delivered to the county registrar; and

(5) Prohibition of voter deputy registrars from sending completed voter registration applications via U.S. mail.

The appellate court's ruling reversed a lower court ruling and ordered that the case be sent back to the district court level for further proceedings. Fifth Circuit Judge W. Eugene Davis dissented.

Tax revenues climb again

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Oct. 9 announced that state sales tax revenue in September was $2.01 billion, up 2.7 percent compared to September 2012.

“State sales tax revenue collections continued to grow at a moderate pace,” Combs said. “Growth was led by collections from the construction, telecommunications and retail sectors. State sales tax revenue has now increased for 42 consecutive months.”

The state comptroller's office will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their October local sales tax allocations totaling $579.8 million, up 5.2 percent compared to October 2012, Combs said.

DPS gives enforcement count

State Highway Patrol troopers made more than 1,600 DWI arrests during a special enforcement period recently, which included the Labor Day holiday, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced Oct. 8. The enforcement effort also resulted in more than 24,440 speeding citations, more than 3,540 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 1,223 fugitive arrests and 977 felony arrests.

The targeted DWI enforcement period spanned 18 days and included additional patrol hours funded by a Texas Department of Transportation grant.

The precise count of DWI arrests was 1,682, and 218 of those arrests were a direct result of the increased patrols funded by the TxDOT grant, DPS Director Steven McCraw reported.

TXDOT plans to name names

The Texas Department of Transportation on Oct. 2 announced it is notifying the top toll violators and giving them a deadline to pay their overdue tolls or be included on a list the agency will publish in the next two weeks.

Authority to report the names of violators publicly and other powers were provided by Senate Bill 1792 passed in the recent legislative session, TXDOT said, adding that drivers owe more than $27 million in unpaid tolls—money that will be used to pay debt and fund operations on these roads.

“Everyone using our state's toll roads is responsible for paying to use them. Chronic violators are ultimately taking from the majority of motorists who do things right and pay their tolls,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, the author of SB 1792. “The bipartisan support for SB 1792 reflects how strongly the legislature feels about going after toll road abusers who are looking for a free ride.”

Cuckoo protection is proposed

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct. 2 announced its intention to propose to add the yellow-billed cuckoo to a list of protected animals under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Preferred habitat of the yellow-billed cuckoo, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife, includes open woodlands with dense undergrowth, overgrown orchards and pastures, moist thickets and willow groves along stream banks.

Grand jury does not indict

A Travis County grand jury on Oct. 4 declined to indict Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg for her conduct after she was arrested on April 12.

Lehmberg, who serves as the state's chief ethics prosecutor, on April 19 pled guilty to drunken driving and served about three weeks of a 45-day jail sentence.

Lehmberg still faces a lawsuit seeking to remove her from office for intoxication.


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