State Capital Highlights by Ed Sterling

Weekly column by Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association

Railroad Commission to hire seismologist 
AUSTIN — After meeting with Azle residents in a town hall style meeting last week, Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter called for his agency, which regulates the oil and gas industry, to hire a seismologist. 

Azle residents told Porter about the effects of earth tremors felt at their homes and businesses, and their ongoing safety concerns over seismic activity that has increased locally along with an increase in oil and gas industry activities over the last several years.
“It is imperative that the commission remain engaged and involved in gathering more evidence and data into any possible causation between oil and gas activities and seismic events,” Porter said in his Jan. 7 statement. 
“Commission rules and regulations must be based on sound science and proven facts. In order to do so, I propose the commission hire an in-house seismologist.”
Perry makes proclamation
January 2014 is Crime Stoppers Month in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed Jan. 7. Every year, according to the proclamation, “the month of January is dedicated to raising awareness of Crime Stoppers’ successes and inspiring more Texans to get involved.”
Perry said anonymous tips have led to more than 180,000 arrests and $1 billion in property recovered and narcotics seized since the beginning of Crime Stoppers programs in 1976.
Shoppers’ app is promoted
Texas Department of Agriculture on Jan. 6 announced an upgraded version of its free “GO TEXAN” application, a way for smartphone users to track their visits to wineries, farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, nurseries and florists, and share their experiences on social media.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said, “This is an easy way for those who enjoy local products to support Texas businesses and track their visits, simply by pulling out their smartphone.”
Interim director is named
Texas Transportation Commission on Jan. 7 announced its selection of James Bass as interim executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, effective Jan. 17.
Bass succeeds Phil Wilson at the post. Wilson last fall was named general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Bass has been serving as chief financial officer of TxDOT.
Governor swears Berry in
On Jan. 7 Nandita Berry of Houston was sworn in by Gov. Perry as the 109th Texas Secretary of State. “I am honored to be appointed by Gov. Perry and look forward to serving Texas as secretary of state,” Berry said.
As secretary of state, Berry is one of six state officials who comprise the state’s executive department of the state of Texas. Her duties now include serving as the chief election officer for the state, the governor’s liaison on border and Mexican affairs, and Texas’ chief protocol officer for state and international matters.
 And, the office manages the business and public filings for Texas.
Berry is a graduate of Mount Carmel College in Bangalore, India, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. Prior to her appointment, Secretary Berry was senior counsel at the Locke Lord law firm in Houston, and she was an in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.
Please resign, senators say
State Sens. Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia and John Whitmire, all Democrats from Houston, on Jan. 7 called on state Finance Commission Chair William J. White to voluntarily resign from office. In asking for the resignation, the trio of senators called attention to a Dec. 29 story in the El Paso Times that included comments White made disparaging consumers of payday loans, and noted that White is vice president of Cash America, a payday loan company, a type of company that is regulated by the Finance Commission.
Ellis said White’s comments “severely call into question his ability to put his outside employment aside and truly look out for Texas consumers.”
Revenue increases again
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, the state’s chief financial officer, on Jan. 8 announced that state sales tax revenue in December was $2.25 billion, up 3.9 percent compared to December 2012.
“Consumer spending in retail trade contributed to the latest gain in state sales tax collections,” Combs said. “Other sectors such as telecommunications also contributed to the monthly growth, and state sales tax revenue has now increased for 45 consecutive months.”
In her Jan. 8 announcement, Combs said she would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their January local sales tax allocations totaling $573.5 million, up 8.1 percent compared to January 2013.


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