From AP REPORTS
AUSTIN — The Texas Youth Commission would be led by a governor-appointed commissioner for the next two years under a compromise reached Wednesday by the House and Senate.
Although both chambers had approved bills to overhaul the scandal-plagued juvenile prison system, the only major hangup was how to structure agency leadership. A final vote on the compromise should come in the next few days.
House and Senate lawmakers agreed to go with the Senate’s proposal to have a single commissioner placed over the agency until 2009, when it would revert to having a citizen board and executive director.
“We needed a (leader) who could take charge quickly and react rapidly in a changing environment,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, the McAllen Democrat who led the Senate negotiators.
Radical reforms to the state’s juvenile system erupted into one of the major issues of the legislative session after the disclosure of allegations of sexual abuse of inmates by staff and a possible coverup by agency officials.
The House and Senate had agreed on most aspects of a complete overhaul — improving staff-to-inmate ratios, creating strong new investigative powers to look into claims of abuse, and prohibiting courts from sending youths to state lockups for misdemeanors.
Both bills established a family “Bill of Rights” on visitation and contact with inmates and how to file grievances. A new ombudsman office would act as an advocate for inmates.
Embattled House Speaker Tom Craddick, who had been MIA for much of Wednesday’s floor session, briefly returned to the dais to squelch a brewing tiff.
Some Democrats were angry over a prohibition on private school vouchers being stripped from the state budget in negotiations with the Senate.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Waco Democrat, was trying to figure out a way to keep the prohibition in the budget — but he wanted Craddick to respond himself.
“Are you advised on whether or not Speaker Craddick intends on assuming the chair today?” Dunnam asked Rep. Beverly Woolley, who had temporarily assumed the chair. “Are you advised on the speaker’s location?”
Craddick, who is the focus of gossip about a possible House coup, showed up and promised to look into Dunnam’s inquiry.
He spent the rest of the afternoon mingling with lawmakers on the floor and chatted briefly with Gov. Rick Perry on the dais.
The budget conference committee is in the final stages of negotiating the differences between the House and Senate versions of the $150 billion 2008-09 state spending plan.
Earlier in the year, the House added an amendment to the budget that would prohibit the use of public dollars to pay for private schooling. The budget negotiators stripped that amendment Tuesday night.
State pension funds would be required to divest from companies doing business with the Sudanese government under a measure that won final House approval Wednesday.
The legislation, already passed by the Senate and approved by the House in a 146-0 vote, next heads to Gov. Rick Perry.
Texas is among a growing number of states seeking to limit or end investment with companies in Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million chased from their homes since 2003 because of civil strife. The United States has deemed the murders genocide and has largely blamed the Sudanese government and government-backed militias.
The Texas bill directs the pension funds for retired teachers and retired state employees to divest from certain international companies engaging in business operations with Sudan’s government or that have significant involvement in oil-related activities or supplying military equipment within the African nation.
Where’s The Bathroom?
People with inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions causing them to need immediate access to a toilet would get some help under legislation the House approved Wednesday and sent to Gov. Rick Perry.
The measure requires retail establishments to give customers with eligible medical conditions access to employee-only restrooms.
The bill by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, spells out which medical officials can write a letter saying a patient has the eligible medical condition. Physician assistants and registered nurses would among those allowed to write the letter.