AUSTIN - Many small businesses that hoped to be exempt from the state’s new business tax will instead get a discount under legislation adopted Friday in the Texas Senate.
Lawmakers are having to revisit last year’s business tax overhaul to fix multiple errors and potential loopholes. The Legislature adopted the tax bill last spring during a special session to revamp the state’s method of paying for public schools.
In one of the most significant changes, businesses that make less than $10 million annually would have the option of paying the tax based on the calculation of .575 percent of their gross receipts.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships are exempt.
“A lot of small businesses will find this advantageous because it's simple and they will pay an amount that’s commiserate with what they pay under (the previous tax proposal) but they wouldn’t have to go through all the accounting gyrations and calculations,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, who led the tax rewriting effort in the Senate.
But, small business interests were critical of paying a tax based on gross receipts.
Seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong put his celebrity power to work Friday, headlining a Capitol news conference in a late push to get a $3 billion cancer research approved by lawmakers.
“I’m living proof that funding critical research works,” Armstrong said. “If we get this done, I can honestly say it will be the greatest thing I’ve ever done with my work within cancer, which makes it one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life.”
Legislation to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has already passed the state House of Representatives but is bumping up against Senate deadlines before the session ends May 28. If approved by the Senate, the issue would go to the voters on the November statewide ballot.
An estimated 35,000 Texans die of cancer every year, and 85,000 new cases are diagnosed. Armstrong, who recovered from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain before winning the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005, has become a strong advocate for cancer research since his retirement.
Texas sex offenders who are twice convicted of raping children under 14 could get the death penalty under a bill given final approval by state lawmakers and sent to Gov. Rick Perry.
House lawmakers approved Texas' version of "Jessica's Law," a crackdown on sex offenders who prey on children. The Senate approved it Thursday.
The bill is named for Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was abducted and killed. More than a dozen states have passed versions of Jessica’s Law, and Perry, who has said he was open to the idea of the death penalty in child sex cases, deemed passage of a child sex offender bill a legislative emergency.
Perry spokesman Katherine Cesinger said the governor will wait to read the final version of the bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.
Texas would be the sixth state to add the death penalty for some child rape cases, although legal experts debate whether the punishment would be unconstitutional in cases where the victim did not die.
Despite the absence of an ill Democrat on Friday, the Texas Senate shied away from a controversial proposal that would require voters to prove their identity at the polls.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said several senators told him they didn't want to debate the measure out of respect for Sen. Mario Gallegos, who underwent a liver transplant this winter and was in Houston on Friday for medical tests.
The bill would require voters to produce photo identification or two other forms of non-photo identification at a polling place.
The proposal has roiled the Senate this week, sparking a rare shouting match on Tuesday and all-day private meetings on Wednesday that kept lawmakers from passing any bills despite rapidly approaching deadlines.
Under Senate rules, two-thirds of the chamber, or 21 senators, must agree to bring a bill up for debate. Democrats hold 11 seats, just enough to block legislation from being considered if they vote together.
Dewhurst did not rule out the possibility that the bill could be brought up next week if Gallegos does not return.
Gas tax holiday
The House's proposed gas tax holiday hit a speed bump on Friday when the Senate refused to sign off on the legislation and sent the bill to a conference committee.
The Texas House added the 20-cent-per-gallon reduction to the Senate's version of a sweeping gasoline-tax collection bill.
But several senators, including transportation chairman Sen. John Carona, have said the state can't afford to lose that much revenue. Now Carona and four other senators will meet with members of the House to hash out a compromise.
The Senate approved a bill on Friday that would put the words "under God" in the Texas pledge of allegiance.
Thousands of Texas schoolchildren recite the state pledge every day.
In 2003, the Legislature required public school students to say the U.S. and Texas pledges and observe a minute of silence each day. A student may be excused from saying the pledges if a parent or guardian makes a written request.
Under the bill, the Texas pledge would be: "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible."
The wording is slightly different from the version approved by the House. If that chamber signs off on the changes, the bill could be sent to the governor's desk next week. Otherwise, members of both bodies will meet to work out the differences.
Juvenile prison abuse
A bill that would make it a second-degree felony to abuse a juvenile offender is headed to the governor's desk.
The Senate on Friday signed off on the House's version of the bill that also would make it easier for the state Attorney General's office to get involved in such cases.
The measure is one of many proposals spawned by an investigation into allegations of rampant sexual abuse of juvenile prison inmates by staff at the West Texas State School in Pyote.
Current law allows state prosecutors to intervene only if they're asked. But the local prosecutor in West Texas sat on the case for years after he received a Texas Ranger report outlining allegations of abuse by two top administrators at the youth prison.
Second-degree felonies carry a prison sentence of two to 20 years and up to a $10,000 fine. Crimes against juvenile inmates currently are state jail felonies punishable by up to two years behind bars.
Homeowners would have to tell potential buyers if the property had ever been used as a methamphetamine lab under a bill the state Senate sent to the governor on Friday.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said living in a former meth lab can cause cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and other health problems.
Sellers already have to notify potential buyers of other problems, such as termites, flooding or the use of lead-based paint.
Truth in music
The Senate approved the so-called "Supremes" legislation Friday and sent it to Gov. Rick Perry. The bill, already passed by the House, would protect the names of famous acts from the past from being mimicked by copycat bands.
Mary Wilson, a former member of the Supremes, visited the Capitol earlier this session to support the legislation. She said the proposed law would protect the identities of 1950s and '60s groups like The Platters, The Drifters and The Coasters.
Supporters of the legislation say impostor groups damage earning potential of the original performers by diluting the market and charging lower rates for a show.
Under the legislation, to be considered legitimate a live band must include at least one member of the original recording group. Tribute bands would not be affected. And, if each member of the original group authorizes the performance, it would be allowed.
Groups violating the law could be fined up to $15,000.