From AP REPORTS
AUSTIN - Hoping to avoid a veto override fight and a special legislative session, the Texas Senate unanimously approved a proposal Monday that aims to address the governor’s concerns with a sweeping transportation bill.
The bill is similar to one lawmakers sent Gov. Rick Perry last week, with more exemptions to the two-year moratorium on most new privately financed toll road projects.
Among the newly exempted projects is the development of the Interstate 69 corridor in the Rio Grande Valley. South Texas officials had loudly protested the original bill, saying it could derail a project that is vital to the region’s development.
The compromise bill would still tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building. But the agreements could last up to 50 years, instead of the 40 years included in the original legislation.
The compromise also would change provisions for local participation in the building of toll roads.
“This bill is a significant improvement over what we had done in House Bill 1892, and I think House Bill 1892 was a good bill,” said Sen. John Carona, a Republican from Dallas who chairs the Senate transportation committee.
The bill now goes to the House. If that chamber adopts the bill without changing it, the legislation could go straight to the governor’s desk. If the bill is amended in the House, a committee of lawmakers from both chambers would meet to work out the differences.
Private negotiations in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s office resulted in a compromise Monday among Texas Right to Life, the Texas Hospital Association and others on a proposed change to the state law allowing hospitals to discontinue life support for patients deemed to be in a medically futile condition.
Under a Senate proposal, patients and their families would get more notice than the 10 days given under current law. The Senate unanimously approved the measure. It now goes to the House.
Extending the time limit before ending life-sustaining treatment wasn’t the main holdup in the backroom talks. Language that dealt with the definition of “terminal” and “pre-terminal” patients was the contentious part.
Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican sponsoring the legislation, said the agreement would protect families and patients.
Existing state law allows hospitals to end life-sustaining treatment in medically futile cases after a 10-day notice to the family, even if the family disagrees.
Deuell’s proposal would lengthen the time limit for notifying a patient’s family before discontinuing life support. It would give the family seven days’ notice before a hospital ethics committee meets to discuss the case, then a 21-day notice if life support is to be discontinued. There’s also another 20 days during which the issue could be brought up in court.
Top 10 Percent
A House committee on Monday approved capping the number of students guaranteed a spot at the University of Texas at Austin at 50 percent of the school’s incoming freshman class.
The bill approved by the House Higher Education Committee is a pared-down version of a compromise measure passed by the Senate two weeks ago.
Currently, all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class are guaranteed admission to the state university of their choice.
UT-Austin officials have complained for years that the law limits their ability to recruit a well-rounded student body.
The legislation approved Monday would direct universities to admit students according to their percentile rank until the 50 percent cap is reached. After the cap is reached, the remaining applicants would be subject to the university’s holistic review process.
The proposal does not include the Senate’s provision for a tuition discount for top 10 percent graduates. But it could be restored when the measure is debated by the full House.
If the House’s final version differs from the Senate’s, a committee of lawmakers from both chambers would be appointed to work out the differences.
Sales Tax Holiday
The annual sales tax holiday would shift from the first weekend in August to the third weekend of the month under legislation approved in the Senate on Monday.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said his proposal is designed to move the sales tax holiday closer to the new school year start date, now the fourth Monday in August. The sales tax holiday exempts certain clothing, shoes, socks and underwear from sales tax for a three-day period.
Judges could seal some search warrant information from the public for up to 60 days under a bill given preliminary approval Monday by the state House.
Opposed by media groups as an unnecessary restriction on public records, the bill has already passed the Senate. Final approval Tuesday by the House would send it to Gov. Rick Perry for his consideration.
Currently, a sworn affidavit filed for a search warrant is public information once the warrant is executed and Texas courts have ruled it be made immediately available. The affidavits can provide details on alleged crimes and lay out the reasons police need the search warrant.
Some prosecutors and law enforcement officials worry they may include information that could result in the destruction of evidence or put witnesses in danger.
The Texas newspaper industry on Monday urged Gov. Rick Perry to veto a bill that makes records of concealed handgun permits off limits to the public.
“We feel this is an open government issue, not a gun issue,” said Fred Hartman, chairman of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and Texas Press Association legislative advisory committee.
Information is available to the public for other types of licenses the state issues, including those for doctors, nurses, lawyers, real estate agents, pest control operators, barbers and prize fighters, Hartman said. He said there is no compelling or urgent need to make handgun license information private.
A bill the Legislature has passed would cut off public access to the license records. Law enforcement would still be able to access it. Perry has 10 days after he receives the bill to veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature.
Texas Youth Commission
The Senate on Monday honored Texas Ranger Brian Burzysnki and other Rangers who have investigated alleged sexual abuses in the Texas Youth Commission.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said if not for Burzynski’s hard work, abuses in the youth agency would still be going on. Whitmire said Burzynski’s entire Ranger company deserved recognition.
“He epitomizes what law enforcement should be about,” added Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat who is sponsoring legislation to overhaul the TYC following the abuses that came into the public spotlight this spring.
The House also honored some key players who helped bring to light widespread abuse in the Texas Youth Commission.
Republican activists are working to rally the troops behind beleaguered House Speaker Tom Craddick, reportedly facing a rare coup attempt as the Texas Legislature prepares to adjourn.
A GOP activist in Central Texas sent out an urgent plea to the party faithful this weekend aimed at heading off a vote to “vacate the chair.” In parliamentary language, that means depose the leader.
“There is reportedly a movement in the House to call for Speaker Tom Craddick to vacate the chair,” wrote Skipper Wallace, legislative chair of the Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association. “This move would greatly empower the Democrats in the next election.”
Wallace’s missive put on public display a behind-the-scenes palace intrigue that’s been the subject of rumor and political blogging since Craddick won a tough re-election battle in January.
In 2003 Craddick became the first Republican Texas speaker since Reconstruction. But nasty battles over redistricting and budget cuts have taken their toll. When the Legislature convened in January, he survived a narrow re-election battle, but hard feelings remain.
He spent much of the five-hour floor session Monday visiting individually with members of the chamber, temporarily leaving his post on the speaker’s dais.