Friday, May 20, 2005

Roundup: Revisions to top 10% law on hold; Senate: Vote where it's convenient

Roundup: Revisions to top 10% law on hold; Senate: Vote where it's convenient
Thursday, May 19, 2005


Revisions to top 10% law on hold

It's anybody's guess whether lawmakers will revise a law guaranteeing students in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school graduating classes admission to any public college or university in the state.

The latest twist: On Wednesday, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, put a 48-hour hold on a House-passed bill that would allow campuses to limit top 10 percent students to half the freshman class. That means the Senate Education Committee cannot consider House Bill 2330 until 10 a.m. Friday. The panel had planned to take up the measure today.

Barrientos was the Senate sponsor of the top 10 percent law when it was enacted in 1997.


Senate: Vote where it's convenient

Voters would be able to cast ballots at select polling sites anywhere in their county, instead of just in their neighborhood, under legislation approved unanimously Wednesday by the Senate.

Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 758, said the measure allows for county election officials to try out the change in some elections. Under current law, early voting is allowed outside precincts; but on election days, voters can cast their ballots only in their precinct.

The idea: More voters will turn out if they can vote at the the most convenient place.


Ronald Reagan highway in works

The latest, and probably last, attempt to name a highway for former President Reagan was approved Wednesday by the Texas Senate without so much as a whimper of opposition.

Earlier this spring, proposals to name highways in Houston and streets in Austin, Williamson County and elsewhere prompted lively and emotional debate thanks to insistent opposition from Democrats. They offered unsuccessful amendments to name them instead for Democrats such as former President Johnson and former Govs. Ann Richards, Preston Smith and Dolph Briscoe, among others.

Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved House Bill 55, which would name a portion of Interstate 20 that runs between the Tarrant-Parker county line and Grand Prairie as the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, voted for the bill while holding his nose.


More money for integrity sleuths

House and Senate conferees on the state budget have agreed to increase funding for Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's Public Integrity Unit, the sleuths who investigate politicians.

The additional funding has to be used to investigate and prosecute insurance fraud, not to investigate public officials. Insurance and tax fraud are two other areas that the unit has authority over.

Under the House version of the budget, the unit's funding would have been increased to $3.3 million a year for the next two years, allowing for an additional forensic analyst position. The Senate version would have jumped it up even even more to add two full-time forensic analysts and a part-time law clerk.

Some House members have been less than enamored with the unit for its investigation of House Speaker Tom Craddick, aides to powerful GOP U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and a Republican-business political action committee.

Earlier in the legislative session, rumors swirled that funding for the unit might be slashed in reprisal.


Tow truck drivers want answers

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was confronted Wednesday morning by angry tow truck drivers outside his Capitol office.

Whitmire said the group of Houston wrecker owners demanded to know why he is continuing to support legislation on Houston's Safe Clear program, which allows disabled cars to be towed quickly from expressways as a safety measure.

"They wouldn't take 'no' for an answer," Whitmire said. "They wouldn't let it go. It was just me and them. . . . I was getting a little concerned, frankly, because of their attitude."

An aide summoned state troopers, who promptly ushered Whitmire into his office and dispersed the drivers.

Whitmire said the drivers were upset because they have not been included as contract operators in the Safe Clear program.


Industry gets help from the House

It's hard to promote the state's wine industry if people can't find the wineries.

The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved legislation to change that, authorizing the wineries to advertise where customers can buy their wines and giving the state Transportation Department the authority to erect signs to direct traffic to wineries.

However, the House repealed a section allowing wineries to sell beer in wet areas if food is served.

It also decided that for a wine to be labeled a Texas wine, at least 75 percent of the grapes have to be grown in Texas. Some members wanted to drop that to 50 percent.

Quote of the day

"Mr. Speaker, did a fire alarm go off?"

Rep. Harold Dutton

The Houston Democrat made the comment after dozens of lobbyists left the House gallery en masse when a point of order derailed a proposal to allow statewide franchises for television providers.

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