The Texas House and Senate, closing in on the end of the second 30-day special session, postponed floor debates on the future funding of transportation projects until July 25.
Lawmakers likely will place that funding decision squarely in the hands of the electorate in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot.
But headlining last week’s Capitol action was Gov. Rick Perry’s July 18 signing into law of House Bill 2, passed by the House and Senate on July 13. The legislation bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and requires physicians who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges at a facility within 30 miles. It also mandates that only a physician may dispense or administer abortion-inducing drugs and requires licensed abortion facilities to meet the same minimum safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers, beginning Sept. 1, 2014.
Perry said HB 2 “ensures that anyone performing abortions in Texas is doing so in a facility that is safe, clean and prepared to deal with any emergencies that might occur – a reasonable, common-sense expectation for those caring for the health and safety of Texans.”
However, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who led opposition to the bill in the Senate, said, “Shamefully, the Texas Senate just voted to pass a law that will leave tens of thousands of Texans without access to preventive and life-saving care, all to further an extremely partisan agenda. Some may believe that that this fight has been waged and won with this final vote today, but they are wrong in so many ways. The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.”
Davis and a number of other Senate and House Democrats said HB 2 and similar bills likely would spur lawsuits over state infringement of constitutionally protected rights.
BILL MERGES INSTITUTIONS
Gov. Perry on July 14 ceremonially signed SB 24, legislation passed June 14 to reorganize The University of Texas at Brownsville and The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg into one university within the University of Texas System. The new university is to be christened with a new name by the end of the year.
The medical school is slated to open in 2016. UT-Pan American has been the home of the statutorily authorized medical school in South Texas and the facilities and operations of the Lower Rio Grande Health Center associated with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Under the legislation, the new university and medical school will be able to tap into the $14 billion Permanent University Fund.
MORE JOB GROWTH IN JUNE
Texas’ unemployment rate remained at 6.5 percent in June, with the state economy adding 5,800 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in the month, the Texas Workforce Commission reported on July 19.
The national unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent in June, according to statistics compiled and released by U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Economic growth in Texas has proven to be diverse, consistent, and long-term,” said Andres Alcantar, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission. “The annual job growth across all industries continues to provide opportunity for Texas job seekers.”
EDUCATION STATS GO ONLINE
Education Commissioner Michael Williams on July 19 announced the public posting of “2012 Snapshot: School District Profiles” on the Texas Education Agency website www.tea.state.tx.us.
“Snapshot,” Williams said, provides an overview of public education in Texas for a particular school year. In addition to state-level information, this website contains a profile about the characteristics of each public school district and charter school.
Williams noted that “Snapshot” summary tables provide district information in some common categories, and a peer search function permits grouping districts according to shared characteristics, but “Snapshot” does not provide any campus-level information.
SALES TAX HOLIDAY AHEAD
This year’s state sales tax holiday is set for Aug. 9 to 11, per Senate Bill 485 passed by the current Legislature.
During those days, most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 will be exempt from sales and use taxes, saving shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.
All qualifying items sold during the holiday period qualify for the exemption, including items sold online, or by telephone or mail, and lay-away plans can be used again this year, according to the state comptroller’s office.
Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.