OPINION COLUMNS

Perry releases final decisions on bills

By Ed Sterling | Published Saturday, June 22, 2013

{{{*}}}June 16 was the deadline for the governor to veto or approve legislation passed in the regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature.

Gov. Rick Perry beat the deadline by two days, releasing a list of vetoed and approved bills on June 14. Just a few among the 24 bills Perry prevented from becoming laws by strokes of his pen were:

HB 217 – prohibiting school districts from selling beverages with added sweeteners, milk with more than one percent fat or juices less than 100 percent juice.

HB 950 – providing uniformity between state and federal anti-discrimination laws so that employees and employers have consistent laws governing employment relations.

HB 2836 – requiring all statewide standardized tests to be determined valid by an entity independent of the Texas Education Agency or the State Board of Education.

HB 3063 – giving state-sponsored competitive advantage to some Texas communities over others in attracting aerospace industry businesses.

SB 15 – adding to the management responsibilities of boards of regents of institutions of higher education and would expand the training requirements of individual regents.

SB 17 – providing for a free-of-charge, state-provided school safety-training program for certain employees of a school district or charter school that does not have a peace officer or security personnel assigned full-time to the campus.

A few from the list of bills Perry put his signature of approval on include:

HB 8 – revising statutes relating to protective orders issued for victims of human trafficking and the offense of human trafficking;

SB 21 – requiring mandatory drug screening as a condition for the receipt of unemployment benefits;

HB 308 – allowing public school students and staff to use traditional holiday greetings and display religious scenes and symbols on school property.

However, SB 1, the state’s general appropriations bill for fiscal years 2014-2015, suffered a number of line-item vetoes by the governor. One of those vetoes was of the budget for the state’s Austin-based Public Integrity Unit, a state agency tasked with investigating ethics complaints lodged against public officials.

In explaining his veto, Perry wrote, “Despite the otherwise good work the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence. This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the state budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.”

In April, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, chief of the Public Integrity Unit, was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated. After serving a short jail sentence, she was released. Some lawmakers pressured Lehmberg to resign, but she chose to remain in office.

REDISTRICTING BILLS MOVE THROUGH THE PIPELINE

The Texas Senate, in special session on June 13, approved the four major redistricting bills Gov. Perry originally called state lawmakers to pass in the current special session of the Legislature.

Senate bills 1, 3 and 4, as tentatively approved by the Senate, would preserve the federal court-drawn maps of the state’s U.S. Congressional districts and Texas House districts. Those three bills were passed on split votes with 16 Republicans voting aye and 11 Democrats voting nay. SB 2, relating to the redistricting maps of state Senate districts, was approved on a unanimous vote.

All four bills now move to the House, where that body’s select committee on redistricting will take up and consider its own set of bills relating to the districts as redrawn in 2012 by a San Antonio federal court. Differences in the House and Senate versions of the bills would have to be worked out in a conference committee.

PERRY ADDS TO CALL FOR SPECIAL SESSION

On June 10, Gov. Perry added items relating to the funding of transportation infrastructure projects to the special session call and June 11 he expanded the call to include two more items: legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities; and legislation relating to establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender.

STATE’S SALES TAX REVENUE GOES UP AGAIN

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on June 12 reported that state sales tax revenue in May was $2.26 billion, up 7.9 percent compared to May 2012.

She attributed the increase to collections from the information services and construction sectors, and said, “restaurants also showed notable growth” and “oil and natural gas-related activity remains a major source of strength.”

Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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