Transportation legislation pushes lawmakers to brink

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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As the end of a second, 30-day special session inched closer last week, the Texas House and Senate fell short of reaching a compromise on a path toward the future funding of transportation projects.

During that time span, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (who presides over the Senate) House Speaker Joe Straus and key lawmakers worked out strategies in back-and-forth messages, in hopes of bringing House Joint Resolution 2 and House Bill 16 to final votes on July 29 and 30, the last two days of the 30-day special session.

Gov. Rick Perry said he would call a third special session if the Legislature failed to act in accordance with his wishes, that is, to let voters decide via constitutional amendment if sizable-yet-limited withdrawals from the state’s $12 billion Economic Stimulus (rainy day) Fund henceforth should be devoted to future transportation projects.

Wording for the Nov. 5 ballot measure – if approved by the Legislature as currently written – reads: “The constitutional amendment to provide for revenue from motor fuel taxes to be used solely for constructing, maintaining and acquiring rights-of-way for certain public roadways and to provide for the transfer of certain general revenue to the economic stabilization fund and the available school fund.”

If approved by voters, the requirement that one-fourth of certain net revenue from the motor fuel tax be allocated to the available school fund will end. That revenue would be used to acquire rights-of-way for public roadways other than toll roads and for the construction and maintenance of those public roadways.


A month ago, in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional.

To some observers, the court’s 5-4 decision meant Texas and a number of other states would no longer be subject to federal preclearance before any changes to state election laws could take effect. To others, the court’s action meant more legal action lay ahead. And they may be right.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on July 25 announced the justice department would ask a federal court in Texas “to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” Holder said his request to “bail in” the state to require it to obtain “pre-approval” from either the justice department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found.

“Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices,” Holder added.

Attorney General Greg Abbott reacted to Holder’s announcement, saying, “The Obama Administration shouldn’t deny in Texas what is allowed across the country.” Likewise, Gov. Rick Perry said Holder’s expressed intent “casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

On June 25, the day the Supreme Court released its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, Texas Secretary of State John Steen posted a list of acceptable forms of identification that prospective voters could present at a poll before casting a ballot.


The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on July 26 ruled in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in State of Texas v. EPA, 10-1425.

The State of Texas had appealed EPA’s takeover of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s regulation of carbon-emissions from power plants and smokestack industries for not meeting the January 2011 deadline relating to the regulation of greenhouse gases.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office said plans are to review the ruling.

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

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