OPINION COLUMNS

County processes governor after felony indictment

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gov. Rick Perry on Aug. 20 walked the block-and-a-half from the Governor’s Mansion to the Travis County Courthouse, presented himself for arraignment by a state district judge and routine booking procedures, spoke at a five-minute press conference and left.

Perry was indicted Aug. 15 by a Travis County grand jury on felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry entered a plea of not guilty to either charge.

The charges stem from the governor’s veto of the Public Integrity Unit’s 2014-2015 budget in June 2013. The 35-employee unit, which serves as the state’s ethics-investigating body, is under the direction of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Perry said he would veto the agency’s budget unless Lehmberg resigned from her elected office.

Lehmberg was arrested in Austin for drunken driving in April 2013. Photographs and video recordings of her condition immediately before, during and after her arrest were widely disseminated. She served a short jail sentence, publicly apologized, underwent counseling, returned to her post, and contrary to the governor’s wishes, refused to resign.

Perry responded with a line-item veto of legislatively approved funding for the Public Integrity Unit ($7.5 million) in the state’s 2014-2015 general appropriations act.

Perry assembled a legal defense team and called the charges baseless. Concerns about the cost of a taxpayer-funded defense soon arose, and Perry supporters said private donations were being raised in lieu of public funding.

DWI PATROLS TO INCREASE

Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 15 announced the planned increase of DWI patrols through Sept. 2. Labor Day is Monday, Sept. 1.

DPS troopers will focus DWI patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent. Enhanced patrols targeting impaired drivers are funded through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.

During the Labor Day enforcement effort last year, DPS troopers made 1,682 DWI arrests, 24,443 speeding citations, 3,541 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 1,223 fugitive arrests and 977 felony arrests.

DPS Director Steven McCraw said, “The Department urges all drivers to do their part this Labor Day holiday and every day by obeying traffic laws and not drinking and driving.”

Meanwhile, Texas Department of Transportation is promoting its annual Labor Day “Drink-Drive-Go-to-Jail” campaign to remind drivers and motorcyclists to avoid drinking and driving or else face severe consequences.

The Aug. 15 through Sept. 1 campaign coincides with a nationwide enforcement period sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CNG, LNG SALES REPORTED

Sales of natural gas motor fuel in Texas have exceeded expectations for fiscal year 2014, Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter announced Aug. 19.

As of July 31, fiscal 2014 tax revenue from sales of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) motor fuel totaled $2,178,199, according to the state Comptroller’s office.

“These collections are more than double the estimated amount,” Porter said. “At 15 cents per gallon equivalent, $2,178,199 of motor fuel tax equals sales of 14,521,326 gallon equivalents of natural gas.” A gallon equivalent is the amount of CNG or LNG with the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel, Porter explained.

PROP. 1 TO BE ON BALLOT

Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on Aug. 20 announced a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution related to transportation will appear on the Nov. 4 statewide election ballot as Proposition 1.

Prop. 1 provides for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.

The last day to register to vote in the election is Oct. 6. Early voting begins Oct. 20 and runs through Oct. 31. More information may be found at VoteTexas.gov.

ACT NUMBER HITS HIGH

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams on Aug. 20 announced the number of Texas students in the 2014 graduating class taking the ACT college admission test hit a new high: 116,547, up by more than 6,700 students from 2013.

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

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