Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lege updates

Just a roundup of teasers here. Go to the links for more detail.

-- CPRIT has been the big issue of the session so far. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday approved a bill to reform the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) authored by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). “Our laws and rules have been twisted in ways that are disappointing and unacceptable,” Nelson said in a press release. [...] According to the Texas Tribune, SB 149 would completely restructure the leadership staff in the institute, create provisions that would prevent conflicts of interest and remove Greg Abbott and Susan Combs from their positions on the oversight committee. The bill will now go before the full Senate.

-- Yesterday morning Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, presented SB 4. Fraser seeks $2 billion to aid the state in recovering from its severe drought, the Houston Chronicle reports. He also called for the Texas Water Development Board to upgrade from part-time to full-time and scolded the group for failing to appropriately set and fulfill priorities. The committee heard invited testimony, with the expectation that public testimony will follow in the coming weeks.

Two excerpts on that water bill from the Chron. This one...

The part-time board that oversees Texas water projects has been ineffective and should be replaced by a full-time board with more funding and accountability, a state senator told colleagues Tuesday in asking for $2 billion to pay for future water needs.

Sen. Troy Fraser ... blasted the Texas Water Development Board for failing to set priorities. He said he asked the board more than two years ago to give him a list of the 50 most important water projects in the state and that he's still waiting for an answer.

Often, he said, it's difficult to get the six part-time board members on the phone to discussion the state's water issues.

"Every time you ask them a question, they give you a non-answer and that's part of the frustration I'm having," the Marble Falls Republican told his committee. "Every group believes their project is the most important and the competition between the 16 (water planning groups) at times has been problematic."

... and this one.

"It is my No. 1 point of irritation," Fraser said ... "If you ask the Water Development Board which of the 562 projects are the most important, they say they are all important."

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R- Katy, agreed: "There is a difference between a wish list and a list that actually works. What are our real priorities?"

The water issue is Speaker Straus' top priority this session, so expect to read much more about it.

-- Democratic legislators are also accelerating the removal of the codified marriage discrimination in the Texas Constitution.

-- Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) filed a measure on Monday to legalize civil unions in Texas by 2014 and partially repeal Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act. SB 480 would require first changing Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting both same-sex marriage and civil unions, the Dallas Voice reports. Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Reps. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) have already filed resolutions to lift the ban. That seems unlikely. The measures would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers before being placed on statewide ballots.

Said Hinojosa:

“The creation of civil unions in Texas is critical for same-gender couples so they can be afforded the same benefits and protections that married couples enjoy. Providing legal protections, including property rights, homestead rights, child custody and support, adoption, group insurance for state employees, and worker compensation benefits, would treat same-gender couples with the dignity and respect they deserve as well as allow them the benefits to take care of their families.” 

-- Good news for brewmasters and brewpubs:

Texas lawmakers on Tuesday  introduced a package of bills that would help the state’s growing number of production breweries and the brewpub restaurants that would like to package and sell beer off-site.

  • On-site sales for breweries: Production breweries such as Houston’s Saint Arnold, which make no more than 225,000 barrels of beer annually, would be allowed to sell up to 5,000 barrels directly to customers for consumption on site each year. Take-away beer and growler fills to go still would be prohibited.
  • Off-site sales for brewpubs: Brewpubs could package beer for off-site retail sales, up to 1,000 barrels on its own and the remainder through licensed distributors. Once a brewpub reaches annual production of 12,500 barrels, it would have to stop growing or switch to a production-brewery license.
  • New limits on self-distribution: (Two bills) Breweries that produce up to 125,000 barrels annually would be allowed to self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels. Out-of-state breweries also would be allowed some self-distribution rights as well.

-- And lastly, what the Texas Observer's 'Floor Pass' blog is watching today.

1. The Senate Finance Committee, which meets this morning at 9 a.m., will hear from the Commission on Jail Standards about public safety and criminal justice, and the Department of Agriculture will present on natural resources.

2. The Senate Committee on Transportation will meet this morning at 8 a.m. and will hear testimony from the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

3. The House Public Health Committee meets today to discuss, among other issues, Obamacare and its effect on Texas.

Grits is always your go-to blog for criminal justice matters in Texas.

Update: EOW with more on other bills.

Update II, referencing #2 above... TxDOT director calls for stable highway funding system:

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency needs at least $4 billion more each year to cover road expansion and upkeep. The proposed $20.8 billion budget would set aside just under $2.5 billion to repay debts, but caps the new construction budget at just over $1 billion.

“I think that really puts in perspective the situation that TxDOT finds itself in today, with an extremely large amount on the debt service side and a limited amount on the new construction side,” Davis told Wilson. “In my perspective we’ve really gotten upside-down in terms of providing the support for this agency that’s needed, and for you to conduct what we expect you to do.”

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed spending $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund on Texas transportation, but that would still come up short of Wilson’s request for TxDOT. Perry has suggested spending the money on building new highways and bringing old roads up to code for projects like Interstate 69.

What TxDOT needs, Wilson said today—and wrote in a letter to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst—is a new, sustainable transportation funding source.

No comments: