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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Business of Texas proceeds as national debt decision nears
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 • Posted August 4, 2011

AUSTIN — With Congress and the White House in a rolling boil over how to handle the nation’s mountainous debt before entering default, Texas continued plowing along.

If the nation’s debt ceiling is not increased to avoid default, one of many big questions is what effect, if any, a possible downgrading of the United States’ credit rating might have on the Texas economy.

At any rate, Gov. Rick Perry ceremonially signed House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2, legislation passed in the recent regular and special legislative sessions, respectively, to balance the state budget for the 2012-13 biennium:

• without raising taxes

• without tapping the state’s $6 billion Rainy Day Fund; and

• extending the small business tax exemption to 2014.

Perry also signed House Bill 274, “loser pays” lawsuit reform legislation which he said:

• allows a trial court to dismiss a frivolous lawsuit immediately if there is no basis in law or fact for the lawsuit;

• allows a trial judge to send a question of law directly to the appellate court without requiring all parties to agree if a ruling by a court of appeals could decide the case;

• allows plaintiffs seeking less than $100,000 to request an expedited civil action;

• encourages timely settlement of disputes; and

• helps prevent a party from extending litigation by seeking a “home run” if they have already been offered a fair settlement.

In other news last week, on July 28, the governor’s office reacted to the arrest of Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, an absent-without-leave FortCampbell, Ky., soldier named as a suspect in a plot to bomb a business frequented by Fort Hood soldiers in Killeen.

Perry said after the arrest the incident “underscores the importance of citizens reporting something that doesn’t seem quite right immediately to law enforcement.”

Meanwhile, on the governor’s calendar for Aug. 6, is an event he has publicly endorsed: The Response, a seven-hour public prayer and fasting forum to be held at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

And, the watch continues as to the extent of Gov. Perry’s presidential aspirations.

TEA releases new ratings

Accountability ratings for 8,526 public schools and 1,228 districts were released by the Texas Education Agency on July 29.

Increasing standards and the elimination of the Texas Projection Measure calculation resulted in fewer schools and districts earning the highest rating of “Exemplary” in 2011.

In fact, the number of Exemplary districts fell from 241 in 2010 to 61 this year while the number of campuses earning the highest rating dropped from 2,637 in 2010 to 1,224 today. And, the number of districts with the state’s lowest rating, “Academically Unacceptable,” increased from 37 in 2010 to 88 in 2011, and the number of Academically Unacceptable campuses increased from 104 to 569. However, only about 7 percent of the districts and campuses in the state received the lowest rating, according to an agency news release.

In 2013, the TEA will use a new accountability system titled “State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness” in response to House Bill 3, which passed in 2009.

Speaker pro tem to retire

State Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, last week announced she would retire at the end of her current two-year term.

Woolley, 72, is in her ninth term as a House member and currently holds the title of speaker pro tempore. She also serves on the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence and the House Committee on Ways and Means.

When the House is in session, in the absence or inability of the speaker, the speaker pro tem may call the House to order and perform all other duties of the chair in presiding over the deliberations of the house and perform other duties and exercise other responsibilities as may be assigned by the speaker.

Fund enrollment to start

Enrollment for the Texas Tuition Promise Fund commences Sept. 1 and ends six months later, on Feb. 28, 2012.

The fund allows prepayment of all or part of undergraduate tuition and required fees at Texas public colleges or universities at today’s prices. The idea is to enroll infants and small children as early as possible to allow time to build a substantial account.

Texas public colleges and universities bill an enrollee’s fund account for tuition and required fees when their child enters higher education. The plan is administered through the state comptroller’s office.

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