AUSTIN — Last week, the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green parties of Texas held their state conventions in Fort Worth, Houston, Fort Worth and Grey Forest — about 25 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio, respectively.
Because of their lengthy traditions and larger memberships, the more heavily attended and media-covered were Democrats and Republican meetings.
Republicans gathered at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Retired attorney Steve Munisteri of Houston was reelected as state party chair. Delegates adopted a 22-page party platform that includes items such as support for border security, judicial restraint, defense of marriage, abolition of ad valorem taxation, certain restrictions on state-funded family planning services, repeal of the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and a prohibition on state or federal loans or grants for non-U.S. citizens.
Meanwhile, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, attorney Gilberto Hinojosa of Brownsville was elected chair of the Texas Democratic Party. A former judge and school board member, Hinojosa is the organization’s first Hispanic chair and has served the party on the national level. Delegates passed party platform with planks in support of women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality for same-sex couples, repeal of the death penalty, national single-payer health insurance, and the decriminalization of marijuana.
Testing results released
Preliminary results of the latest high-stakes battery of student testing required by state law were released by the Texas Education Agency on June 8.
Passing rates on five end-of-course “State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness” tests – taken by some 319,000 students – ranged from as high as 87 percent on biology to as low as 55 percent on English I writing, the agency reported.
Passing requirements for the current “STAAR™” tests will be phased in, getting tougher at intervals until 2016. STAAR passing standards require students to demonstrate more in-depth knowledge, critical thinking, and application skills than did the previous Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), the agency said. Summaries of scores are available at www.tea.state.tx.us.
Tighter budgets ordered
On June 4, the 10-member Legislative Budget Board released instructions for state agencies to use in preparing appropriations requests for the 2014-2015 two-year budget cycle.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, two of the board’s 10 members, and Gov. Rick Perry, urged agency executives to hold the line on spending by submitting requests that detail how they would reduce their baseline request by an additional 10 percent, in 5 percent increments. The leadership also notified state agencies that if “state fiscal conditions warrant it” they may be asked to reduce their fiscal year 2013 budgets.
Sales tax revenue is up
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, in making her monthly distribution to local governments, on June 6 announced that state sales tax revenue in May was $2.09 billion, up 7.3 percent compared to May 2011.
“This marks 26 consecutive months of sales tax growth,” Combs said. “As the recovery continues, the year-to-year rate of growth is stabilizing. Collections remain strong in the oil and natural gas-related sectors as well as other segments of the Texas economy such as the restaurant industry.”
DPS joins in Roadcheck
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, in addition to their normal duties, participated in a June 6-8 nationwide enforcement effort targeting tractor-trailers and buses with serious equipment violations and drivers not complying with state and federal requirements.
Troopers checked brakes, tires, lights and loading standards, licenses and log books, and watched roadways for aggressive passenger vehicle drivers.
DPS Director Steve McCraw said “most 18-wheeler and bus wrecks are actually caused by passenger vehicles, so Texas drivers can do their part to keep our roads safe by using extra caution when driving near commercial vehicles.”
Invasive bivalve, water plant
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on June 5 asked lake users to “Clean your boat. Save your lake.”
The purpose was to raise public awareness about two invasive species: zebra mussels and giant salvinia, and to call for action.
Requested actions included: clean all debris and plant material from the boat and trailer; drain all water from boat, engine, live wells and bait buckets; let boat and trailer dry for at least a week before using the boat in a non-infested water body.