AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry on Feb. 3 declared emergency items for lawmakers to focus on in the first 30 days of the legislative session, which began Jan. 13.
Perry's emergency items call for legislation that would:
• Provide supplemental appropriations to state agencies and institutions related to hurricane response and recovery associated with the hurricanes of 2008;
• Assist public and private entities with recovery from the hurricanes of 2008;
• Reform the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and fund the related Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund;
• Improve state schools and centers operated by the state of Texas; and
• Appropriate funds to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for screening and detection devices for contraband and personnel, and security equipment.
FEMA extends deadline for help
The Federal Emergency Management Agency extended to Feb. 20 the deadline for Texas homeowners, renters and business owners to apply for federal and state disaster assistance for damages and losses caused by Hurricane Ike.
The Governor's Division of Emergency Management requested the extension, citing a continued flow of new applications from Texans for disaster assistance.
Homeowners, renters, and business owners who choose to register may be eligible for:
• Grants to help pay for temporary housing needs;
• Essential home repairs;
• Serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance or other sources; and
• Low interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to repair or replace real or personal property.
"If you've delayed registering for FEMA assistance, please do it now," said federal coordinating officer Stephen M. De Blasio Sr. "FEMA wants to help Texans who need and qualify for assistance, but we can't help you if you don't register."
Reps request broader access
One hundred and two Texas House members on Feb. 2 sent a letter to Texas cable and satellite providers asking them to televise legislative sessions across the state.
"This is the logical next step in making state government more transparent and accountable," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who led the effort to collect lawmakers' signatures.
Lawmakers file tax-capping bills
Already this session, many lawmakers have filed bills to limit property taxes and appraisal increases.
Most of these bills specify appraisal caps of 103 percent, 105 percent or 110 percent.
Some of the bills would amend state law and some would be in the form of proposed constitutional amendments that could end up on the Nov. 3 election ballot.
House members that have filed such legislation include Republicans Debbie Riddle of Houston, Bill Callegari of Katy, John Zerwas of Houston, Betty Brown of Terrell, and Jim Nichols of Carrollton, and Democrats Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs and David Leibowitz of San Antonio.
Callegari's HB 979 and HJR 49, a proposed constitutional amendment, would limit annual appraisal increases for commercial properties to 10 percent.
Unlike residential homestead appraisals, which are capped at 10 percent, appraisal increases for commercial property taxes are not limited by law, Callegari explained.
In the absence of any limitation, the property tax appraisal values for Texas' businesses can increase substantially from year to year.
Callegari said, for example, one business in his district reported a 67 percent tax increase over one year.
"Any business that receives a higher property tax bill is faced with two options: either pass the costs onto the consumer or absorb a loss to their investment."
Ex-speaker's information deleted
The Texas Legislative Council, the state agency with duties that include information technology management at the Capitol, purged former House Speaker Tom Craddick's computer hard drive, according to an Associated Press story.
Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said he would file legislation to prevent such destruction in the future to "preserve the public's right to know about legislative information when a legislator leaves office."