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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Speaker Straus names 34 chairs of standing committees
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 • Posted February 17, 2009

AUSTIN - Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Feb. 12 exercised one of his most important duties in naming standing House committees.

Straus, R-San Antonio, assigned leadership roles and responsibilities in an egalitarian fashion, reflecting a near balance of 76 Republican seats to the Democrats' 74.

Straus said 15 of his 34 new chairs have not chaired standing committees in prior sessions, and of the 34, 18 are Republicans and 16 are Democrats.

Here are just a few committees and chairs:

Appropriations, Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Ways & Means, Rene Oliveira, D-McAllen; State Affairs, Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; Calendars, Brian McCall, R-Plano; Human Services, Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs; Criminal Jurisprudence, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine; and Public Education, Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

Straus also named Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, as speaker pro tempore.

As for the state Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stuck with his chairs from the 2007 session, with the exception of the Administration Committee. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, former chair of the committee, lost his re-election bid last fall, so Dewhurst named Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, as the committee's new chair.

Stimulus money will flow to Texas

On Feb. 13, Congress passed the conference report of House Resolution 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, without a "yea" vote from any Republican member of the Texas congressional delegation.

H.R. 1, President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package, got a thumbs-down earlier this month from Gov. Rick Perry, who said he would be against the package unless it offered more tax cuts and less spending.

But the president got all the support he needed in a 60-38 filibuster-proof vote in the Senate and 246-183 vote in the House that included "yeas" from Texas' 12 Democratic reps.

Texas' share of the stimulus spending has been estimated at $16 billion, but the money must be used as directed. Details on that will come.

As finally passed, H.R. 1 is about two-thirds stimulus spending and one-third tax cuts.

Water must play increasing role

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs' new report, "Liquid Assets: The State of Texas' Water Resources" studies Texas' current and future water resources, the issues facing water planners and funding methods that could be used to develop water resources.

Combs said, "By 2060, more than 46 million people could be living in Texas, and demand for water will increase by an estimated 27 percent.

"According to the Texas Water Development Board, failing to meet this demand could cost businesses and workers in the state approximately $9.1 billion per year by 2010 and $98.4 billion per year by 2060."

AG launches restitution program

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Feb. 11 made public a restitution program he said is for eligible Countrywide Financial Corp. residential mortgage customers who lost their homes to foreclosure.

In 2008, Abbott initiated an investigation into allegations that Countrywide encouraged homeowners to accept loans they could not afford, failed to fully disclose risky loan terms to borrowers and wrote loans for unqualified borrowers in an effort to increase market share.

AG halts 2 retirement schemes

On Feb. 13, Attorney General Abbott charged the owners of two investment plans with orchestrating a fraudulent scheme that targeted retirees and teachers.

Howard G. Judah Jr. of Houston and Gregory F. Jablonski of Castle Rock, Colo., falsely guaranteed lucrative investment returns, misrepresented their "life settlement" policy investment offerings, failed to disclose material information to investors and committed multiple violations of the Texas Securities Act.

Travis County District Judge Suzanne Covington granted the attorney general's request for receivership and issued an order seizing more than $19 million held in several bank accounts under the defendants' control.

Abbott's office said the enforcement action charges the defendants with failing to make required disclosures, selling unregistered securities and other violations of the Texas Securities Act.

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