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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Federal stimulus, state budget puzzle must interlock
Wednesday, March 4, 2009 • Posted March 3, 2009

AUSTIN - The Texas House's Select Committee on the Federal Economic Stabilization Funding and the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Stimulus have met day after day, getting input from state agency chiefs and staffers and others invited to testify on budgetary needs.

These committees must figure out how much funding state agencies need to carry out their missions over the next two years and exactly where federal stimulus dollars may be spent.

The biggest questions have to do with where federal stimulus spending starts and where normal state funding stops. About $16 billion in federal stimulus funding will be at the state's disposal, but the legality of where and how the spending must be done is requiring a huge outlay of legislative time.

The Legislature's main job is to produce a budget, and that is sure to take longer than usual because of complexities. Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, during the House session on Februaryt25 said the appropriations bill may not hit the House floor until Easter time.

After Pitts spoke, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, warned that an Easter deadline might stand in the way of the Legislature "getting it right" and if the House doesn't get it right, it would be a disservice to his constituents and to Texans in general.

Border security looms as issue

Gov. Rick Perry visited El Paso last week, and while there made a plea for the Texas Legislature to appropriate $135 million for continued border security funding to combat transnational gangs.

In a Feb. 24 news release, the governor's office said, "A porous border allows international terrorists, organized crime cartels and transnational gangs to put Texas and the nation at risk.

"Until the federal government fulfills its responsibility to this effort, Texas needs continued leadership and funding from the Legislature to support the state's current border security strategy, which involves putting more boots on the ground and providing increased law enforcement resources along the border," Perry said.

In El Paso, Perry met with retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, local leaders and law enforcement to discuss border security issues and the escalating, drug-related violence in Mexico.

The governor's office said more than 5,700 homicides occurred in Mexico in 2008, with about 1,600 in Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. And, the U.S. State Department estimates, more than 200 Americans have been killed in Mexico since 2004.

Ike aid extension is granted

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas announced February 23 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the "Proof of Loss" submission deadline an additional 90 days to June 8 for residents who have suffered damage to flood insured property as a result of Hurricane Ike.

Cornyn and Hutchison sent FEMA a letter urging a waiver of the Proof of Loss requirement or an extension of the "POL" submission deadline. This effort by the senators followed up on a similar request lodged by Gov. Perry.

Hutchison called the 90-day extension a step in the right direction, but she also expressed hope that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, "will consider additional time, if needed."

Bill pile grows and grows

House members have filed nearly 3,000 legislative bills and senators have filed more than 1,500 since early bill filing began in November.

The bill count likely will double between now and March 13, the deadline for filing major legislation.

Here are a few of them:

House Bill 836 would allow the hunting of feral hogs from a helicopter.

HB 2003 deals with online harassment, making it a criminal offense to use another person's name or persona to create a Web page on or post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site.

SB 1164 would allow a concealed handgun permit holder to carry a concealed handgun while on the campus of a public or private institution of higher education.

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