AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry on June 25 summoned the 81st Texas Legislature back to Austin for a special session to begin July 1.
“After speaking with legislators I am calling a special session to extend the operation of five critical agencies and help reduce gridlock by continuing to provide options for financing our state’s highways,” Perry said.
Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst share an optimistic goal for the special session to last only a couple of days.
The governor’s call includes three goals for lawmakers. He wants them to pass legislation:
1. Extending the life of the five state agencies close to expiration: Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Insurance, Texas Racing Commission, Office of Public Insurance Counsel and Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation.
2. Allowing the Texas Department of Transportation to issue $5 billion in general obligation bonds to build roads.
3. Extending the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation and a regional mobility authority to use “comprehensive development agreements” to design, finance, build and maintain transportation infrastructure.
Perry lauded work done by lawmakers during the Legislature’s regular session that ended June 1. He expressed satisfaction with the profit-margin tax cut given to 40,000 small businesses and the 40 percent increase in financial aid for college students “all without touching our state’s rainy day fund.” The rainy day fund, about $7 billion set aside for emergency needs, was left untouched because lawmakers plugged gaps in the 2010-2011 state budget with $12 billion in federal stimulus funding.
Back to the special session: Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, filed SB 1 on June 26.
SB 1, if passed, would give the Texas Transportation Commission statutory authorization to issue road-building
bonds that voters approved by constitutional amendment in 2007. It also would create a revolving transportation fund for local governments to borrow from.
Road project is federally funded
Texas will break ground June 30 on a local highway project on FM 60 in Burleson County, near Bryan. Funding comes from the federal government’s new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
The $7.5 million, 2.8-mile project, is the first of 29 ARRA–funded mobility projects approved in March by the Texas Transportation Commission, the governmental body that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.
Tax break for disabled veterans
Military veterans who reside in Texas and who have a 100 percent disability rating or are considered unemployable by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are temporarily exempt from paying property tax on the total appraised value of their homestead, thanks to the passage of HB 3613.
The legislation, authored by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, and signed by the governor on June 19, makes the exemption effective for the 2009 tax year.
Comptroller Susan Combs on June 26 prompted local tax assessors to update property tax rolls to ensure eligible veterans receive the new tax break.
TEA rejects standardization
The Texas Education Agency has decided not to join 46 other states in adopting the Common Core curriculum, a set of voluntary national standards for math and English textbooks and curriculum. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott’s reasons for not joining: loss of local control, increased costs, and Texas has its own standards.
Schieffer announces candidacy
Democrat John Thomas “Tom” Schieffer of Fort Worth, a 61-year-old gas and oil industry lawyer, businessman, former Texas House member, former president of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club and former U.S. ambassador on June 24 announced his candidacy for governor. Party primaries will be held in March 2010.
Former speaker arrested for DWI
Former state Rep. Gib Lewis, D-Fort Worth, who served as speaker of the Texas House from 1983 to 1993, was charged with drunken driving after being arrested June 26 in downtown Austin.
Marriage of Lt. Gov. is reported
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst reportedly married Houston attorney Patricia Bivins, former wife of former state Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, in Houston, on June 27.