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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
City officials claim Open Meetings Act sullies communication
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 • Posted November 30, 2010

AUSTIN — More than a dozen city council members had their day in federal district court on Nov. 23 when their challenge to the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act was heard with Judge Rob Junell presiding.

The plaintiffs, from cities across Texas, claimed the Act violates their right to free speech because it requires them to meet and vote in public or face jail time and fines if they are convicted of deliberating about public business secretly, or in a manner that circumvents the Act.

City council members from Wichita Falls, Arlington, Alpine and Hurst testified they routinely avoid communicating with other council members outside of an official meeting because they could not be sure if doing so would be a violation of the Act.

But the Texas Attorney General's office, defendants, refuted the plaintiffs' arguments on constitutional and procedural grounds.

Judge Junell called for more input from both sides in January, before he will render a decision in the case.

Jury finds DeLay guilty on 2 counts

In an Austin state district courtroom, a 12-member jury on Nov. 24 found former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay, R- Sugar Land, guilty of money laundering and conspiracy.

The case stems from an incident several years ago when DeLay moved corporate campaign contributions to the Republican Party into political races for certain Texas Republicans running for seats in the U.S. House.

DeLay, who faces a sentence of five to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine on the money laundering charge, and two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, said he will appeal.

Panel investigates allegation

The House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics met at the Capitol on Nov. 23 to check out an allegation by a state representative that he may have been pressured to vote for the reelection of House Speaker Joe Straus or lose his seat in the upcoming redrawing of districts.

The allegation, lodged by Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, sprang from a telephone conversation he had with Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman. The allegation turned out to be nothing action worthy.

The Ethics Committee chalked it up as a disagreement between two members.

But of course, there is quite a bit of uncertainty afoot on how Congressional, state Senate and state House districts will look when the Texas Legislature applies Census 2010 figures to the state map.

Investments will create Texas jobs

Gov. Rick Perry on Nov. 22 announced a $3.1 million investment in PETCO Animal Supplies Inc., that he said would create 400 jobs in San Antonio and generate an estimated $17 million in capital investment. On Nov. 23, Perry announced a $2.5 million investment to create a U.S. operations center for SunPower Corp. in Austin. Perry said the investment would create 450 jobs and generate an estimated $10 million in capital investment.

The state’s financial contribution to the two projects comes through the Texas Enterprise Fund, a business incentive account that requires the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to agree before funds can be disbursed.

Plenty of shingles in our asphalt

In mid-November, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that in the last 18 months, it pre-qualified two dozen used shingle-processing operations to supply TxDOT road projects.

The use of road paving material that incorporates asphalt roofing shingle scrap saves money, and, TxDOT said, “Placing a two-inch hot mix overlay with 5 percent recycled shingles on one mile of a two-lane road uses 80 tons of shingles and saves 40 cubic yards of landfill space.

“That’s as many shingles as roofers would remove from 40 2,000-square foot homes.”Chemical company wins honorTexas Workforce Commission on Nov. 19 announced Dow Chemical Co. as its 2010 Texas Workforce Employer of the Year.

Dow, which employs 6,500 workers in Texas, was chosen from among five finalists for its collaboration with the Texas workforce system and for supporting the agency’s goal of ensuring that both employers and workers have the resources and skills Texas needs to remain competitive in the 21st century.

Officials noted that Dow dedicates resources to a state employment project that matches industry jobs to military job descriptions to help returning veterans secure employment.

10 to vie for vacant House seat

Eight Republicans, two Democrats and one Libertarian are running in the Dec. 14 special election for the House District 44 seat.

The winner will succeed the late Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, who had served as the district’s state representative since 1983, Kuempel, 67, died of a heart attack in Austin on Nov. 4. Guadalupe, Gonzales and Wilson counties make up House District 44.

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