Archive for March, 2009

Senate Approves Sobriety Checkpoints

March 31, 2009

The Texas Senate today approved drunk driving checkpoints today, voting 20-11 to approve legislation by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) allowing cities with populations of 500,000 or more or counties with a population of 250,000 or more set up the checkpoints.

Carona’s bill would revive such checkpoints which were previously conducted by individual cities and counties. Those checkpoints were tossed out over a decade ago by a court because there was no state law authorizing them.

SB 298 allows checkpoints on certain roads, but excludes freeways. They can only be approved by elected mayors and sheriffs or Department of Public Safety captains. Entities conducting such checks must develop procedures for selecting sites and publish the criteria on the Internet. They must also take steps to show that the criteria for stopping vehicles are not arbitrary.

Officers may not stop a vehicle for any other purpose or delay a motorist beyond the point at which it is determined that the motorist is not intoxicated, unless there is reasonable suspicion that a criminal offense has occurred.

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Ballot by Email Approved for Deployed Military

March 30, 2009

The Texas House today approved a measure that would expand a pilot program which allows for military personnel deployed overseas to receive their ballots by email.

House Bill 71 by Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) expands on the pilot program, passed in the 2007 legislative session. That program included 19 counties which implemented the project on an experimental basis. The new legislation would require any Texas county with a population of 100,000 or more to participate. Counties with smaller populations may voluntarily participate.

Legislation Would Include Foreclosure Rates in Home Appraisals

March 30, 2009

The Texas House of Representatives passed a measure today that would include home foreclosures in the value of home appraisals in Texas.

During the interim, the Select Committee on Property Tax Relief and Appraisal Reform heard testimony from throughout the state. One of the biggest complaints is that appraisers were using all types of evidence to show how a property value had increased, but very little about how the value had decreased. Specifically, current law allows appraisal districts to ignore home foreclosures in the area.

Such foreclosures would affect the cost of the home, but due to the appraisal practice, would not have a relevant effect on the appraised value of the home. HB 1038 by Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) would change that, requiring appraisal districts to use such data along with other sources of information in determining the tax value of property.

Blog of the Day: Lone Star Times

March 27, 2009

David Jennings over at Lone Star Times does a good job of dissecting the Houston Chronicle on the taking of taxpayer stimulus funds on unemployment insurance. In the article, Texas Gov. Perry is Right, he makes the case that taking the stimulus funds for unemployment insurance will not be the windfall that liberals say it is.

The Chronicle story points to Waco Economist Ray Perryman’s numbers to make thier case. Lone Star Times calls him an “economist for hire.” We won’t go that far, but we will share LST’s skepticism of some of Perryman’s past work, including his highly dubious claim that illegal immigrants were a net benefit to Texas.

TRN editor James Bernsen, while not presuming to have the economic credentials of Perryman, conducted a 6-month study of the costs of illegal immigration for the Lone Star Foundation (no relation to Lone Star Times) and found a completely different result than Perryman did.

Lone Star Times is right to be skeptical of the numbers. Even the most erudite defense of the stimulus funds – that provided by Democratic Rep. Mark Strama in Thursday’s forum (see lead article) admits that the costs to businesses in the out years will outweigh the short-term benefits. Strama essentially argues that the short-term needs outweigh the long-term considerations.

Strayhorn is Back, But the Yellow Pages are Gone

March 27, 2009

Carole Keeton Strayhorn for years has called on government to follow the “Yellow Pages Test” – as in, if you can find a business in the yellow pages that does something, Government shouldn’t be doing it.

It was a popular line among conservative audiences throughout her time as State Comptroller and during her unsuccessful run for Governor in 2006.

Now Strayhorn is back on the campaign trail to win back the office that gave her her start in politics – Mayor of Austin.  She was first elected to that office 32 years ago.

A lot has changed. The population of Austin has tripled, though she points out that the number of voters in the last mayor’s race is actually fewer than the number that elected her in the mid 1970s.

One other change that’s happend is the “Yellow Pages” test. It seems “One Tough Grandma” has finally entered the Internet era. On the campaign trail now, she delivers the same trademark line, but reframed. The “Yellow Pages Test” is now the “Google Test.”

“If you can go on Google and find someone to do it, government shouldn’t be in the job of doing it,” she told a crowd Thursday evening at a small gathering on 6th Street. “That’s the Google Test.”

House Expands Enterprise Fund to Small Business

March 26, 2009

The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that expands the businesses that can receive benefits from the Texas Enterprise Fund to small businesses. The fund, which was set up several years ago and has been very successful in bringing large business enterprises to Texas – most notably the Toyota factory in San Antonio – was intended to give the governor tools to recruit, retain and promote large enterprises.

Nonetheless, many legislators sought to expand the legislation to aid small businesses. This has particularly been a rallying cry among middle-class Republicans. Nonetheless, it was a Democrat – Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) who offered legislation to bring more businesses into the program.

Rose’s legislation, HB 394, sought to build in statuory requirements to clarify how awards under the Enterprise Fund are given out. From the bill’s analysis page:

More specifically, there is no statute requiring that the incentives be directed to encourage small business growth.  Applicants are generally judged based upon job creation and wages, capital investments, financial strength, business history, and public and private sector support. 

 

Small businesses create two-thirds of all new jobs in the state.  If they were able to receive grant money from the fund, small businesses could more easily continue their role as prominent contributors to the state’s economy.

Rose’s legislation was received well in the House, but some Democrats – seeking to tap into ongoing fury about bonuses paid out to companies receiving federal bailouts – wanted to add in restrictions on such bonuses to the legislation. Rep. Kirk England (D-Grand Prairie – a former Republican who switched sides) .

After one such attempt was defeated by a procedural motion, England watered down his proposal and succeeded in tacking it onto the bill. The new language basically says that if two equal grants are being considered, the governor must give precedence to a business which does not pay bonuses above the executive base salary.

Ultimately, the amendment likely will have no practical effect for two reasons: 1. The governor has wide lee-way already in dispensing the funds based on the proposed economic development benefit to be gained. 2. With the statute on the books, businesses choosing to apply for the grants will likely structure the base pay of staff in such a way to obviate the need for bonuses.

Another Democrat, Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also tried to require that a percentage of funds be used for renewable resources projects. That too was defeated and ultimately Burnam succeeded in passing a legislatively meaningless requirement that the governor be “encouraged to consider” making such grants.

The bill ultimately passed with a vote of 145-1.

About Face on Needle Exchanges

March 26, 2009

Texas is the last remaining state that prevents needle exchange programs for users of illegal drugs. Historically, the state has opposed such programs because many believe they encourage illegal drug use.

But State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), a practicing family doctor, said now is the time for Texas to change its tune.

“As a physician, I looked at the data,” said Deuell, a practicing family doctor, “and I found that it decreases HIV, it decreases Hepatitis B and C, it saves the state money.”

On Thursday, the Senate passed SB 188, which would allow a non-profit group to offer one-to-one syringe exchanges, in addition to drug and alcohol abuse counseling.

Texas House Passes Crossbow hunting bill

March 25, 2009

The Texas House today passed legislation by Rep. Mark Homer (D-Paris) to legalize the use of crossbows for hunting purposes.

HB 968 would allow crossbows to be used during the traditional bow season and would remove all existing restrictions on them in current law.