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Weekly Wrap-Up: DeLay steps down, Perry speeds relief efforts, Strayhorn urges session

By Jennifer Bendery,

Austin, TX –

In case you haven't seen a television, read a newspaper, been near a radio or talked to anybody in days, the breaking news this week is U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on Wednesday being indicted on a criminal conspiracy charge by a Texas grand jury. DeLay, along with TRMPAC executive director John Colyandro and Americans for a Republican Majority executive director James Ellis, is accused of violating the Texas Election Code by illegally contributing corporate money to seven 2002 Texas House candidates.

Immediately afterwards, DeLay announced he would step down as majority leader, as is customary pursuant to rules of the U.S. House Republican Conference. But not without some nasty words for the "partisan fanatic" and "unabashed political zealot" (a.k.a. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle) formulating the "coordinated, pre-meditated plan of political retribution" driving the indictment. After suggesting that the only days Earle goes into work are to give interviews bashing him, DeLay said the indictment is not only "a sham" but "the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history."

Speaking of indictments, Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) reported this week that 25 Texans lobbied in 2002 for multiple donors for the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which was recently indicted on criminal charges of influencing Texas' 2002 elections with $1.7 million in illegal corporate funds. Of the 30 corporations that funded this alleged crime, TPJ reports that 25 spent up to $6.3 million that year on 182 Texas lobby contracts. These contracts demonstrate that "out-of-state insurers that supplied most of TAB's corporate funds had a Texas legislative agenda," reports TPJ. Additionally, TAB's No. 1 donor, AT&T, successfully opposed a 2003 bill that would have unplugged it from Texas' high-speed Internet market.

Hurricane Rita continues to take its toll on East Texas, where flooding and power outages are making it harder to restore normalcy to hundreds of thousands of homes, hospitals, schools and businesses. In an effort to alleviate these conditions, Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday issued an emergency proclamation authorizing public utility companies to speed relief efforts by laying temporary electric transmission lines in order to restore power lost during the hurricane. This removes a lengthy easement acquisition process that can take months and enables companies to use existing utility and roadway easements when reasonably available.

"As utility workers span out across East and Southeast Texas, they will be knocking on doors as part of their effort to access some Texans' property to install lines on a temporary basis," Perry said. "I ask Texans to consider the plight of their neighbors to the east, and allow utilities to access their property for the health and safety of their fellow Texans."

First Lady Anita Perry also stepped up to the plate to assist with hurricane recovery efforts. She announced on Tuesday that there is "a dire need" for more nurses to volunteer in special health needs shelters in East Texas. While some 400 nurses have already responded to the state's request for medical volunteers, 17 counties are still without power and water, she said. This raises serious concerns regarding assistance to people with special needs. Perry issued a plea to hospitals and doctor's offices to "assist nurses to volunteer, even for a day or two," and suggested giving such nurses paid days off to assist hurricane victims.

With two months left in the hurricane season, Gov. Perry on Monday announced that he is naming a task force to examine the process by which Texas evacuates major metropolitan areas. Appointments will be made soon, he said, but will not include people from coastal regions since the focus of the task force will be on large urban regions. Perry said while careful preparations for Hurricane Rita resulted in a successful evacuation process for Texans, there were problems relating to getting fuel to stranded cars and changing southbound highway lanes to northbound lanes to reduce traffic congestion. Still, he said, the suggestion that state officials were "ill-prepared" to move three million people out of the Houston area "is a bit of a stretch."

In a hand-delivered letter, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn on Thursday repeated her request to the governor to call an emergency three-day special session so the Legislature can make an appropriation to draw down money for hurricane-damaged communities. Strayhorn said she has received calls from school superintendents, mayors, judges and citizens "pleading for help" in areas hit by Hurricane Rita. She identified $1.2 billion in surplus revenue at the end of FY 2005 that can be used to assist in hurricane recovery efforts without raising taxes. "We have the need. We have the cash," she said. "We need to act now to provide relief to our Texas communities."

Homework: Get your bib out and brace yourself for the "Ultimate Backyard Grilling Demo!" The Texas Beef Council returns for another year at the Food and Fiber Pavilion at Dallas' Fair Park, Sept. 30 to Oct. 23. In addition to the beef cooking "experts" on hand to demonstrate grilling at its finest, you can let your competitive side shine in a beanbag toss and learn about the wonders of the Texas beef industry with a touch-screen display. Meet up on the porch between noon and 5 p.m.

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