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Tonight's Legislative Update

By KERA News & Wire Services


The Texas House has adopted an overhaul of the Texas Residential Construction Commission, but consumer advocates are calling for more protections for homeowners trying to get builders to address defects in their homes. The proposal, given final House approval Thursday, would introduce more regulation of builders, including a provision to make it easier for homeowners to file complaints and resolve disputes.

But the legislation would allow the commission to continue functioning despite repeated calls for its closure.

"This bill is a good patch job, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that homeowners are fully protected from shoddy homebuilders," said Alex Winslow, executive director of the watchdog group Texas Watch.


Emergency services districts in Texas may soon be able to raise property taxes to help pay for operations. The proposal was given tentative approval in the House on Thursday.

The measure, which still faces an uphill battle to get final clearance, would give the districts an option of calling an election to raise the tax not more than 5 cents per $100 of property value. Raising the tax requires a constitutional amendment because the amount emergency services districts can tax is capped at 10 cents in the state constitution.

Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, said the bill she filed would help address wildfires in fast-growing subdivisions that are outside city limits.


A powerful Republican senator is blocking an increase in state funding for birth control pills, saying Texas can't afford the expenditure in such tough economic times. The $7 million expenditure for the pills has become a sticking point between House and Senate budget negotiators trying to agree on a compromise state spending bill that is currently hovering around $180 billion.

Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, said Texas women could purchase their own birth control pills. "Why can't they pay for it themselves?" he said. Ogden said indigent Texans currently can get birth control pills through Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for impoverished people.

But family planning advocates say the money would go to a separate subsidy program that a patchwork of clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, use to help low-income women get birth control bills. The reimbursement rate of $2.80 hasn't been raised since they 1970s, they say.

Fran Hagerty, CEO of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, said the money would reduce unwanted pregnancies and ultimately drive government health expenditures lower. The reimbursement increase would take that to about $20. "If there's a program out there that deserves the state's support, it's this one," said Hagerty. "It makes incredible sense."

The state birth control reimbursement program is designed to benefit low-income women - those falling below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $40,800 for a family of four, officials say. Ogden said he was temporarily blocking the funds, contained in the House-passed version of the budget, until he can find out more about the program.


The Texas House has voted to create a study looking at how the state can best prioritize which students receive TEXAS grants - the state's largest college financial aid program.

The study is a vast departure from the original proposal by Austin Democrat Rep. Donna Howard. That measure would have changed the system and moved students who were "college ready" to the front of the line for the grants.

Students with financial need who graduate from Texas high schools on the recommended plan are eligible for TEXAS grants, but the program doesn't have the funding to cover all the students who are eligible. Currently students who apply first are at the front of the line.

Howard argued that students who are college ready have a 50 percent higher chance of graduating from college, and should be given preference so they aren't left out simply because they didn't turn in an application fast enough.

But opponents led by Houston Democrat Rep. Sylvester Turner said her original proposal could bump out the most financially needy students, and could adversely affect minorities and rural students. He said lawmakers shouldn't change the system until they know how it would affect those students.

Turner changed the bill to a study that will be reported to the House in the 2011 session. The measure now heads to the Senate. A separate Senate bill has been proposed to give grant preference to college ready students.


The Texas House on Thursday voted to add two more reasons students can be excused from classes.

The measure approved 142-3 would allow students seeking U.S. citizenship to miss classes for their naturalization oath ceremony or if they have to appear at a government office.

The bill would also allow students to miss school to spend time with a parent in the military who is called to duty in a combat zone, or is on leave from or returning from a combat zone. Each school district would set the number of days a student would be excused.