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State Budget Advances & Legislative Updates

By KERA News & Wire Services

Austin, TX – House and Senate negotiators are getting ready to vote on the massive state budget, a $180 billion spending plan for the next two years.

Republican Sen. Steve Ogden of Bryan, the Senate's lead budget writer, said Thursday the bill will probably get committee approval on Tuesday and would be sent to the full House and Senate chambers for approval later next week.

The budget is the only bill lawmakers are legally required to pass. It includes more spending on education, health care and highway construction. The budget also counts on $11 billion in money from the federal economic rescue package.


A bill changing the policy that guarantees automatic college admission to top high school achievers stalled after a long and rambling debate in the Texas House late Thursday. The bill will be back before the House Friday morning.

Before consideration of the legislation was delayed, lawmakers voted to replace the top 10 percent rule giving guaranteed slots to students in the top 10 percent of their high school class with a "top 8 percent rule" at the University of Texas at Austin.

That measure was adopted late Thursday as lawmakers mulled the most sweeping reforms to university admissions policies in more than a decade. The UT admissions policy would take effect in 2010, but other changes would not be put in place until 2012.

UT Austin, where more than 80 percent of the home-state freshman class are admitted under the rule, has been pushing the Legislature to allow it to start cutting back on such automatic admissions.

"This is an attempt to adjust, to tweak, to change, to reform the top 10 percent rule," said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, sponsor of the bill. "It is not attempting to end, repeal or retreat from the 10 percent rule."


Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. John Carona of Dallas and Rep. Frank Corte of San Antonio praised new legislation Thursday that creates state punishments for smuggling illegal weapons. They say the bill that's headed to Gov. Rick Perry will give more legal tools to state law officers. Smuggling guns that were knowingly acquired illegally would now be a third-degree felony in Texas, and a second-degree felony if three or more firearms are involved. The legislation unanimously passed the Senate last month and the House last week.

Carona said the law "will help stem the flow of weapons out of our state and into the hands of the dangerous Mexican drug cartels."

Abbott said the legislation does not apply to legally obtained weapons. Federal law prohibits firearms from being taken across the border into Mexico.


In a busy day slated for debate on controversial bills on unemployment insurance and the top 10 percent rule, members of the Texas House still found time to congratulate one of their own on earning her college degree.

Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, is graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in government. Chavez started college in 1978, but never finished. She returned to earn her remaining credits in her spare time from her work at the Capitol.

"I wanna give a message here, because this journey spanned 25 years," she said. "It goes out to all those people who dropped out of college for whatever reason ... my message to you, is if I can do it, so can you."


The Seguin lawmaker who was found collapsed in an elevator last week is doing much better and is anxious to leave the hospital, said Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

Rep. Edmund Kuempel was found with a faint pulse during a late day of work in the House May 12 and taken to Brackenridge Hospital after being given CPR.

Geren told his peers that when he visited Kuempel on Thursday, Kuempel was sitting up in a chair and talking.

"He said 'there's nothing wrong with my heart, I don't have pneumonia, now get me out of here,'" Geren said.