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Local Transportation Option Killed, Legislative Update

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News and News Wires

Austin, TX –
North Texas' local-option transportation tax was stripped from the transportation bill headed back to the House and Senate floors for final approval Sunday. The local-option provision would allow counties to seek voter approval for increasing the gas tax or several fees. The money raised would be used locally to build rail or road projects.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert led a delegation of North Texans to Austin Friday for a rally and final push to preserve the local measure. At the beginning of the session North Texas leaders called the measure their top legislative priority and their best bet for funding more than 200 miles of commuter rail that would link the region.

Dallas Senator John Carona, chair of the senate transportation committee, threatened to kill the entire transportation bill if the local option was not included.

Local option opponents, including the Texas Republican Party executive committee, characterized the measure as an unwanted tax, while supporters stressed it would only be applied if voters approved it.

The legislative session ends Monday.
Texas lawmakers gave final approval Saturday to a bill scaling back the law allowing automatic college admissions for students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.
The legislation, which passed the Senate Saturday, would only apply to the University of Texas at Austin, which had been pushing heavily to have current law changed.
The legislation would cap the number of Texas students admitted under the program to 75 percent of the entering resident freshman class.
The bill was already approved in the House and now heads to Gov. Rick Perry.
Gov. Rick Perry is letting a children's booster seat bill become law without his signature. The measure requires children under age 8 to be secured in a booster seat when riding in a passenger vehicle. The current age limit is 4.
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle noted Saturday that the governor "had some concerns about the bill but it didn't rise to the level of a veto."
The governor signed into law Saturday a bill that will make it easier for children of transferring military members to enroll in new schools. The measure signed by Perry allows Texas to join the interstate compact on educational opportunities for military children.
Gov. Rick Perry said Texas has 70,000 military dependents of school age and that on average they attend six to nine schools between kindergarten and the end of high school. The new law will help with things like sending student transcripts to new schools and allowing athletes to participate in sports right away.
As of Saturday, the governor's office said he had signed some 252 bills into law, allowed three to become law without his signature and vetoed another. The vetoed Senate bill dealt with court jurisdiction in construing statutes.
Perry's veto message said "the plain words of a statute are the starting point for interpreting the law" and that the bill would have eliminated that fundamental principle and would have led to "second guessing."
The Texas House has approved a controversial states' rights resolution championed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
Supporters say the resolution is a reminder to Congress in response to federal expansion, particularly programs and funds related to the federal stimulus act.
The 99-36 vote Saturday supports informing Congress that Texas claims states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Last-minute adjustments sought to clarify that it's not a call for secession or repeal of federal laws protecting constitutional rights.
The measure was at the center of a national media storm over comments Perry made after an anti-tax rally. Perry never called for secession, but said Texans are getting fed up with the federal government.
"This (resolution) is not partisan, it is not about campaigns such as the governor's race, it is not centered around any particular administration," said Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the author of the legislation. "The purpose of this legislation is to remind Congress to be mindful when they are passing legislation."
Some opponents maintained that the term "states' rights" was negatively associated with objections to civil rights laws. Others said the resolution could be used for political purposes and to speak against federal programs.
The Texas House on Saturday voted to ask for a study on the potential positive and negative economic impacts of expanded gaming in Texas. The resolution asks the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to appoint a committee on the subject that would report back the results in 2011.
The measure needs Senate approval.
Efforts to legalize resort casinos and gambling on certain native American lands have not been approved by either chamber this session.