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Lawmakers Must Act to Keep Agencies Operating

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Austin, TX –
Leaders at the state capitol are trying to decide how to proceed after late night maneuvering left the ongoing operation of several agencies in question. This is the last scheduled day of the session, but now there's talk of a special session. And Dallas Senator John Carona's promise to filibuster the transportation bill remains. KERA's Shelley Kofler reports from Austin.

The final act in a daylong drama was staged in the House. Lawmakers were debating a bill that continued the operation of the Department of Insurance, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies that have undergone sunset reviews. As a midnight deadline approached, San Antonio Representative David Liebowitz began talking and running out the clock. As the clock struck twelve, Liebowitz demanded the deadline be observed.

Liebowitz said he wanted to kill the bill that allows the insurance agency to continue, claiming the sunset review was a sham, and the state's high insurance rates were never really examined.

Liebowitz: Our homeowner rates are the highest in the country. They haven't been properly reviewed in going on 17 years.

The death of that procedural bill means lawmakers will have to find another way to keep insurance, and some other agencies in business. That includes transportation, which has been the target of an intense feud. The feud reached new heights Sunday after lawmakers working out a compromise stripped the local option tax out of a broad transportation bill and Dallas Senator John Carona promised to tie up the session's last hours by filibustering and killing the transportation bill.

Carona: Local option is absolutely dead and that is a very regrettable thing because there was no other viable transportation option that came forward this session

The local option, being pushed by North Texans, would give voters in some urban areas the right to increase their own gas tax or fees, with the money raised going for local mobility projects.

Carona claims Sen. Glen Hager of Katy, lead a conference committee group that excluded Carona when they signed off on a compromise that eliminated the local option. Carona angrily blamed lawmakers who don't want to publicly vote on a bill with taxes, even if local voters decide whether to collect them.

Carona: The legislators who fear any vote on taxes of any sort they know in their heart transportation needs funding they know that. They also chose at this moment to place their reelection interests ahead of doing what's best for the state.

On this last scheduled day of the session some legislators are scrambling to keep the agencies alive without the Governor calling a special session. Carona says he's still ready to filibuster the transportation bill if the midnight maneuverings haven't already killed it.

Carona: For 250 pounds I have a lot of energy, and I feel very passionate about this.