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Senate Debates Revenue Options & Nightly Roundup

By BJ Austin, KERA News & Wire Services

Dallas, TX – The Texas Senate moved forward on legislation that includes more than $4 billion in one-time revenue sources to help balance the budget.

The effort, being debated Friday, includes the sale of some unused state property and a speedup of tax collections.

Senators grew testy after more than an hour of debate. Tensions peaked over an amendment that would require regular updates on the state's financial condition. After a caucus meeting behind closed doors, senators returned, adopted the amendment and continued debate.

Republican Sen. Robert Duncan says the measures are necessary to help keep classrooms open amid a massive revenue shortfall. But critics urged tax concessions for small businesses.

Other options include pushing large school payments into the next fiscal year and making little cigars subject to the cigarette tax.

Texas gas prices creeping closer to record highs

Gasoline prices are creeping closer to record highs in several Texas cities.

The weekly AAA Texas gasoline survey released Friday says the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline increased 5 to 7 cents in many areas of the state over the past week. The agency says prices are within 15 cents of the records in Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston and Houston.

Overall, the state averaged increased 4 cents to $3.80 per gallon. That's $1.05 more than a year ago and 18 cents shy of the record of $3.98 in July 2008.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area had the most expensive gas in the state at $3.85. The lowest price of $3.73 was shared by several cities.

The state average is 11 cents below the national average of $3.91.

Texas bill would make invasive pat-downs a felony

A former Miss USA's claims of being groped during a pat-down at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport could be a criminal matter under a bill gaining momentum in the Texas Legislature.

If it becomes Texas law, it would be a felony for a security officer to intentionally touch someone's private areas - even on top of clothing - unless he has probable cause to believe the person is carrying something illegal.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. David Simpson, says the invasive pat-down searches at airports are taking away people's dignity.

Last fall the Transportation Security Administration started a new pat-down procedure.

TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball says the agency doesn't comment on pending legislation. But he says the current security measures are the best ways to mitigate the risk of terrorism.

SWAT Team Temporarily Closes Dallas Zoo

The Dallas Zoo is back to normal after a police SWAT incident this morning.

Sgt. Warren Mitchell says officers tried to serve an arrest warrant on 23 year old Brynell McFarland at an apartment near the Zoo. He ran, scaled a large fence on the south side of Zoo, and was spotted in the Savanna exhibit by an officer in an observation tower.

That part of the Zoo was evacuated. No new admissions were allowed for several hours while the police SWAT team and a K-9 unit searched for McFarland. He was not found.

McFarland is wanted for violating his probation for aggravated robbery.

Dallas Jail Passes Inspection

For the second year in a row, the Dallas County Jail has passed inspection.

Officials with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards spent most of the week at the jail, reviewing everything from plumbing to medical care.

Jail Standards officials called it one of the best inspections the Commission has had in a number of years.

Last year, after a lot of work and some 200 million dollars in improvements, the jail finally passed inspection after seven years of failing.

DPS seizes nearly 5 tons of pot

he Texas Department of Public Safety seized almost 5 tons of marijuana after an 18-wheeler crashed into a utility pole near downtown McAllen.

The driver of the truck, a 28-year-old man from Mexico, fled but was soon apprehended. His name was not immediately released.

A news release says DPS agents had received information that the truck might contain marijuana and were following the semi in an unmarked vehicle when it crashed Friday morning. The 9,440 pounds of marijuana has an estimated street value of more than $3.3 million.

The investigation continues.