May 31, 2005

I'M STILL STANDING!

Session is over. I haven't left yet. I'm still at the state capitol. I have two projects I have to complete this morning: clean out my desk and participate in a radio interview. After that I'm free to take the little lady to the legislative conference in Northern California that I told you about where I've been invited to address a National Conference of Legislators on how blogging improves communications for legislators.

I first started with the desk. Cleaning a desk can be quite difficult. You never quite have the courage to throw things away. Each paper I remove is a memory, each a precious moment in time forever lost, except in our remembrances. Some meaningless, others precious. In my cleaning, I came across a small little poem someone gave me to keep me going at a difficult moment in the session. I'll save this one, because it clarifies the truth of the power that is within each of us. I read it and re-read it. I think to myself how lucky I am to have been touched by someone who cared. All the darkness in the world and yet it could not shut out the light that came from this one person in her little poem.

Before I did the radio interview with my hometown talk radio station someone asked me how I felt after completing the 79th Legislative Session--the so called "session of love." Did I expect to come back again? Have I advanced the purpose that first called me to serve?

What immediately popped into my head and still hasn't left is the Elton John song with the refrain, "I'm still standing!" Here are the words to that song that I was able to pull from the internet:

"And did you think this fool could never win?
Well look at me, I'm coming back again!
I got a taste of love in a simple way.
And if you need to know, while I'm still standing, you just fade away.

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did.
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.
I'm still standing after all this time,
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.

I'm still standing yeah yeah yeah!
I'm still standing yeah yeah yeah!"

And so as I leave this wonderful place, walking through the corridors of the capitol for the last time this session. I whistle out loud the Elton John tune that is in my head as I make my way to my car.

As I leave the capitol grounds, I realize that it is there, within the song, that the answers to those questions previously asked, are found: persistence, faith, love, purpose and the will to find or achieve them.

Feeling like a little kid, I humbly count my blessings and give my thanks to God because after all this time -- I'm still standing!

STATES HAVING TROUBLE WITH HAVA DEADLINES

States and counties waiting for additional guidelines from the federal government will be hard-pressed to get new voting systems deployed before next year’s deadline for compliance with the Help America Vote Act, according to the Information Technology Association of America.

Even under a best-case scenario it will be difficult for states and counties to meet the HAVA deadlines for purchase and implementation of accessible voting systems, said Michael Kerr, director of Arlington, Va.-based ITAA’s Election Technology Council in testimony before the Election Assistance Commission.

May 30, 2005

SINE DIE ANNOUNCEMENT

At 6:40 p.m. a Senate committee, given the task of announcing Sine Die (without another day) entered the House chamber. The Governor also was present.

Some anticipation in the air, because the judicial pay raise bill is still in the air. Rep. Keel has been moving about with the intent of killing another Dunkin/Ellis bill because of an alleged violation of an agreement.

Could it be a special session announcement?

6:49 p.m. Will Hartnett tried to bring up judicial pay raise bill. He said he had 95 signatures. Speaker Cradick refused to recognize him. A motion to sine die was made by Chisum and the Speaker declared the end of the session (sine die).

No special session was announced.

I believe we will have special session in the last part of June (that is just an educated guesstimate)

"FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR AWARDS"

Mexican-American Legislative Caucus picked: Veronica Gonzalez and Rafael Anchia Freshmen of the Year.

Democratic Caucus: Yvonne Gonzalez-Tourilles and Marc Veasey were chosen Freshmen of the Year.

With tongue in cheek, Eliott Naishtat and Scott Hochberg formed the Jewish Caucus and named the only other Jewish House member (a freshman), Freshman of the Year.

The Legislative Study Group picked Hubert Vo their Freshman of the Year.

Last note: The Senate messenger for the first time was allowed to read the full message from the Senate. All session long he was gaveled out in mid-sentence.

MELISSA NORIEGA SAYS HER GOODBYES TO THE HOUSE

The day is slowly fading away as we say our goodbyes to each other. Rep. Melissa Noreiga, serves uniquely while her husband serves in the military in Afghanistan. She addressed the house to say goodbye. We gave her a standing ovation for her service and her kind words.

Thereafter she was given the "Joe Moreno Award" by the Democratic Caucus.

Rep. Melissa Noreiga made us, her husband and this state proud. Thank you, Representative.

LAST DAY TIDBITS-ANCHIA KEEPS HIS PROMISE

Rep. Rafael Anchia honored our late colleague Joe Moreno by wearing a number 11, Houston Rockets jersey on the floor of the House. Prior to the fatal car accident, Joe made a friendly bet with Anchia that the loser of the Rockets-Mavericks game would wear the winning team's jersey in our chamber. As an example of his cleverness and good humor, Joe gave Rafael a Rockets jersey with "Anchia" printed on the back.

Today, Rafael wore the Rocket's jersey underneath his blazer in memory of our fallen colleague. Anchia went to the front mike in rememberance of Joe and asked everyone to keep the Moreno family in our prayers.

More end of session stories: San Antonio Express, Dallas Morning News

LAST DAY OF 79TH LEGISLATIVE SESSION

This is it! Last day of the regular session!

Special Session? Who cares right now. Back to the old routine, work, family, friends. Yep, it's the simple pleasures that allow a man to enjoy the fullness of his life.

I wonder if they still remember me back home? I'm talking about the family, not the constituents.

May 29, 2005

SWEET OLD GOATS HAPPY HAPPY COALITION NEWEST MEMBER

Co-Chairman, Bob Hunter, informs us that House Speaker, Tom Craddick has joined the "Sweet Old Goats Happy Happy Coalition."

DUNCAN BILLS DROPPING LIKE FLIES IN THE HOUSE

Rep. Keel continues to kill Sen Duncan bills as noted in previous post. Next is the Judicial Pay Raise Bill.

CAPITOL FINANCE RULES FOR POLITICAL BLOGGERS?

Should political bloggers face campaign finance rules. Read NPR's story.

POLITICS MAY JEOPARDIZE REVENUE BONDS FOR GROWING UNIVERSITIES

This is a story that is of particular interest to the readers in South Texas because they may once again get shafted this legislative session. The Valley misses out on $50 million dollars in bond funds because of pettiness which seems to be a problem in these last days.

Read the story on the Austin American Statesman Blog.

In The Pink-Texas and The Texas Legislature Observed also comment on the situation.

Here is the story from the Valley newspaper.

JUDICIAL PAY RAISE BILL LIKELY TO BE KILLED

Skullduggery and back stabbing unfortunately is part of the business that every member has to look out for in protecting legislation. Very soon the state will see what happens when a person breaks their word to a legislator.

An agreement was made between members of the House and the Senate regarding two pieces of legislation. One of those bills is SB 368, commonly called the Judicial Pay Raise bill. The bill proposed to give a much needed pay increase to judges so that the state could attract the best and the brightest to the bench.

Two members of the senate are reported to have gone back on their word and may cause the judicial pay raise to go down in flames. Very soon we are likely to see a fairly dramatic moment regarding this violation of trust.

(8:25 p.m.) And so it begins! SB 334 (Duncan) dies on a point of order by Keel.

(10:50 p.m.) And now the other shoe! Keel gets up on a personal privilege speech on what he feels is an abuse by the Senate.

He pointed out an agreement he made with Sen. Ellis regarding their cooperative effort on two bills, one of which Keel previously had noted a point of order and to which he objected. Keel notes that the agreement was to hold back their reservations on each others bills and allow them to move forward. Keel kept his side of the bargain.

He blames Sen. Ellis and Duncan for going back on their word and noted that their respective staffs went about trying to kill the Keel bill.

He made a point of noting that he will use his point of order to kill the Duncan pay raise bill if it comes over.

(11:40 p.m.) Keel kills Duncan's bill HB 2233 for allegedly breaking his word! Keel seems determined to succeed on the matter, despite the numerous calls coming in form various sources. At least one call from an inappropriate source.

Mike Ward does a wrap up of these occurrences on the Statesman's blog.

HB 10 PASSES HOUSE 126-18

THE SWEET OLD GOATS "HAPPY, HAPPY" COALITION

Some members of the Texas House of Representatives are sporting buttons today announcing their inclusion in a newly created caucus: "The Sweet Old Goats "Happy, Happy" Coalition."

The caucus co-chair, Rep. Bob Hunter told me that the caucus was started in response to the "Loco and Dissent Calendar" a written parody that is traditionally handed out at the end of each session poking fun at the membership. "Timber Jim" McReynolds is the other co-chair.

The parody distributed to the membership is prepared to mimics the daily calendar used by members in conducting daily business. The "Loco and Dissent Calendar" notes:

"HB 812 McReynolds/Hunter
Relating to being sweet old goats who make us smile; designating them as Co-chairs of the Sweet Old Goats Happy Happy Coalition to appropriate funds to find smiles for Dawanna Dukes, Pete Gallego (what's up with this guy, damn, didn't his mom ever tell him that his face is gonna frezze that way?!!?), Yvonne Davis, Jim Dunnam, Robert Talton, Senfronia Thompson, Jessica Farrar, Garnet Coleman, and Terri Hodge."

The idea, I'm sure, to start another caucus picked up speed after members were made aware of their limitations at the House football game. I and 12 others are on a waiting list to join.

Here are the current members of the "Sweet Old Goats "Happy Happy" Coalition:

Leo Berman-------------Delwin Jones
Carter Casteel---------Jesse Jones
Warren Chisum----------Jim Keffer
Bryon Cook-------------Edmund Kuempel
Juan Escobar-----------Pete Laney
Helen Giddings---------Paul Moreno
Tony Goolsby-----------Rene Oliveria
Rick Hardcastle--------Jim Pitts
Fred Hill--------------Chente Quintanilla
Ruben Hope-------------Buddy West
Chuck Hopson-----------Charlie Howard

ARE YOU BLOGGING YET?

Here is a nice little article on the intro to blogging for those of you new to the medium.

SB 1 PASSES THE HOUSE 104-40

May 28, 2005

ANNUAL TEXAS HOUSE FOOTBALL GAME AT MEMORIAL STADIUM ENDS 42-30.

What do you get when you got twenty or so middle aged, out of shape, overachievers who happen to be Texas legislators playing football with each other in a shrine to Texas football?

If you said a recipe for disaster, then you are right sir!

Once again the Texas House of Representatives, after much footdragging by the freshman class, organized the House football game. The game is traditionally played at the end of each legislative session. Tradition also includes that every annual football game results in injury to a number of the legislators, who may think their 18 but are quickly reminded that they are much older.

Your truly tore his ACL ligament in the last game and was joined by Kenny Mercer of San Antonio, who broke his hand.

Before we get to today's injuries, here is today's score: The Orange Team led by their fearless leader Rep. Tuffy Hamilton 42. The White Team, seemingly led by no one, 30.

Here is a list of today's injuries:

* Rep. Todd Smith; dislocated finger, right hand, presently in hospital

* Rep. Jose Menendez; pulled hamstring

* Rep. Joe "I'm not injured" Pickett; back sprain

* Rep. Craig "Galveston" Eiland: overextended right arm (quarterback for both teams).

The good news is that no one was injured at the post-game barbecue.

Here are today's highest scorers:

* Rep. Joe Pickett ------12 points
* Rep. Aaron Pena----- 08 points
* Rep. Raphael Anchia--08 points
* Rep. Tuffy Hamilton--06 points
* Rep. Abel Herrero----06 points
* Rep. Joe Straus-------06 points
* Rep. Bill Keffer--------06 points
* Rep. David Farabee---06 points
* Rep. Jose Menendez--04 points

Two of the most dangerous players on the field were Rep. Eliott Naistatt, who caught a number of key passes, and Rep. Abel Herrero who caught several passes and yardage thereafter.

In the spirit of the session, unlike last session, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were not there. Rep. Al Edwards was also a no show (but watch for the movie). The bootyshaking cheerleading bill probably scared away any substitutes.

This did not stop the painful exhibition on the football field. There was water, soft drinks and even ice cream served to the players. A more appropriate and much more in demand item was oxygen. If some one only knew they could have made a mint.

I couldn't help notice that late in the game, some members were praying for time to run out. At one point I asked to be replaced on the field, but noticed four other players asking for the same thing. There were of course no replacements. Pitiful!

God is merciful and this momentary return to the bliss of our youth ended with a score of 42 to 30. This was just in time for us to return to our 8 p.m. floor session.

Rep. Pickett and I were able to make it to our cars by leaning on each other. All along the way he claimed he really wasn't injured and that I didn't need to tell anyone.

I wasn't sure whether or not I should believe him. In the end it really didn't matter, it is a matter of a man's honor, as to whether or not he can still play the games of our youth. Pickett did score the most points in the game and who was I to guess otherwise.

When I waived farewell as he entered his car I heard that tell-tale sound so familiar to those of us who find ourselves in the middle of our lives. A sound I heard my father make long ago: Arrgh! Oohh! Arrgh!

And then I knew. I knew that, youth is indeed wasted on the young! And that this painful lesson is unfortunately missed by us in our innocence and that we are doomed to be painfully reminded when it is too late. Arrgh! Oohh! Arrgh!

Give me a day, I'll be good as new!

HIGH STAKES INTENSE LAST MINUTE EVENTS AT CAPITOL

Stay Tuned!

SCHOOL FINANCE ISSUE GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE

Click here for April Castro's report (AP) who does another fine job in covering the issue.

May 27, 2005

BREAKING NEWS: SB 1 HAS BEEN WORKED OUT

THE TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF ADDICTION PROFESSIONALS CREATES SCHOLARSHIP

My congratulations to the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, who today were recognized by the Texas House of Representatives and Rep. Escobar, for creating a new scholarship to help young people struggling with drug addiction.

I will definitely be at their 31st Annual Conference on July 8, 2005 to award the scholarship to a deserving student. My son would be very proud with what has been accomplished in his name.

May God bless all of you for your good work.

EVIL INCARNATE-DRUG LORDS FIGHT FOR DOMINATION OF THE BORDER

From the day I started this journal back on January 1, I have had one singular disdain. The scourge of drugs, the drug dealer parasites that prey on our people and the corruption it leaves in its wake.

Friends are always asking me about the safety of Mexican travel along the border and my answer is always the same-it is more than not safe, it is downright dangerous.

Here is an AP story that tells the story of what is going on along the border.

For the last four years I have been outspoken in my outright hostility to these parasites that have brought corruption and death to my community that is the Mexican/United States border. Some have expressed their concern that I had better shut-up or possibly face consequences.

I will not!

When evil confronts us, endangers and corrupts our communities there is only one response. There are some people who are standing up to drugs and their masters that have invaded our community. Our government needs to do its part to assit those people.

As citizens, we must learn to take personal responsibility for our actions and the needs of our brothers. We will not likely ever see any government leader be able to stand and declare victory in this struggle but neither should we be shy in helping others.

At this moment in time, even with a drug war occurring on our border, but a few miles from my home, our state and national governments are responding with predictable inadequacy.

DAVE MCNEELEY: 40 PLUS YEARS OF JOURNALISM

Dave McNeeley reflects on 40 plus years of reporting on the state capitol. The Texas Obsever story can be read by clicking here.

Dave makes note in his historical reflections of the entry of blogs to the political arena. Take a look folks here is were "we" (the blog collective) come in:

"The newest addition to the reporting mix is the blogs themselves. Several people have joined the reporting ranks simply by, in the computer age, honoring A.J. Leibling’s time-honored adage that “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.”

In the e-mail and weblog era, virtually anyone can. It’s a fairly simple matter to get on the Internet and put up your own take on what’s going on and what it means—at least to those writing the blogs. Most of the blogs are from the left, though some are from the right. But in Texas, as well as nationally, sometimes the bloggers are first on the scene."

A nod over to A Little Pollyanna for spoting the story.

CALIFORNIA TURNS TOWARD REHABILITATING JUVENILES

LOS ANGELES – After decades of tough policies, America's most-populous state is poised to reverse direction in its approach to the incarceration of youth - from punishment to rehabilitation.

In the 1930s and 1940s, in particular, California was considered the country's premier model for returning young offenders to communities only after addressing the shortcomings that may have led to their prison terms - social and education skills, family patterns, mental health, gang participation, and vocational needs.

But dwindling funds and years of embracing a get-tough ethos moved the state into what critics called the "caged" model: one more intent on control, rebuke, and reprimand than on corrective measures.

Click here to read more from The Christian Science Monitor.

CONVERSATIONS WITH A FRESHMAN MEMBER

There is a lull in the debate as we review a point of order. I pulled aside one of our "rising star" freshman and asked him to reflect on the 79th legislative Session.

My concern regarding any Freshman member is that the grueling nature of the process, the time away from family and the loss of income will sufficiently wear on that person to the point that they may not want to come back. This is most especially true of a member who is not in the majority party, who faces repeated losses, in high numbers, on most partisan votes.

David is a very successful attorney who quite frankly could earn more money back home than the measly $7,200 we make here as legislators.

His response was refreshing. He felt that yes it can be disheartening at times to see votes taken on what appears to be based in partisan manner, but he took comfort in knowing that on the "Voucher Bill" his vote made all the difference.

"If I had chosen not run for office and my predecessor was still here for the voucher vote, today Texas could possibly be facing vouchers in our public schools!"
Well put Rep. Leibowitz, every vote does count especially in that vote. I congratulate you and each of the members of your class for your part in the 79th Legislative Session. You and so many others positively influenced the debate and the future of Texas.

I look forward to your return in two years.

4 DAYS LEFT IN THE 79TH LEGISLATIVE SESSION

There is still work to do in the four days left in this session. Much of that work is in conference committee where House and Senate differences are being negotiated.

I have been placed on five conference committees: (HB268, HB969, HB 1701, HB 2604 and HB 3540.)

The last bill, HB 3540, an Appropriations clean up bill, has made me instantaneously popular in some quarters. I am pleased somebody had confidence in me to place me in this trusted position.

There are still other very important matters in conference.

SB 1: The state budget for 2006-07.

SB 6: Overhaul of the Child Protective Services system.

Some of these matters are in danger of not passing:

HB 2: Public school law, education finance bills

HB 3: Taxes and other revenue options to pay for public schools

May 26, 2005

SESSION IS WINDING DOWN AND RUMORS OF A U.S. SENATOR'S ANNOUNCEMENT IN COMING DAYS

Okay, session is basically over. Yes it technically ends on Monday and there is still much work to do, but the end is in the air. Staffs are tidying up their offices, end of session activities are allowing people to say their final goodbyes. I am certainly looking forward to going home, spending time with my family and getting back into the practice of law with my newest employer.

My love for this state and the direction it takes in the future will always be on my mind and so I commit to keep this journal going. I hope you have enjoyed the commentary. This really has been a journey of discovery for me and I invite you to tag along as we try to shape a common future for each other, the people we love and the great state that is Texas.

I'll always try to bring you the inside information and I look forward to your feedback on the journey.

One bit of news or chisme before I call it a night, a well placed and respected source told me tonight that Senator Kay B. Hutchison was announcing her candidacy in the early part of June. He even seemed to think it was June 1, 2005. Put that in your hat!

ANA HERNANDEZ

I took the time to meet the person so many are clamoring about being a possible replacement for my former colleague, Rep. Joe Moreno. Ana Hernandez is the person that many believe will eventually be elected to the seat in the November election. The gathering tonight was filled with many of the people you would expect to see in any event for an eventual winner.

Senator Mario Gallegos was there as were representatives, Ferrar, Noriega, Dunham, Coleman, Martinez-Fisher, Gonzales, Gonzalez-Tourilles, Herreo, Guillen, Rodriguez. I of course, having read recent stories by my friends at Dos Centavos, was there to meet the young candidate.

Ana, who I met for the first time, is articulate, intelligent, and passionate about filling the shoes of our dearly departed brother Joe Moreno.

By no means will she be the only candidate, as very capable and respected individuals have noted other candidates in the race. The race for House district 143 will undoubtedly be one to watch in the coming months. I will keep you informed of further developments.

MOVE TO FILL SEAT OF LATE REP. JOE MORENO HEATING UP

By Mike HaileyCapitol Inside Editor

A dozen Democratic legislators are throwing their support at an Austin fundraiser tonight behind a former Capitol staffer who plans to run in a special Texas House election for the east Houston Texas House that opened when the late State Rep. Joe Moreno died in a highway crash earlier this month.

Governor Rick Perry on Thursday ordered the special election for House District 143 to be held November 8. The governor's proclamation calling the special vote requires candidates to file with the Secretary of State's office by 5 p.m. October 24. Perry's only other option would have been to declare the vacant seat an emergency - an option that might have been more likely if the governor planned to call lawmakers back into a special session between now and the fall.

While the special election still more than four months away, an array of political and community leaders from Houston and other places around the state have already rallied behind a former Moreno staff member - Houston lawyer Ana Hernandez. Several Democrats and a couple of Republicans have weighed possible bids for the seat, which is located in a section of the city dominated by Democratic voters.

There had been speculation that State Senator Mario Gallegos would be taking sides in a special election campaign with Laura Salinas - the niece of a former House member - who's also considering a race for HD 143. But Gallegos is listed among the House and Senate members who have endorsed Hernandez and plan to honor her at an event at the Four Season's Hotel.

Other names that have been mentioned as potential contenders include Democrats Jose Medrano and James Rodriguez and Republican Al Flores, who forced Moreno into a Democratic primary runoff in 2002 before switching parties. Rodriguez is an aide to Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado while Medrano and Hernandez both worked for State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a close friend of Moreno's and former boss.

Farrar has backed Hernandez from the outset. An attorney in Houston for Conoco/Phillips, Hernandez also has picked up support from hometown State Senator Rodney Ellis and Houston State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Senfronia Thompson and the husband-wife team of Melissa Noriega and Rick Noriega, an Army Reserves officer who's currently stationed in Afghanistan. The list of legislators for Hernandez also includes State Reps. Norma Chavez of El Paso, Jim Dunnam of Waco, Pete Gallego of Alpine, Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio and Dora Olivo of Rosenberg.

Lobbyist Nick Krajl is hosting the fundraiser for Hernandez.

Moreno, who represented HD 143 for seven years, was killed while driving back to Austin late at night after attending an NBA playoff game in Houston. Dallas State Rep. Rafael Anchia was riding in the passenger seat but escaped serious injury in the crash. Monica Pinon, the chief of staff to State Rep. Joe Pickett, has been recovering from injuries that she sustained while riding in the back seat of Moreno's pickup truck.

A BLOGGERS CAUCUS

Our friends over at Come and Take It posted the following story of interest:

Austin Kossacks are preparing to host a Bloggers' Caucus on Friday, June 17, 2005, at DemFest. Please join us, and hear Texas Representative Mark Strama (D-Austin) discuss the importance of blogs from an elected official's perspective.

Out tentative agenda:Bloggers' Caucus, 5-6 pm, June 17, Hutson-Tillotson Chapel Agenda

5:00-5:10 Welcome and IntroductionRosemary Wetherold, an Austin freelance editor and roses on DailyKos.com; Robert Andrews, an Austin attorney and Othniel on DailyKos.com.

5:10Texas state representative Mark Strama (D-Austin), a contributor to http://www.lonestarrising.blogspot.com/, discusses how his office uses blogs to help constituents and how the blogging community can help him and other elected officials represent the people of Texas.

Blogger Dan Fletcher of lookinforward.com presents ideas for taking the Scoop technology into grassroots politics by building a prototype, with Texas as the model and with the defeat of U.S. representative Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) and the protection of progressive officials like Mark Strama in 2006 as case studies.

6:00Adjourn to Threadgill's to join others from DemFest for more socializing.For updates see http://kosatdemfest.blogspot.com/

Where as others may ask, "How do we dress?" At this social event the question is, "With or without computer?"

PRAISE FOR SENFRONIA THOMPSON

Molly Ivans gives praise to my good friend and collegue, Rep. Senfronia Thompson.

May 25, 2005

POSSIBLE ATTEMPT TO DERAIL HINOJOSA SB 1195 - WRITTEN CONSENT TO SEARCH AT TRAFFIC STOPS

Scott over at Grits for Breakfast does a good job recording the drama over the legislation by Hinojosa requiring police to obtain written consent to search at traffic stops.

Notice should be given that there are rumors on the floor that there will be a concerted effort to kill the bill on third reading today.

The NRA and ACLU support the bill.

(6:55 p.m.) Okay only one bill sits between now and the taking up HB 1528. Opponents have made an effort to change some of the votes that allowed the bill to pass on second reading.

My sense is that although they have tried to change votes and have been in part successful, it will not be enough, in my estimation, to change the outcome.

There will still be vocal opposition but if all goes as I foresee it, the bill will pass.

You can't take anything for granted and so appropriately Senator Hinojosa has made an appearance on the floor.

(7:00 p.m.) The bill comes up. Dutton (D) lays out the bill.

Rep. Hartnett (R) begins the cross-examination. "Why don't we use Miranda type warning?" "Why do we have to use a legal document?"

Rep. Talton (R) asks Dutton (R), "Aren't you making it more difficult for police officers to do their jobs?"

Rep. Hupp (R) and Rep. Chisum (R) have amendments that clarifies language and it is acceptable.

Passions are pretty high on the bill. Rep. Talton says that all major police groups are against the bill.

Rep. Harper-Brown (R) asks isn't this going to confuses things legally. Dutton is doing a great job rebutting the arguments. His legal training is serving him well.

Rep. Deshotel (D) and Rep. Frost (D) at the back mike to clarify the legal issues.

Rep. Hartnett (R) rises to speak at front mike against the bill. He points out the people who testified for and against the bill in an effort to cause people to side with the parties. He argues for a Miranda type warnings. He notes that phone calls and e-mails have been coming in against bill.

Rep. Hupp (R) rises to support bill. Rep. Talton (R) rises to speak against the bill. He is a former law enforcement officer and member of the criminal jurisprudence committee and lays out why he opposes the bill.

Rep. Escobar (D) gets up, a 29 year veteran of law enforcement, rises in support.

Rep. Hegar (R) rises in support. He describes himself, and is, pro law enforcement.

What you see on the floor is a reflection of the people who testified for the bill: Libertarians, pro-gun (2nd Amendment) members, Democrats, pragmatists and a number of Republicans coming together on the vote.

(7:48 p.m.) The final vote on the bill 83 AYES and 63 NAYES and 2 PNV.

THE BILL PASSES!

RUSH LIMBAUGH vs. BILL MOYERS

Good reading on the role of the journalist in our society.

WAS ANAKIN BORN BAD, OR WAS IT PARENTAL NEGLECT?

The father turned evil. The son didn't. Was Anakin Skywalker the proverbial bad seed, or did he just have a tougher upbringing than his boy Luke? Check out the story.

Yes, its true I just can't let this theme go. But the movie provides an interesting sounding board for an old argument: nuture versus nature. As you will note, in my earlier post about vouchers, I did not give anyone this character.

An so the proverbial question arises, who in the 79th Legislative session best fits the Anakin Skywalker character and why?

May 24, 2005

FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR- OTTO & MARTINEZ

Before the membership learns the identities of the "Freshmen of the Year" I will take the liberty (with Yoda's blessing) of breaking the news to the readers of this journal who the winners are. There were a number of top notch members in the running. John Otto (R) and Armando Martinez (D) are the recipients.

Best wishes to all the Freshmen class who have done a fine job this session.

Post Script: Now if they were only as talented in football as they were on the floor they would have a chance in this weekend's football game against their more senior members.

IT'S TIME FOR FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Okay, today is last day to get Senate bills out of the House on second reading. The members are feeling a bit giddy because they will soon have a chance to get back home. There are only a few hours left before the midnight hour stops all Senate bills.

Rep. Geren and Rep. Kolkhorst have taken note of some of the blogs and are pointing out to other members some of the more comical things that are being said about other members.

Eileen, "In The Pink-Texas" maybe you can help him, he was curious as what has been said in your site about his deskmate, Kolkhorst. Maybe it is our good friend at "PinkDome."

Now down to the serious business of naming the coveted "Freshmen of the Year" recipients. One Republican member and one Democratic member is chosen each session. Regardless of party everyone is allowed to vote for their favorite candidate.

This award is a huge boost to the election campaigns of the recipient and of course a big boost to the old ego. This class of Freshman has a number of very talented members.

Rep. Casteel and I, counted the votes which were taken several weeks ago. We will announce them today. I invite people to guess who they are?

Please hit the comment line below and I will tell you if you are close.

THE CISNEROS $21 MILLION INVESTIGATION BOONDOGLE

All three branches of the federal government are run by so called "fiscal conservatives" yet a $21 million dollar 10 year investigation continues. Here is a story about Congress' decision to continue. An investigation at this late date is shameful. A candidate for the golden fleece award?

Read the story of the decision to continue the investigation.

A GIFT TO MY BRETHERN

Early this session I filed HB 1351 which would provide strict penalties for the involuntary placement of spyware on a person's computer. Along the way Rep. McCall and I joined forces and passed out of the house HB 1430.

Today, the latest incarnation, SB 327 was passed and sent to the governor's office.

Okay, Governor lets sign this one, spyware is cutting into the blogging time.

NOTICE: THIS IS IT! WATCH CLOSE

Chisum is asking to reconsider the vote on SB 1863. I believe this is a tactical move in order to bring up a stem cell research amendment. Otherwise there is no other bill that is germane to the amendment.

Watch close folks! Rarely, now days, are things as they seem.

Now there may be other purposes so let's watch close.

Rep. Chisum contends it is in part necessary to deal with the budget.

(1:25 p.m.) Rep. Chisum is now moving to suspend the rules (2/3rd vote) in order to bring up an amendment. If it fails, he threatens to go section by section of the bill and thereby kill bills on the rest of the calendar.

(1:45 p.m.) Some of the D's think this is all about Strayhorn and nothing to do with anything else. Others seem to think this is an attempt in part to do away with voluminous amendments that were filed.

(2:00 p.m.) Rep. Chisum withdraws his amendments and the motion to suspend.

Things have changed. It looks like some Republicans are negotiating with other Republicans, on what no one knows. Somebody cut a deal.

I wish I could tell you more, but somebody gave up or gave in but it was done in private. Another strange matter for file 13.

SB 1863 passes.

LIFE RELATED AMENDMENTS EXPECTED TO HIT FLOOR

A Stem Cell Research amendment is expected on one of today's bills. Word is it's on Pitt's bill.

Another amendment by Rep. Hughes "The Family Health Rights Act" would prevent Hospitals from making end of life decisions by so called ethics commissions.

(12:36 p.m.) Hughes amendment was just accepted in SB 1188.

SB 60 LUCIO: LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE BILL

Debate was short. Rep. Keel and Rep. Goolsby presented the case for allowing juries the option of imposing "Life without Parole" in capitol murder cases. This is a two option bill. Death or Life Without Parole. The third option had to be dropped earlier because of opposition by prosecutors.

I was one of the joint authors of the House bill (HB 284)and our criminal jurisprudence committee voted 8 to 0 on the bill.

Rep. Pat Haggerty opposed the bill because, as he argued, it would place time bombs in prison who would endanger the lives of guards when they know they have no way out.

This vote is quite historic. The bill passed with 104 AYES and 37 NAYS.

Credit should be given to Sen. Lucio for repeatedly pushing the bill and to Rep. Keel and so many others for sticking their necks out on this issue. This is good policy.

POST GAME REVIEW: "REVENGE OF THE SITH BILL"

I want to comment on the debate last night. It probably was the best we have seen this session but I want to get to the Life Imprisonment Without Parole Bill which is being debated right now.

May 23, 2005

SB 422 "THE REVENGE OF THE SITH BILL"

Here is the voucher bill folks. LETS HAVE A LITTLE FUN WITH THIS ONE! My kids had me watch Star Wars twice this weekend.

The first point of order was intentionally implanted in the bill in order to kill the Death Star, I mean the voucher bill. Seriously, rebel forces, I mean good guy Dems., knowing the bill would make it the floor intentionally laid this bomb at the center of the bill in order to kill it.

Overruled! The rebel force will try again.

Darth Vadar, in today's parody of this metaphorical tragedy, is played by James Leinninger of San Antonio, a wealthy physician whose CEO Foundation is personally lobbying lawmakers in back rooms of the Capitol. The force runs deep with Darth Vadar because filled with hate he is able to channel the dark side and thereby is given great power.

The Force has a good side, accessed by the Jedi knights, like Obi Wan Kenobe, serving the rebel alliance. Obi Wan Kenobe is rightfully played by Scott Hochberg in today's tragedy.

(6:18 p.m.) Hochberg, I mean Obi Wan Kenobe, offers an amendment that would gut the "dark side of the force" from the bill.

The vote on the motion to table is 73 Ayes and 70 Nayes. A verification is called for by Obi Wan.

The verified vote 71 Ayes and 71 Nays. The Speaker voted Aye and broke the tie. Obi Wans brave attempt fails.

THIS DOES NOT BODE WELL FOR THE DARK SIDE AND ITS DARK KNIGHT!

OR AS YODA WOULD SAY: "Not much confidence - one does not have - in this one!"

The Republic has been mass producing clone armies and preparing for another clash. These clones because of their sheer numbers and blind allegiance to the leaders now connected with the dark side are a formidable force for the jedi knights.

(7:45 p.m.) Carter Casteel, playing the part of Master Yoda tries another amendment. It also strikes out the dark side of the force, "by striking vouchers or choice" languge from the bill. She reveals that she was visited by Darth Vader - "A powerful figure." "I will not allow them to take money away from our public schools. I may not make it back. It may cost me my seat."

As always she is a voice for pragmatism, a voice of common sense. A voice for an end to extremism. Hell, I am ready to vote her for governor.

Rep. Bob Griggs, playing Senator Bail Organa,(Jimmy Smitts) also a voice of common sense and reason is coming to her aid.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, playing Jedi Mace Windu,(Samuel Jackson)makes great cutting points.

FOLKS THIS IS IT. THE SPEECH THAT WILL TURN THE DEBATE. IF IT DOESN'T NOTHING WILL.

Can moderate Republicans build a coalition with Democrats?

(8:40 p.m.) The vote to table the Casteel Amendment is 72 Ayes and 72 Nays. But only with the speaker voting Aye! It FAILS!

Verification called for. 72 to 72 it fails.

(9:00 p.m.) Now for those of you who saw the movie, this is the point were Yoda and the evil Sith Lord fight it out with electrical currents forcing the other to bend to their will. Some poor member in the back of the room is getting his arm twisted. We will soon find out who it is because some members are stalling so that arms can be twisted.

I for one am thoroughly convinced this is Casteel's finest moment.

The final verified vote is 72 Ayes and 72 Ayes the Casteel Amendment fails to adopt. The Dark Side wins this one.

It continues.

(9:25 p.m.) Jedi Geren proposes an amendment forcing those communities who refused to participate in their voucher plan, to participate. Geren amendment succeeds. Grusendorff is scrambling.

(9:36 p.m.) Jedi Geren strikes again against Grusendorff. Geren wins the motion to table 72 to 70. He wins on the amendment directly. 74 to 70.

Be prepared Rep. Dutton who we hope is on the good side of the force is making his way back to the capitol. That is a vote that may sway things one way or the other.

Dramatic event: Grrusendorf tries to reschedule bill which was dying fast so that arms could be twisted. Rep. Thompson grabs the mike and shouts a point of order. This time she objects to the whole calendar. Although overruled they are in danger.

Bottom Line: Yoda and the good guys are winning! The Dark Side is running for their very lives.

(10:00 p.m.) Seven points of order by Jedi Jim Dunnam two makes it to their target and kill the "Death Star" the horrible bill is dead! Long live Yoda and the Jedi knights!

Hope you enjoyed the humor on this very exciting bill. For those in the educational profession who think that there is no one left who cares, please note that this night a number of Texas heroes stepped forward to win the day!

Here is how the AP called it.

HOUSE APPROVES CHANGES TO TEACHER PENSION SYSTEM

Okay folks here comes the teacher bills. From my perspective they are the anti-teacher bills.

Rather than come up with a real decision by directly addresssing the problem this bill pits one group of teachers against the other. Here is the AP story.

The Teacher Retirement System bill is SB1691.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNES

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Republicans are starting to find themselves in the same kind of political environment that Democrats faced in the summer of 1993 - the year before the Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Reverse the party labels, and the circumstances are strikingly similar.

GOVERNOR BILL CLEMENTS GIVES ADVICE TO REPUBLICANS

It was my first year out of high school and Texas politics was about to be turned on its head. Governor Clements was a player in the arena back then and now has a word of advice for Republicans regarding the repetition of history.

Here is his editorial.

FORMER STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR SWITCHES TO REPUBLICAN PARTY

Okay it happened in North Carolina, but it is still a shock that such a high party official switches sides.

Here is the AP story.

May 22, 2005

NEW YORK TIMES: ARE BLOGS SETTING THE AGENDA?

In the spring of 1712, the British essayist Joseph Addison rambled from pub to parlor seeking the pulse of his countrymen regarding rumors (false, it turned out) that the king of France, Louis XIV, had died. The St. James coffeehouse, Addison reported in The Spectator, was "in a Buzz of Politics."

In the 18th century, "buzz" was part of what social theorists called the emerging - and powerful - bourgeois public sphere. In the 21st century, the buzz is in the blogosphere.

Or at least, that's the popular mythology. As a result of their influence in incidents like the "60 Minutes" episode in which CBS was duped by forged documents related to the president's National Guard service, bloggers have taken on the role of agenda-setters - citizen scribe-warriors wresting power from a mainstream media grown fat and lazy.

But according to a preliminary study - the first rigorous look at the influence wielded by political blogs during the 2004 presidential campaign - bloggers are not always the kingmakers that pundits sometimes credit them with being. They can, it seems, exert a tremendous amount of influence - generate buzz, that is - but only under certain circumstances.

Buzz is potent stuff.

Here is the PEW study.

SADDAM TO SUE OVER PRISON PHOTOS

Saddam Hussein plans to take legal action after a British newspaper published photos of him half-naked in his prison cell and doing his washing.

"We will sue the newspaper and everyone who helped in showing these pictures," said Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer Ziad Al-Khasawneh, speaking from Jordan.

The Sun newspaper said it would fight any legal action and said it planned to publish more photos on Saturday.

The US has launched an investigation into how the photos were leaked.

LIFE'S SIMPLE PLEASURE: SLEEP

Folks. Want to know what legislators talk about when the eyes glaze over after information overload hits the membership. Most legislators are just like regular folks. After several hours of argument without break, as we are now, some things can be overheard.

Some of the male members check into the lounge from time to time to check out the score to their favorite basketball game. The ladies are all talking about missing the season finale of Desperate Housewives.

I seem to fall into neither camp. If I had some free time maybe I could go for a game of internet basketball. The team, Desperate Legislators. Realisticly, by the end of today's marathon session this desperate legislator will be looking for some sleep.

"HANG ON TO YOUR HATS, WE'RE IN FOR A BUMBY RIDE"

Sunday is upon us and all I can say as a forewarning of what's to come is to repeat Betty Davis' famous line, "Hang on to your hats, we're in for a bumpy ride."

The press has got a day off, big corporate lobbyist have filled the gallery, community interest groups and regular folks are at home with their families, but before you fall asleep in that sofa after overstuffing yourself with barbecue, take note the legislature is still in Austin and contemplating how you live your life.

More abortion bills, SBC fighting Time/Life, the specter of voucher legislation, the administration of elections and so much more, these are the matters that many will be missing in their slumber.

We are on SB 410.

First Abortion related amendment by Rep. Thompson (D-Houston) fails. Interesting quote by Thompson during the debate: "All week we have been practicing vaginal politics on the floor of this house. This is being done by men!"

Rep. Hochberg has good amendment to inspect Canadian standards and the standards of some Canadian companies on pharmaceutical items so that Texans can have knowledge of how safe the purchases of Canadian pharmaceutical supplies are. Who could possibly be against this?

Rep. Truitt opposes the amendment. Pharmaceuticals as well. Final vote 114 to Nays 17 Ayes. Hochberg wins! SB 410 passes.

(4:00 p.m.) We are on SB 408 - The Infamous SBC, Time Life Bill

I took a look upstairs on the gallery level. In all the time I have been here, I have never seen a gallery so overloaded with lobbyist. It's a bit offensive!

Boys, I got a study group that is studying how to deal with the problem of drug usage with our youth. There is no money in it but we may save a few lives. Any takers? Just drop me a comment and we will get you working right on it.

I guess not!

(5:00 p.m.) Rep. Solomons comes up with an amendment that would strip the King amendment (HB 3179) off of the sunset bill. This is that one last shot into the death star, to use a Star Wars metaphor.

If you want the King matter removed so that we have a clean sunset bill then one needs to pray that Solomons (uses the force) has the votes.

Others who think that competition is healthy for the consumer then this vote is critical.

The vote is 101 SBC to 34 Time/Warner. King wins that round. Many think that last vote is reflective of the final vote. Let's see.

(7:45 p.m.) THE FINAL VOTE IS IN; SBC WINS ON A VOICE VOTE; SB 408 PASSES

The gallery empties.

No takers on helping the kids. Rough crowd!

May 20, 2005

ATTEMPTS TO HAVE STUDY ON ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES WITH PAPER TRAIL BILL STILL ALIVE

As the readers of this journal know my office and the office of Senator Eliott Shapleigh have worked hard to bring about a paper trail with our new electronic voting machines. HAVA funds are available but resistance has been silent and unfortunately deadly as we noted in our last post.

Some of you responded by noting that one of the vendors of the electronic technology does not have the paper trail element and is the villain that gutted and killed HB 166 because they could not compete. If true, this is a very sad example on how free enterprise and the will of the people are thwarted by misguided commercial interests for their own selfish interests.

However, today Senator Shapleigh will resurrect the study bill to create a paper trail via an amendment in the Senate. Let's keep an eye on this one and watch the invisible hand once more try to kill this important bill.

It is difficult to understand who would object to or fear a simple study.

HOUSE MEMBERS POOLING FUNDS TO ASSIST PARENTS OF REP. JOE MORENO

Several members of the House will contributing funds to purchase from ERS service credit that Rep. Joe Moreno could have purchased in order that his parents could receive an increase in the annuity available upon his death.

The total cost of purchasing all of Joe's other service time is $13,643.92

If Joe's additional time is not purchased, then Mrs. Moreno will receive a small lump sum as a result of Joe's service.

This is a nice gesture for a dear friend and I will be contributing to the effort.

VOUCHER AMENDMENT LIKELY BEFORE HOUSE ON SUNDAY

The word on the floor is that the "Voucher bill" is likely to hit the floor of the House on Sunday. For those interested, turn off the TV, put down the bar-b-que and get over to the House this Sunday.

May 19, 2005

THE POWER OF THE BLOG

I was interviewed by Chris Swope, a Washington D.C. staff writer for Governing Magazine, a national magazine covering legislative issues. The magazine is read by legislators, journalists, policy analysts, government employees and political activists.

They are apparently doing a story on the blogging revolution sweeping the nation. Of particular interest was the experience of the nation's handful of legislators who have been the early pioneers in the area.

Austin was of particular interest to the writer because of our plethora of political blogs originating in Austin. I believe Pink Dome, Off The Kuff, In the Pink-Texas and The Burnt Orange Report were mentioned by the writer in our conversation.

I told him that one of the advantages, in addition to many others, that blogging provided a legislator was immediate reaction to news or events. Communicating subtle nuance and compexity of thought and reasoning to constituents is a valuable item.

As soon as I got off the phone interview, I learned that my local newspaper incorrectly reported in a fairly sizable and well placed article along with my photograph that I voted myself an increase in my own pension as a legislator. This was false.

Suck it up, I guess is the only thing a public figure can do. A neighboring city newspaper fortunately ran the story clarifying my vote. Newspapers make this sort of mistake all the time, most of the time you are left with a correcting statement buried somewhere in the paper. In this case my situation was a little different.

To the people who read this blog. You knew instantaneously how I voted on the pension pay increase for legislators because I told you in my earlier post on that day, that a voice vote was taken and that I did not vote in favor of the bill, I further entered in the house journal my position as we are required to do if one does not agree with the majority.

I entered today's post as an example of the power of this new medium, how in this situation it served to provide an immediate response to the press and as an additional effective means of communication with the people I serve.

HOUSE TO ONCE AGAIN VISIT SBC BILL ON SUNDAY

The SBC bill is back and expected to be considered on Sunday at approximately 2 p.m.

RECENTLY RELEASED STAR WARS MOVIE CARRYING POLITICAL MESSAGE?

Without Michael Moore and "Fahrenheit 9/11" at the Cannes Film Festival this time, it was left to George Lucas and "Star Wars" to pique European ire over the state of world relations.

Lucas' themes of democracy on the skids and a ruler preaching war to preserve the peace predate "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" by almost 30 years. Yet viewers Sunday — and Lucas himself — noted similarities between the final chapter of his sci-fi saga and our own troubled times.

The AP has story on the political nature of the themes used in the movie and their similarity to current times.

The San Francisco Chronicle has story on how the themes run contrary to post 9-11 America.

(SB 1874 -WHITMIRE/PENA) BURGLARY OF MOTOR VEHICLE BILL VOTED OUT OF HOUSE COMMITTEE

Senator Whitmire's answer to the burglary of a motor vehicle epidemic, SB 1874, was passed out yesterday from the House Transportation committee on a unanimous vote.

Although I worked on two other alternatives, this looks to be this session's only viable vehicle left that has a chance of making it through the system. Accordingly, I will be the House sponsor of the bill. Will keep you informed as we progress.

CRIME VICTIMS FUND BILL (HB 1751-PENA) TO BE VOTED OUT OF SENATE COMMITTEE

The Senate Criminal Justice committee will vote out our HB 1751 today so that we will be one step away from the governor's desk and thereby find the funds necessary to keep the Texas Crime Victims Fund solvent.

Our thanks to the many people and the Attorneys' General office who have helped us get this bill to this point. We will keep you informed, but if things go as planned victims of crime will continue to have access to an important fund that will assist them at a very painful time of their life.

May 18, 2005

I see love : Passion of the Christ

MAY 18 IS A SAD DAY

During the debate these past few days, someone asked: Can a man live without his heart? Sadly, I know the answer to this question. For four years this father has been living without his. I hope you understand.

I will not be posting today.

May 17, 2005

CHANGE PBS?

Some folks want to change PBS to their liking. Here is a peek into our future if they have their way.

LAWMAKERS VOTE TO INCREASE THEIR PENSIONS

This matter may have escaped peoples attentions. Although I support the concept, I could not bring myself to vote for the increase in pay, not because it was not needed (because it is needed) but because others have had to endure cuts and we should not be benefiting at a time when others are having to cut back.

I registered my position on this matter because second and third reading were by voice vote. The story is here from the AP.

POST OFFICE TO BE NAMED AFTER IRMA RANGEL

Just was informed that the Kingsville, Texas post office will be named after former state representative, Irma Rangel. The dedication will take place on Friday, May 27, 2005 at 2:30 p.m.

I will be attending with my good friend Rep. Juan Escobar who succeeded her as state representative for the Kingsville and surrounding South Texas area.

May 16, 2005

ATTEMPT TO TAG ABORTION BILLS TO BOARD OF MEDICAL EXAMINERS SUNSET BILL (SB 419) IN THE WORKS

On a more serious note, the word circulating on the floor is that amendments dealing with abortion will be attempted on this sunset bill.

Little notice has been given to opposing forces and so here is a heads up to what is happening on the floor. Wherever you position yourself on the issue, the debate should be watched.

The debate was postponed till 1:00. Texas Medical Association apparently is opposing the amendment. Let's see what happens.

2:25 p.m. Rep. Hartnett files the first abortion related amendment-against third trimester abortions where the fetus is viable. Rep. Thompson makes a point of order as to germaness. It is overruled.

2:35 p.m. Rep. Thompson files second point of order. It is overruled.

2:45 p.m. Rep. Rodriguez is questioning Rep. Hartnett. Hartnett comes forward with amendment that creates an exception for a "brain dead" fetus (no physical impairments covered).

3:05 p.m. Rep. Rose proposes an amendment to the amendment which Hartnett opposes. He moves to table.

3:15 p.m. The motion to table prevails 84 Yeas to 51 Nays.

3:18 p.m. Rep. Raymond proposes an amendment that provides an exception for severe irreversible brain damage to the mother. They appear to be trying to reach a compromise on this amendment. Language is acceptable but a record vote is called for.

3:35 p.m. The motion is approved 116 Yeas to 13. Nays.

3:38 p.m. Rep. Branch proposes an amendment that provides an exception for "other vital organs" other than the brain of the child.

3:41 p.m. Rep. Branch get emotional on Hartnett for using the term "murder" in his presentation. A huddle at the front mike follows because of language that may resolve the disagreement. Debate continues.

A Rep. at the back mike asks: (Best line so far): "Can you live without a heart, can you live without a brain?"

The Rep.'s note: Be careful boys, some people may say that about the 79th Legislature.

4:15 p.m. The motion to table the Branch amendment passes 116 Ayes to 13 Nays.

4:18 p.m. Rep. Rodriguez brings up a point of order. The point of order is overruled.

4:25 p.m. Members distracted by a group in the gallery. Somebody with pink hair and others wearing pink startles some members.

4:26 p.m. Rep. Rose brings up exception to when injury to vital organs of the mother.

4:27 p.m. Motion to table. (certainly will fail based on past votes) The motion to table the Rose amendment passes 84 Ayes to 56 Nays.

4:45 p.m. Jose Lopez, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, who was honored by a House resolution this morning died today at 2:00 p.m. The House stood in silence while we heard about the brave acts of this American hero. May God Bless this brave Texan.

5:00 p.m. Back on the bill. Hartnett rises to argue for his amendment.

THE FINAL VOTE is 118 Ayes, 16 Nays and 3 Present but not voting. The Hartnett amendment passes.

Now we are back on SB 419 The Medical Examiners Sunset bill.

Hartnett comes up with another pro-life amendment-the parental notification legislation.

5:50 p.m. Rep. Villarreall comes up with an amendment that provides an exception to having to notify your parents if you are emancipated. It went down 106 Ayes to 32 Nays and 1 PNV.

5:50 p.m. Rep. Vo has an amendment, to use language used in a prior law. This seems to be a turf battle between acupuncturist and chiropractors. Went down 95 Ayes and 43 Nays.

Last time, we are now ready to vote on SB 419. The bill passed on a voice vote.

REP. JOE DESHOTEL STARTS A BLOG

Helping me fulfill my own prediction that we would have at least 5 legislators blogging by next session, Rep. Joe Deshotel started his own blog. Click here to link to his blog which he calls CapitolWeekly.

History should note that Joe has been issuing Capitol Weekly in paper form since 1999. He sends out 1,150 per week since the 76th Legislative Session.

Joe is my deskmate and is fairly computer savvy, for a member of the over-40 crowd, and will be a good compliment to our internet project to open up another channel of communication to our state leaders.

Let's call it the "The Texas Democracy Project." Boy that does sound like a military campaign from the Bush administration. "Spreading freedom and democracy from the Texas State Capitol," how about that as a tag line Rep. Deshotel.

CHEER'S LEADERS DECRY TEXAS BILL

The Austin Statesman had a good article from the leaders of the cheerleader community regarding regulation of cheerleading. They contend they can police themselves.

May 14, 2005

TEXAS KILLS AGAIN: Verified Paper Ballots Suffocated in Calendars Committee

By Sonia Santana
TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS REVIEW

HB 166 died in the Texas House Legislature on Thursday May 12, 2005. HB 166 was our best attempt at a verified paper ballot trail for Texas this session.

The original bill filed by Rep. Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg) was amended in the Elections Committee by Chairwoman Mary Denny (R-Flower Mound) to the point it was simply a study bill. We can't proceed too slowly on this issue in Texas for Rep. Denny's tastes.

Despite the fact the bill was pretty uncontroversial by the time it reached the Calendars Committee, the powers that be, still could not risk their perceived loss of power.

The bill had bi-partisan support with 4 Republicans on board including Mary Denny on the committee substitute version, and still it was quietly killed in Calendars with no vote scheduled on the floor.

Thursday was the last day bills in the House needed to be listed on Calendars for a vote this week. HB 166 never made the cut.

I mourn the death of HB 166, not only because I worked very hard on this bill, but because it is a huge loss for all Texan voters whose votes are not secure on electronic voting machines.

We wouldn't even consider an ATM transaction without verifiable proof of our transactions, yet we have turned over our right to cast our vote without any guarantees of how your vote was actually cast or counted. Voter beware.

Sonia Santana is a voting rights activist in Austin.

The Rep.'s Post Script:

Texans may never quite appreciate how many people selflessly spent long hours perfecting a bill that many thought could not be perfected. Sonia was one of those persons. For that we owe her and countless others a debt of gratitude.

It is quite astonishing we got as far as we did before someone (no one quite knows who) pulled the plug on a bill that would have served the interests of each and every Texan. As she noted in her post, this was a bi-partisan effort of Republicans and Democrats.

The best argument anyone could come up with against it was: where are we going to get the money? With fate on our side $100 million dollars was made available to Texas, the night before the committee hearing.

The committee hearing had the Republican and Democratic grassroots singing kumbaya at the presentation of the bill. Other Republican colleagues with similar bills dropped theirs and signed on to ours. Every indication was that this bill was going to make it to the floor for a vote.

Then came the invisible hand, the gutting and eventual death of the bill. No one seems to know whose hand it was that carried the knife that killed HB 166. They did not have sufficient honor to reveal themselves.

The $100 million in federal HAVA funds will most likely be spent before this issue will be visited again. I lament that the powerful can ignore the will of the citizenry and be so bold to do so publicly. They were not even interested in studying the issue!

I can only say to those who lack honor, that the passion and desire of many will not be expired by the powerful few who wish to extinguish it. We will continue in quiet, the hard necessary work to once again bring confidence to our electoral system.

For now, it is sufficient that we give thanks to our friends, like Sonia, for their dedication to this issue.

LA TIMES: THE LONE RANGER (RONNIE EARLE)

Was reading the LA Times and came across this lengthy story about Texas' own Ronnie Earle. The story in the LA Times Magazine is entitled: "The Lone Ranger."

82 BILLS LEFT FOR DEAD ON THE TABLE

The Houston Chronicle has an interesting and depressing story for some (I had two left on the table) on the 82 bills that came so close but came up short on the last day to pass out bills in the House.

My "Tejano Heritage Bill" that I had filed after watching the movie "Border Bandits" and speaking to the affected families (Bazan and Longoria) was one such bill.

If I had thirty more minutes, that night, that bill would have passed. There was tremendous support for the bill. I will watch with interest the "Border Bandits" premiere on PBS this coming Monday (May 16). I am saddened but even more determined to honor the memories of the thousands who were killed in that unfortunate part of our history in Texas.

For the hundreds who wrote in support of our effort, I thank you. Texas is indeed filled with a rich cultural tapestry of which we should be proud.

PUBLIC SCHOOL MAY BE SET TO UNIFORMLY FINISH BY JUNE 7 AND START ON THE FIRST TUESDAY AFTER LABOR DAY

Moving foward at the Texas Capitol is a plan approved by the Texas House and Senate that would require all public schools to finish by June 7 and start on the first Tuesday after Labor Day, giving her kids more time to relax at home.

Officials say shifting and compressing the school year that way will save Texans hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the proposal has drawn sharp criticism from school districts that want to continue creating their own calendars. The AP story is here.

SEXY CHEERLEADING BILL ON THE DAILY SHOW

Here is the link if you missed the show.

May 13, 2005

MARIJUANA WITHDRAWAL REPORTED BY TEENS SEEKING TREATMENT

Often considered a relic of the 1970's culture, marijuana is no longer a baby boom generation issue. Today, nearly 50 percent of U.S. teenagers try marijuana before they graduate high school, and by 12th grade, about 21 percent are regular users. Consequently, treatment for marijuana dependence is on the rise, but, researchers have discovered, there's a catch -- withdrawal symptoms, much like those experienced by people quitting cigarettes, cocaine or other drugs, may make abstinence more difficult to achieve.

A new study in today's edition of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that teens that use marijuana frequently also may face the same withdrawal symptoms that have been found to challenge adult marijuana users trying to quit.

Click here for more.

APPROVAL OF VOTING MACHINE DISPUTED IN OHIO

A state regulatory board on Tuesday approved a new Diebold touch-screen voting machine for Ohio voters, although the device lacks all the state's requirements.

The AccuVote-TSX slid in under a state-imposed certification deadline set for Friday -- even as Diebold competitor Election Systems & Software continued to fight the time constraint in a courtroom across town.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's top aide on the state's voting-machine conversion, Judy Grady, told ES&S lawyers during a deposition filed in the case that she set the divisive deadline to accommodate funding and deployment deadlines -- as well as her own vacation schedule.
She said that she called none of the state's three certified voting-machine vendors -- Diebold, ES&S and Hart Intercivic -- to see if they could meet the new edict.

Here is the story.

LAST DAY FOR HOUSE BILLS ENDS

Twelve midnight came and Rep. Rob Eissler got the last House bill, HB 31, through before the gavel came down. My bills were a page away. There is always another day. I was just happy to care for my local university ($30 mil.) by way of the amendment to Morrison's bill. Next we turn to senate bills.

One side note, I participated in the counting of ballots, along with Rep. Casteel, on the selection of the "Freshman of the Year." One was selected from Democratic ranks the other from Republican ranks.

I have been sworn to secrecy on the victors until the appointed moment, which should be soon. I will only say that there was a clear choice in one and a competitive race in the other. All were deserving!

May 12, 2005

AMERICANS DIVIDED INTO PRO-CHOICE AND PRO-LIFE CAMPS

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- No fewer than four U.S. Supreme Court justices are on the retirement watch list by virtue of their age, their health, or both -- with conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist's exit being the most widely anticipated. Although his replacement would not likely alter the political balance of the high court with respect to abortion cases, any vacancy is likely to spark a colossal political battle in Washington -- and if history is any guide, that battle is likely to include a debate on abortion.

Gallup recently asked Americans how important it is to them, personally, that future U.S. Supreme Court nominees share their views on abortion. Just under half of Americans, 45%, say this is very important, 31% say it is somewhat important, and a combined 23% say it is not too important or not important at all.

The story.

29.9 MILLION IN TUITION REVENUE BONDS SECURED FOR U.T.-PAN AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

HB 2329 by Rep. Gennie Morrison which relates to the issuance of revenue bonds for our institutions of higher education.

Rep. Pena was successful in passing an amendment permitting the issuance of approximately $30 million in revenue bonds to address much-needed expansion of the College of Business Administration as well as other projects at the Edinburg campus.

The entire bill passed about fifteen minutes ago.

HOUSE PONDERS ELECTRONIC CLASSROOMS

Texas students no longer would be required to be "at school" when they attend school under a plan considered by the state House on Wednesday that would create a virtual school network.

Under the controversial proposal, students currently enrolled in charter schools — facilities operated by religious or private groups drawing from state money for funding — also would be eligible to attend virtual schools.

The measure comes as the Legislature struggles to pass a massive public school financing plan mandated by a district court judge's finding last year that the current system is inadequate and unconstitutional.

Here is the story on HB 1445.

Late addition: This bill was not reached by Thursday midnight and is effectively dead unless a Senate version is coming over or it is attatched as an amendment.

ITS 5 O'CLOCK, GOT TWO BILLS ON CALENDAR AND BILLS ARE DYING

It's 5 o'clock and I got two bills at the end of today's calendar. I am quite lucky to have the privilege of being here but it is the last day to get a bill out of the Texas House of Representatives.

When the clock strikes twelve tonight all bills that we did not pass will be really and truly dead.

IMPOTENT HUSBAND ORDERED TO PAY DAMAGES FOR NOT TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

An impotent Italian man who kept his problem a secret from his wife until after their wedding must pay her damages for "eroding" her right to have a family, Italy's Supreme Court has ruled.

The woman, identified by the Italian media as Cristina S., was quick to get her marriage annulled in the 1990s after learning to her horror that her husband could not consummate it.

She then demanded damages, saying she had been robbed of her "right to sexuality" and the promise of a family.

Somebody call Rep. Nixon and tell him that Italy needs a tort-reformer! Joe the story is right here.

THE BASICS OF AUDIO BLOGGING

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, podcasts are essentially do-it-yourself recorded radio programs posted online. Anyone can download them free, and, using special software, listeners can subscribe to favorite shows and even have them automatically downloaded to a portable digital music player.

Despite what the name suggests, podcasts can be played not just on iPods but on any device that has an MP3 player program, including PC's and laptops. Podcasts are the natural technological offspring of Web logs or blogs, those endlessly meandering personal Web musings that now seem to be everywhere online.

The New York Times has the story.

Click here for basic podcasting information.

THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF ARDMORE!

Two years ago I found myself in an Ardmore, Oklahoma Holiday Inn with a number of my colleagues. With a tornado whistling over our heads many of us then did not wonder whether or not the twister was an omen of good or bad fortunes to come.

The Dallas Morning News muses over the question that will inevitably be asked at every future Ardmore Anniversary - What is the state of the Democratic Party?

Are the fortunes foretold an omen of gloom for Republicans or Democrats?

My colleague Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, is reported in the article to see that "great issue" tied with the direction of the Hispanic community:

"The future of Texas politics in the next 20 years is going to come down to who wins the Hispanic community not only convinces them but organizes them and registers them and gets them to actually vote."

I agree, and I and others, have been preaching this point to party leaders for a number of years. If this community and others are merely patronized, as they have been for years, then the cyclone foretells a future far removed from the dreams of 51 kindred spirits two years ago on the plains of Oklahoma.

May 11, 2005

FACE OF TUTANKHAMUN RECONSTRUCTED

The French team created the image of the young king. Scientists have carried out the first ever facial reconstructions of Egypt's most famous ancient king, Tutankhamun.

Three teams of forensic artists - French, Egyptian and American - built separate but similar models of the king's face using scans of his skull.

The French and Egyptians knew who they were recreating, but the Americans were not told where the skull came from.

The models of the boy king, who died 3,300 years ago, reveal a young man with plump cheeks and a round chin.

The BBC story has a photo of the model of the young king as reconstructed.

May 10, 2005

BILL OFFERS TAX CUT ONLY TO WEALTHIEST

Only Texas families making more than $140,853 a year would get a tax break under a multibillion-dollar proposal crafted by Senate leaders to reduce local school property taxes through higher state levies on businesses and consumers.

Those earning less would bear a heavier tax burden on average under the bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee, which leaders said will be considered by the full Senate today.

The rest of the story from San Antonio Express is available here.

PARENTAL CONSENT BILL TEMPORARILY TAKEN DOWN ON POINT OF ORDER

The AP story is here.

OUR NATION'S GOVERNORS ARE RANKED

Our nation's governors are ranked in popularity.

STATESMAN: LEGISLATORS'S LAW FIRM HAS ASBESTOS TIES

By W. Gardner Selby
AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A legislator carrying a proposal limiting lawsuits by people exposed to asbestos started working in February for a law firm that's defended companies against such suits.

The representative works for Beirne, Maynard & Parsons LLP, whose Web site says it has defended makers of products related to asbestos and silica use in numerous mass tort lawsuits.

The story is here.

SENATE TO SCRAP STATEWIDE PROPERTY TAX PROPOSAL

The Austin American Statesman reports that the Senate is scraping the proposal for a statewide property tax.

FOR GAY MEN, AN ATTRACTION TO A DIFFERENT KIND OF SCENT

Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual men respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the gay men respond in the same way as women.

The new research may open the way to studying human pheromones, as well as the biological basis of sexual preference. Pheromones, chemicals emitted by one individual to evoke some behavior in another of the same species, are known to govern sexual activity in animals, but experts differ as to what role, if any, they play in making humans sexually attractive to one another.

The New York Times article is here.

MARIJUANA BECOMES MAIN TARGET OF DRUG WAR

The focus of the drug war in the United States has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide, according to an analysis of federal crime statistics released yesterday.

The study of FBI data by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent.

The Washington Post has the story here.

WHO AUTHORED KENNEDY'S "ASK NOT" SPEECH?

In an age when even a walk across the White House lawn can feel scripted, it is hard to imagine making a fuss over whether a speechwriter helped a president-elect compose his inaugural address. But when the president in question is John F. Kennedy, such questions never cease.

Click here for the full story from The New York Times.

May 9, 2005

REPORTERS' SHIELD BILL ON THE ROPES IN THE SENATE

Senator Ellis has been working closely with my office to pass out a reporters' shield bill to bring Texas in line with a majority of states. The House bill, HB 188, has stalled in committee and much hope was given to the senate to pass out a version. It now looks like that hope, for now, has been dashed.

The AP is reporting on the latest twist on the journalist shield bill.

NEW YORK TIMES TO START A BLOG

Wise move! Rather than curse the darkness, it is better to embrace the light. The latest recommendations out of The New York Times indicates they will be starting a blog.

FUNERAL ORATIONS FOR A FALLEN FRIEND

Lone Star Rising contains a number of remembrances of our friend and colleague, Rep. Joe Moreno.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON'S BLOG

Thanks to Pink Dome for pointing out the newest national blog on the block. It is impressive! Other aren't as excited.

REP. PENA ASKED TO SPEAK TO NATIONAL CONVENTION OF LEGISLATORS ABOUT BLOGGING

All this talk about blog evangelism has got me invited to Lake Tahoe, of all places, to address a national conference of state legislators on the issue of blogging after the session.

The Council of State Governments wants me to preach the gospel of blogging to our nations public servants. It seems as though more and more of our nation's legislators want to join the revolution. How ironic a little blog from one of the poorest areas of the country will serve as an example to the nation.

I got married to my wife in Lake Tahoe and her birthday occurs about the same time as the conference. Now if I could just get the governor to skip on a special session.

Its not just the conference governor, just think of the points I make with the lady back home!

PUSH TO REPLACE VOTING MACHINES SPURS CONFUSION

By Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY

Election officials across the nation are scrambling to meet a Jan. 1 deadline to replace outmoded voting machines with equipment that is supposed to be more accurate. But a controversy over the reliability of computerized voting machines continues to cloud their decisions.

Here is the story. Unfortunately this factor is affecting our own paper trail bill in Texas.

May 8, 2005

WHY DIDN'T PARENTS STOP RAUNCHY TEXAS CHEERING?

By FROMA HARROP

IT'S not the Texas bill against lewd cheerleading that gets to you. It's that a law was needed at all. Am I missing something, or has the culture just gone nuts?

Read the rest here.

BLOGGERS AND ETHICS

The New York Times talks about a favorite subject of bloggers: Ethics.

"Ethics? We ain't got no ethics. We don't need no ethics. I don't have to show you any stinking ethics!"

--Quote from that famous blogger: Gold Hat, as played by Alfonso Bedoya"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)

SAN ANTONIO MAYORAL ELECTION

Here is the Mayors race everyone is watching. The twins must be excited with the results.

CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATS A DYING BREED IN THE SOUTH?

CNN has a good story about the plight of the conservative Democrat in the South. Southern Democrats who were once powerful in Washington because of their party's majority and powerful back home because of their tendency to buck it are diminishing.

HOMETOWN ELECTIONS

Here are some election results from my hometown and the surrounding areas of my district:

EDINBURG
School District, Place 6
Carmen Gonzalez 2,389
Oberlyn Salinas 1,942

School District, Place 7
Ciro Trevino 2,066
Gilbert Mercado 1,829

EDCOUCH-ELSA
School District, Place 1
Daniel Hernandez 1,537
Juan Jose Ybarra 2,160

School District, Place 2
Eloy Garza 1516
Manuel Hernandez 2,190

School District, Place 3
Juan Jose Montemayor 1484
Aaron Gonzalez 2195

Edcouch City Mayor
Ramiro Silva 370
J.R. Calin Guzman 364

Elsa City Mayor
Tony Barco 865
Seovio Castillo 1,032

Elsa City Council, Place 1
Felipe Balli 823
Javier Guerrero 1,044

LA JOYA
City Commission (top 2)
Angie Garza 476
Mari Gonzalez 460
Isidro Casanova 391
Robert Jackson 428

WESALCO
City, Place 1
Jonny Cuellar 1,125
Guadalupe Aguirre Francese 187

School District, Place 6
Joe Vasquez 911
Daniel de los Santos 1,072

MCALLEN
Mayor
Ricardo Godinez 4,225 votes
Richard Cortez 4,063 votes
Othal Brand 3,270 votes

May 6, 2005

FINAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR REP. MORENO

Representative Joe E. Moreno passed away, Friday, May 6, 2005, in an early morning traffic accident.

Visitation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday, May 9, 2005, at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, 1111 Pierce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, telephone number 713/659-1561. A Rosary will follow at 7:00 p.m.

A public viewing starting at 8:30 a.m. will precede the funeral mass scheduled for 10:00 a.m., Tuesday, May 10, 2005, at the Houston Catholic Charismatic Center, 1949 Cullen Boulevard at Interstate 45 South (Gulf Freeway), Houston, Texas 77023, telephone number 713/236-9977.

Interment will take place at 4:00 p.m., Tuesday, May 10, 2005, at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota, Austin, Texas 78702, telephone number 512/463-0605.

Condolences may be sent to Representative Moreno's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Moreno, in care of Earthman Funeral Home, 2420 Fannin, Houston, Texas 77002.

REP. JOE MORENO 1964-2005

May God bless my dear friend and colleague Joe Moreno (D-Houston) who died early this morning.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials says that Joe, who was 40 years old, died around 2 a.m. at the scene of the accident between Ellinger and LaGrange. State Rep. Rafael Anchía, 36, D-Dallas, was taken to Brackenridge Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. Monica Lisa Piñon, 28, the chief of staff for State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, was in the back seat of the truck and also was taken to Brackenridge Hospital with broken bones. She is currently in surgery reportedly is in fair condition.

Here are the stories from various news outlets: Austin American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, The AP, ABC-13.com and from our friend Marc Campos.

What I remember about Joe was his love of politics, gadgets and sports. In fact he and Rep. Anchia supposedly had a friendly wager on the Rockets-Mavericks series, where the loser would have to wear the jersey of the winning team. Rafael is from Dallas and Joe from Houston.

Joe also loved to show me all the latest electronic gadgets. The cell phone I use was recommended to me by Joe. He was always one step ahead of the pack, always looking for the newest item coming out of Japan or Germany.

The second anniversary of the Killer D's is coming up next week. Joe was a good friend and an important participant in those trying times in Ardmore. Joe had shirts printed up and playing cards made to share with the other members. I remember we all spent one very special night at a "rib joint" called Budrows in Ardmore. About 15 reps. gathered for a good meal as we enjoyed the camaraderie of the moment. Joe was the life of the evening.

Joe, we are all going to miss you. Thank you for your service but most especially for your friendship.

And when we gather next week to remember those perilous days in Ardmore, we will all take a moment to remember you brother.

Until we meet again.

May 5, 2005

CAR BURGLARY PRESS CONFERENCE HAS BIG CITY POLICE CALLING ON LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR TO MOVE OUT CAR BURGLARY LEGISLATION

In a press conference surrounded by leaders from Texas' largest city's police forces, businessmen and prosecutors, Chairman Viki Truitt called on Lt. Governor Dewhurst to move out legislation regarding the burglary of an automobile.

Each of the police chiefs, Representatives Truitt, Pena and Anchia signed a letter to be delivered to the Lt. Governor. The letter asks the Lt. Governor to use his influence to move a bill out of the senate.

HB 151 by Truitt and HB 1324 (commonly called HB151-Lite) by Pena are up for consideration in the senate but have not moved forward since their passage.

REP. TRUITT TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON WEST STEPS OF CAPITOL

As noted in the previous story by Mike Hailey, Rep. Viki Truitt has called a press conference in order to exert pressure to bring about the movement of HB151, the burglary of a motor vehicle bill.

The press conference will be at 12:30 on the steps of the capitol.

DISPUTE OVER CAR BURGLARY LEGISLATION

By Mike Hailey, Capitol Inside Editor

After helping break the impasse on workers' compensation reform, Governor Rick Perry might find it necessary to intervene next in a dispute between the Texas House and the Senate on how to curb an alarming increase in car burglaries in major cities around the state.

The incidence of car burglaries and their cost to automobile owners and insurance companies have soared since the Legislature and then-Governor George W. Bush lowered the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor 10 years ago. Without a strong statement from the Legislature this year, Perry could find automobile burglaries to be a high-voltage issue in a potential gubernatorial primary race in 2006.

The Senate so far has rejected two separate approaches that have been offered by the House on how to deal with a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in places like Dallas, which holds the unofficial distinction of car burglary capital of the Lone Star State.

The toughest and most expensive approach is House Bill 151 by State Rep. Vicki Truitt, a Southlake Republican who wants to crack down on car burglars by elevating the punishment for first-time offenses to a state jail felony. Truitt's legislation passed the House on March 30 on a 102-43 vote with the signatures of 22 bipartisan co-sponsors - most from the state's three largest urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley.

But HB 151 ran into an immediate blockade across the rotunda when State Senator John Whitmire declared that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that he chairs would be carefully scrutinizing any legislation that would enhance penalties for crimes for which the state would have to build more prisons. Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, has suggested that it doesn't make sense to boost the punishment for crimes like auto burglary when prosecutors and judges haven't been taking advantage of the maximum penalties on the books now.

On Thursday, Truitt will join police chiefs from police chiefs from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso at a press conference at which they plan to sign a letter asking Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to intervene to help free HB 151 from Whitmire's committee where it has been held without action for more than a month.

The House tried a second approach more than two weeks ago when it voted 144-0 for HB 1324 by State Rep. Aaron Peña, an Edinburg Democrat who's also a co-author of HB 151. Peña's bill, which is known as Burglary of a Motor Vehicle-Lite, would give auto burglars two strikes before making the crime a state jail felony on the third conviction. HB 1324 was referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on April 22 and hasn't had a hearing.

The rash of car burglaries is being blamed now on organized criminal enterprises including drug dealing operations. Juveniles were considered the main culprits when the law was relaxed a decade ago. Whitmire headed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee at the time.

Truitt, who has considerable clout as a member Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team, says car burglaries are responsible for one out of every four crimes in Texas and resulted in losses that topped $204 million last year alone.

But the Senate hasn't been sitting idly while the debate about car burglaries rages. Last week Whitmire responded by announcing that all 30 Senate colleagues had signed on as co-sponsors to SB 1874, which aims to boost enforcement without resorting to the more expensive alternative of more incarceration.

Whitmire's legislation would broaden the jurisdiction of the Texas Auto Theft Prevention Authority to include car break-ins. It would direct $2.5 million from the authority to efforts to help local law enforcement authorities combat the problem of auto burglaries without increasing the punishment as proposed in the House measures.

The Senate legislation's supporters argue that convicted car burglars are receiving jail sentences that are on average about a third or less of the full range of punishment available.

SB 1874 would use funds that the authority is already receiving from a $1 charge on automobile insurance premium renewals. House "Lite" bill would cost the state an estimated $1.8 million during the next biennium and close to $4 million in fiscal 2008 and 2009. Truitt's plan has an estimated price tag of $9 million over the next two years and more than $19 million in subsequent biennium's.

The issue has the potential to be a sizzler of an issue if Perry is challenged in the gubernatorial primary next year by either U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison or Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. It could spill over into a general election race for governor as well. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Bell appears to be leaning toward a race for governor in 2006 - and former Comptroller John Sharp hasn't ruled out a possible gubernatorial bid himself on the Democrats' side of the ledger.

May 4, 2005

BREAKING NEWS: WORKERS' COMP PASSES ON TOWARDS CALENDARS

House Business & Industry committee passed Senate bill 5, the Workers' Compensation bill, by a vote of 8 to 0. Chairman Solomons substituted the House version of Workers' Compensation bill HB7 in lieu of the Senate version. Senate Bill 5 has been sent to the House Calendars committee with the House language.

This all happened behind me as I was sitting at my desk on the floor.