….. -” ****zo o k,* Rep. Joe Allen in the heat of battle. 7 Highways It’s hard for a legislator to vote against highways, and this session not many did. While highway dept. officials toted around loose-leaf binders of data on road work they claimed was “backlogged” in each legislative district, highway lobbyists whipped up local enthusiasm for more concrete. With Briscoe, Clayton and big money behind the highway bill, there was no doubt that a lot of state money was going to be devoted to it; the only question was how much. Briscoe wanted to line up highway money fast, before any other spending bill could even be considered. His unseemly haste rankled many members. As it happened, the first key vote on highways in the House was on Dan Kubiak’s motion to postpone consideration of the bill until the general state budget had been approved, so legislators would have some idea of how much money’ was available before they spent it all. But Kubiak’s motion was tabled 86 to 55, and the bill picked up speed from there. Those voting with Kubiak to postpone get a star. 8 Mass transit Briscoe’s highway bill, a direct affront to Jimmy, Carter’s national energy plan, doesn’t even consider energy-efficient mass transit systems. Rep. Gonzalo Barrientos tried to increase state options with an amendment to allow not require, but allow the highway department to spend some part of its boodle on mass transit. It was all Barrientos could do to scramble out of the way, as the highway forces rolled over his amendment 90 to 51. Stars go to those who voted with Barrientos. 9 Abortion Rep. Tim Von Dohlen hauled out the abortion issue this session, much to the chagrin of many of his House colleagues who would have preferred to take a powder on this one. HB 1875 defined abortion as murder except when pregnancy termination has been deemed “necessary” by an attending physician who will face first-degree felony murder charges if later found mistaken. The vagueness of the bill probably rendered it unconstitutional from the start, but the House gave it a ride. Fortunately, the bill never got out of committee in the Senate. All those who cast “no” votes get a star. 10 Big Bend Ranch State land commissioner Bob Armstrong wanted only two-tenths of one percent of the state’s $3 billion surplus to buy a 212,000-acre ranch for a public park. He didn’t get it. The ranch, available to the state at a bargain price of $37 an acre, is a scenic and biological wonder, fronting the Rio Grande for 28 miles in Big Bend country. Rep. Sarah Weddington’s motion to appropriate $4 million for buying the ranch lost, 85 votes to 58. Those who voted in favor of the motion get a star. 11 Taxing farmers Like its Senate counterpart, HB 22 proposed to assess taxes on a farm’s productive value, rather than its ofteninflated market value. Since the bill was meant to help family farmers, Rep. John Bryant introduced an amendment that would prevent large, non-farm corporations and land speculators from getting in on the action. His amendment provided that only natural persons and family corporations were eligible for the productivity assessment, and that the land in question actually had to be used for farming or ranching. Rep. Bill Sullivant moved to table Bryant’s amendment, but despite the lobbying of corporate interests, a majority in the House stood with the family farm, rebuffing Sullivant 79 to 64. This good work was later undone when timber interests managed to have the anticorporate provision deleted by the Senate-House conference committee. The House then rejected the entire bill. A star for everyone who supported Bryant. 12 County ordinances HB 791 would have given a county the authority to pass ordinances provided a majority of voters in the county okayed the new powers for their commissioners. County commissioners courts so empowered would have been able to regulate everything from massage parlors to auto salvage yards. The realtor lobby, however, didn’t warm to the idea that counties might hinder some of their development schemes. Rep. Stan Schleuter lent the realtors a helping hand with his amendment to delete the general ordinancemaking authority from HB 791, a vote he won 72 to 66. The bill then passed the House, but ultimately died in the Senate, leaving Texas counties no legal instruments to control growth or provide public services to unincorporated areas. Give everyone who voted against Schleuter’s amendment a star. 13 School finance Few issues are as confusing and politically complex as school financing. Involved is the collection and divvying up of school tax revenues, and no legislator wants to have to tell his constituents that they’ll receive less school aid or be taxed more than people in other districts. The way to pass a school finance bill is to strike a balance that satisfies rural, urban, rich and poor districts; those who want tax relief, and those who want more state aid for poor schools. Speaker Clayton promised rural legislators that he’d work for an amendment to the state tax code that would allow farmland to be assessed at its productive value rather than its higher market price. The change was needed, but urban legislators complained that it would lead to an overall reduction in revenues for aid to poorer city school districts. Rep. Luther Jones stepped into the breach with a proposal that school taxes be assessed on the average of the market and productive values of farmland and to channel the resulting revenue difference into poor school districts. It might have worked, and it almost passed, but opponents tabled the Jones amendment 80 to 66. School finance legislation deteriorated from there. Legislators will try again in July, when Governor Briscoe’s special session convenes. Those who voted with Jones get a star.
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