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Postmaster: If undeliverable, send Form 3579 to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701 POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE V SMOOTHING EDGEWOODS? Maybe hackles have been worn down by three trips to the Texas Supreme Court, and the sometimes contradictory volumes the Supremes have produced in their attempts to force the Legislature to equalize public-school resources across the state, but there was little dismissal out-of-hand of Gov. Ann Richards’ proposal to pool all business and mineral property in the state with a statewide property tax. Richards calculated the plan would produce 99 percent equity in school funding. Residential and agricultural property would still provide local enrichment for the 1,050 local school districts. The statewide property tax would require a state constitutional amendment, which a few weeks ago would have been dismissed, but the Dallas Morning News, not normally an ally of equity, said the governor’s plan “has the potential for providing the equity and efficiency that the Texas Supreme Court has ordered for public schools.” Richards, who said the special session likely will be called for May 11, criticized a plan by Sen. Carl Parker to make the current unconstitutional system of pooling county resources constitutional by submitting it to voters. Parker’s plan has the support of an advisory panel of school superintendents. Another plan floated by Republican legislators would make the former inequitable system constitutional by simply deleting the equity provision in the constitution. At this point, it appears none of the groups have the two-thirds majority needed to propose a constitutional amendment. Other possibilities include a state income tax, value-added tax or massive school district consolidation. V ONE MORE CHANCE. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals spared the state a potentially ghastly mistake even by Texas criminal justice standards when it granted a stay of execution to Leonel Torres Herrera, who was convicted of killing a Los Fresnos police officer and a state trooper, although new evidence suggests he may be innocent of the 1981 crimes. The state court on a 5-3 vote delayed the execution while the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the case. Prosecutors and the Texas Attorney General argued that the execution should go as scheduled. April 15 because the conviction previously was upheld by appeals courts. They dismiss evidence that Herrera’s brother, who later was killed in a quarrel, confessed the crime to his attorney a former district judge and his son. V WHAT’S AN AQUI FER? West Texas property owners, who have jealously guarded their traditional right to pump as much water as their wells would produce, reacted with predictable outrage when the Texas Water Commission declared that the Edwards Aquifer actually is an underground river, subject to state regulation. The commission, which has been unable to broker an agreement between competing water interests, may have headed off more drastic intervention by federal authorities; Attorney General Dan Morales, who backed off a previous ruling that the commission has authority to regulate underground water, has challenged a claim that the Endangered Species Act gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to regulate the aquifer, which not only is the source of water for 1.5 million South Texans, but also supplies Comal Springs in New Braunfels, the home of an endangered species of fish. LOW-LEVEL OUTRAGE. West Texans face more fights over proposals to bury low-level nuclear waste in their back yards. After a state district judge sided with El Paso and Hudspeth counties and blocked a proposal to dump radioactive waste near Fort Hancock, the Legislature outlined a site in Hudspeth County, 30 miles away. Most of the waste is created at the South Texas Nuclear Plant near Bay City and Comanche Peak near Glen Rose, but the Legislature in 1991 also allowed the state to accept radioactive waste from other states. A public hearing is set for April 21 in Sierra Blanca; the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority already is negotiating to buy. a 16,000-acre ranch for the dump. The Texas Water Commission also is considering a pro posed hazardous waste disposal site near Dryden in Terrell County and a dump near Spofford in Kinney County for radioactive wastesfrom oil drilling. All three sites are within 20 miles of the Rio Grande, which has attracted the concern of Mexican authorities with their new environmental consciousness. On March 21 hundreds of Mexicans and Texans blocked bridge traffic Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna, Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras and El Paso and Ciudad Juarez to protest the plans to make the border a dumping ground. V JUDGES, SAVE THAT TREE. A Dallas lawyer is asking the Texas Supreme Court to reverse a ruling that requires entire trial transcripts to accompany virtually any appeal. In his brief, Rodney Elkins noted that in 1990 the court encouraged the use of recycled paper, but then changed a rule that since 1941 had allowed submission of the portion of the transcript that was pertinent to the appeal. The new rule may require submissions of thousands of unnecessary pages, at extra expense to the litigants, Elkins wrote in the request to review the decision, which the Supreme Court denied March 25. Elkins, who also noted an estimate that the average lawyer generates one ton of paper each year, has filed a motion for rehearing and is seeking supporting briefs from environmental and other interested groups. V SPEAKER RACE NARROWS. With the runoffs behind us, the race for next House Speaker appears to have narrowed to three Democrats: Pete Laney, Jim Rudd and David Cain. Laney, a Hale Center farmer and House State Affairs chair, whose committee has handled some of the most controversial legis lation of the past decade, is not seen as ideo logical, is well-liked by House members and is the early favorite, but a Speaker’s race is among the most complex and surreptitious of cam paigns. Rudd, a Brownfield lawyer, has a rep utation as an even-handed Appropriations chair during some of the state’s toughest budget times, Continued on pg. 22 24 APRIL 24, 1992