Vol 29, Issue 44 Print Issue

Newsreel: Racing, With and Without Wheels

This week in the Texas Weekly Newsreel: George P. Bush announces he will run for something, Bryan Hughes steps up his run for House speaker, F1 is running residents out of Austin this weekend and three candidates are running for the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos' seat in Houston — so far.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Observers got their first taste of what the 2013 legislative session might bring when lawmakers started pre-filing bills on Monday. More than 250 bills were submitted on the first day of pre-filing, with the majority focusing on education, civil and criminal law, and health and human services related matters. Only one bill related to immigration was filed, surprising session watchers, who’ve in the past seen legislators tripping over themselves to file multiple bills on the matter. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, won the distinction of filing the most bills, with a total of 30.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents met to consider a new plan to build a $100 million office building in downtown Austin. The details were released as a proposal for the regents’ consideration, and would consolidate the system’s five existing buildings into one 16-story building that would house more than 700 employees. Officials defended the plan, reminding critics that their current buildings are aging and will incur maintenance costs over the years that would outpace spending on the proposed building. 

The road with the fastest speed limit in the nation saw its first fatality after being open less than a month. Texas 130, the new toll road connecting south Austin to Interstate 10 in Seguin, has a speed limit of 85 mph. Officials have not yet determined whether speed was a factor in the crash that killed the driver, who was from Lockhart. 

The Lance Armstrong Foundation filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office to officially change its name to the Livestrong Foundation, as it’s been known informally for years. Since the latest action against Armstrong resulted in the stripping of his Tour de France titles, the foundation has been working to distance itself from the doping charges that sparked the charges against Armstrong. Armstrong resigned as chairman in October but remained on the board. But this week, Livestrong chairman Jeff Garvey announced that Armstrong had resigned from the foundation.

Texas’ online petition to secede from the union failed to draw support from Gov. Rick Perry. When questioned about the new petition filed on the WeThePeople website and signed by more than 64,000 people, Perry only commented that people were free to do what they wanted to do. The Obama administration has promised to review all petitions on the website that gather more than 25,000 signatures. Of the 30 secession petitions filed recently, only Texas and Louisiana have met that threshold.

As the number of students with limited English proficiency has skyrocketed in Texas the last several years, state funding for English language programs has been slashed. In just one decade, the number of students needing additional help with English increased by 38.4 percent compared with an overall growth rate of 17.4 percent in the general population. The state is being sued for its funding of schools, and bilingual education programs have suffered cuts to funding just when the need for them is outpacing other programs. English-learning students have substandard results on standardized testing and a disproportionate level of dropouts. So far, the state has said in response that school districts are not spending their money wisely.

It seems that no one is happy with the bill passed last year regarding breeding of cats and dogs. One group has come forward to sue the state, claiming the law violates their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Responsible Pet Breeders Association filed suit in Austin, claiming the law subjects them to unreasonable search and seizure and to violations of due process. The group claims unfairness in many aspects of the law, including the exemption passed for dogs bred for hunting and herding. Meanwhile, the Texas Humane Legislation Network claims the law didn’t go far enough, and should have included more protections for animals, including bigger and unstacked cages and flooring included in those cages. 

A bill passed last year regulating the breeding of cats and dogs has found few fans. One group has come forward to sue the state, claiming the law violates their Fifth and 14th Amendment rights. The Responsible Pet Breeders Association filed suit in Austin, claiming the law subjects people to unreasonable search and seizure and to violations of due process. The group claims unfairness in many aspects of the law, including the exemption passed for dogs bred for hunting and herding. Meanwhile, the Texas Humane Legislation Network claims the law didn’t go far enough, and should have included more protections for animals, including bigger and unstacked cages and flooring included in those cages. 

Most universities opposed the Legislature’s attempt during the last session to require them to allow holders of concealed handgun licenses to carry guns on campus. But Texas A&M has been debating the issue, and its student government has endorsed the idea, voting on a resolution after debating it for an extended period. President John Claybrook has five days to sign or veto the resolution, but announced he is still undecided. The Aggie student population is not entirely on board with the idea; in a poll conducted in the spring, 57 percent of students and faculty were against the idea. The idea failed to result in a passage of a law in the last session, but is widely expected to be introduced again.

Political People and their Moves

Senior district judge John J. Specia Jr., a founding member and jurist in residence for the Supreme Court Children’s Commission, has been named commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Back in the saddle: Gov. Rick Perry is holding a fundraiser at a sushi bar in Mission later this month, but the invite doesn’t say he’s running for anything. It’s a “reception honoring” the state’s chief executive, with suggested contributions ranging from “friend” at $1,000, to “Patron” at $10,000. 

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is off to the UK this weekend — after the F1 races in Austin are over — for an economic development trip with a number of local companies. The trip was announced by the Brits, who invited him and the companies to talk about energy and trade. He’ll be back before the turkey is carved.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was elected minority whip in the Senate, making him the GOP caucus’ number two officer behind Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And they also elevated Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas, naming him the vice chairman of grassroots for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s political arm in that chamber.

Craig Chick and Adam Goldman have started a new lobby practice. Chick had been an advisor to House Speaker Joe Straus; Goldman was most recently a consultant with Austin-based Public Strategies. 

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, announced she’ll run for an open Senate seat that had belonged to fellow Democrat Mario Gallegos, and that she’s getting in with the support of his family. That race will split the city’s Democratic delegation in Austin. Alvarado has Rodney Ellis, Borris Miles, Harold Dutton and Senfronia Thompson in her camp. Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia claims Ana Hernandez Luna, Jessica Farrar, Garnet Coleman, and Armando Walle. No election date has been set; the governor will call that after this month’s votes have been officially canvassed. 

Kenneth Shine, the University of Texas System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, announced his plans to retire from his post in early 2013.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Wesley Ward of Houston as judge of the 234th Judicial District Court in Harris County. Ward is an attorney and certified public accountant.

Chris Elam, the former deputy executive director of the Texas Republican Party, will serve as campaign manager for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's 2104 bid for lite guv.

Kwame Walker has joined McGuireWoods Consulting as a vice president for state government relations. Walker has spent the past 13 years working as a legislative consultant representing clients like the city of Dallas before the state Legislature.

Sen.-elect Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, named Bonnie Bruce as her chief of staff. Bruce previously worked for Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; he didn't seek reelection this year.

Republican consultant John Colyandro pleaded guilty to charges of accepting illegal campaign contributions during the 2002 elections, bringing to an end his part of the Tom DeLay money-laundering criminal prosecution. Colyandro and others were accused of illegally moving corporate money into use for political spending where that kind of money isn’t allowed. He was sentenced to a year of deferred adjudication and fined $8,000.