State Capital Highlights

Dewhurst names Senate panel chairs



Key to getting the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature in gear, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, president of the Texas

Senate, on Jan. 17 made public his choices for committee chairs and members of each committee. Senate bills can now be assigned to committees and public hearings set.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, returns as chair of the body’s powerful Finance Committee, whose primary task is to craft the state budget for 2014-2015.

Also named as committee chairs were senators: Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Administration; Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security; John Carona, R-Dallas, Business and Commerce; John Whitmire (dean of the Senate), Criminal Justice; Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, Economic Development; Dan Patrick, R-Houston, Education; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Government Organization; and Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, Health and Human Services.

And, Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, Higher Education; Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Intergovernmental Relations; Royce West, D-Dallas, Jurisprudence; Troy Fraser, R-Marble Falls, Natural Resources; Glen Hegar, R-Katy, Nominations; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Open Government; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, State Affairs; Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, Transportation; and Letitia Van de Putte (Senate president pro tempore), D-San Antonio, Veterans Affairs and Military Installations. Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named House committee chairs and members. In the 2011 session, Straus named them on Feb. 9. In 2009 – his first term as speaker – Straus announced his committee appointments on Feb. 12.

As of the end of the second week of the session (Jan. 18), 748 bills and resolutions had been filed by House members, while Senate members had filed 201 over the same period. To give some idea of what lies ahead in that regard, in the last 140-day regular session, 7,003 House and 3,312 Senate bills and resolutions were filed.

The bill-filing deadline is March 8, the 60th day of the current session. The deadline applies to bills and joint resolutions (proposed constitutional amendments) other than local bills, emergency appropriations and bills that have been declared “emergency” by the governor.

Many gun bills are filed

More than a dozen state lawmakers have filed legislation pertaining to firearms, as reported by many journals.

The bills deal with who, what, when, where and how a handgun can be carried, licensing procedures, permit fees, renewals and more.

One of the bills, SB 182 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Waco, sets forth conditions under which a concealed handgun license holder may “carry” on land and buildings owned or leased by an institution of higher education.

In other news, a rally at the state Capitol on Jan. 19 against President Obama’s recent gun control proposals drew several hundred people.

Year ends with job gains

December was the fourth straight month that the unemployment rate in Texas has declined, the Texas Workforce Commission reported on Jan. 18.

Texas’ unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in December, down from 6.2 percent in November and from 7.4 percent a year ago, the agency’s Chairman Andres Alcantar said. Also, private sector employers in Texas added 257,400 jobs since December 2011 for an annual growth rate of 2.9 percent.

“In December, we saw annual growth in 10 major industries, for an overall annual growth of 2.5 percent in Texas,” Alcantar said. “With those positive strides and 11,800 private sector jobs added in the past month, 2012 was a strong year for Texas and my hope is that the Texas economy will build on that success in 2013.”

Tom Pauken, the agency’s commissioner representing employers, said, “Texas is leading the way in helping to make the United States energy independent. Our robust energy sector not only is creating good paying jobs for many Texans in that industry but also is spurring job growth in many other industries.”

Travis letter to head home

William Barret Travis’s “Victory or Death” letter written on Feb. 24, 1836 will be returned to the Alamo on Feb. 22 for a grand celebration at Alamo Plaza.

This will be the first time the letter — which resides at the the Texas State Library and Archives in Austin — has been at the Alamo since it left with a courier on horseback under the cover of darkness during the famous 13-day siege in 1836, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Jan. 16. Visitors will be asked to be silent and respectful when viewing the document “from a safe distance” and no flash photography will be allowed.

Alamo visitors will be able to view the letter Feb. 23 through March 7.

ED STERLING the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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