State Capital Highlights

House passes voter assistance bill



Legislation to amend the state elections law as to how much a person may assist others in voting was passed by the House on April 26.

Committee Substitute House Bill 148, authored by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite, received a final vote of 93-48, but not before lengthy and contentious debate on the House floor a day earlier.

Opponents of the bill, who were rebuffed in multiple attempts to amend the bill, warned that its passage likely would result in a federal court challenge under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, a part of the law that affects states showing a pattern of discriminatory behavior in election-related practices.

An official state analysis of CSHB 148, in short, asserts: “In certain localities, individuals receive compensation for harvesting mailin ballots or for going door to door collecting eligible ballots and posting them on behalf of voters. Such individuals are compensated on a per-ballot basis. There currently is no limit on the number of times a person may act as a courier for mail-in ballots in a given election, and concerned parties contend that some mail-in ballot harvesters provide unlawful assistance or unlawful witness to voters and may even electioneer in the presence of an active ballot.”

The bill would create misdemeanor offense for a person convicted of compensating an individual for assisting 10 or more voters in prohibited ways, and for engaging in other specific and prohibited voting-related actions.

Travis DA sentenced

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving on April 12 and is serving a 45-day sentence in the Travis County Jail.

Lehmberg’s duties include heading the Public Integrity Unit, a statewide office that handles ethics complaints against elected officials.

On March 8, HB 3575 by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, was filed, proposing to move the Public Integrity Unit out of Travis County’s offices and into the Office of the Attorney General. The bill is scheduled for a House committee hearing on May 1.

Texas joins EPA challenge

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and attorneys general from 11 other states have filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Obama Administration’s enforcement of environmental regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Petitioners claim the U.S Environmental Protection Agency “ignored Congress’ lawmaking role by rewriting federal laws through administrative rulemaking,” Abbott’s office stated in an April 22 news release.

Abbott said the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations “were unlawfully created out of whole cloth and are a massive burden on states and businesses.”

Timothy Cole bill passes HB 166 by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, DSan Antonio, was approved by the House on May 1.

The legislation would establish the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission to review and investigate cases in which an innocent person was convicted and then exonerated or released on writ of habeas corpus.

The nine-member commission would review practices and procedures leading up to wrongful convictions and seek ways to minimize erroneous outcomes. The commission would not consider sentencing issues such as the death penalty and would not intervene in any pending cases, McClendon said.

The bill honors the memory of Timothy Cole, a Texan who in 1999 died in prison, having served 13 years of a 25-year rape sentence before the legal system was satisfied that another individual had committed the crime. Cole received a posthumous pardon from Gov. Perry in 2010.

Presidential center opens

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was formally opened and dedicated at its location on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas on April 25.

The 207,000-square-foot complex will serve as the archive for more than 70 million pages of documents and 80 terabytes of electronic records, in addition to collections of photographs, memorabilia and educational materials .

George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, served from 2001 to 2009, and served as governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000.

West continues rebound

Relief assistance of all kinds poured into the city of West last week.

West has been in a state of disaster emergency since April 17, when a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant tore through the town, killing 14 people and injuring as many as 200 others.

A memorial service for those lost and injured in the explosion was held at Baylor University in Waco on April 25. President Barack Obama spoke, honoring those who rushed to assist and giving solemn regard to “the wounded, the heartbroken, the families who lost their homes and possessions in an instant.”

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