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Primaries uncertain as deliberations continue

 

On Feb. 1, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled that the Texas House, Senate, and U.S. congressional district maps drawn by the state Legislature last spring could take weeks worth of scrutiny in testing for compliance under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Act provides the basis to cure racial discrimination in elections and election-related processes. Section 5 of the Act requires Texas, among other states and smaller jurisdictions, to obtain preclearance of redistricting maps by the D.C. Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, in San Antonio on Feb. 2, the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, indicated it would proceed with the task of revising the three sets of maps, as directed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In January, the high court threw out the San Antonio district court panel’s attempt to revise the Texas Legislature’s enacted maps and ordered the three judges to follow more closely the Legislature’s intent in its next remedial effort.

Furthermore, on Feb. 2, the San Antonio district court instructed plaintiffs (Shannon Perez et al. v. defendants State of Texas et al.) in each of the three redistricting cases to present their arguments in court on Feb. 15. Parties have until Feb. 10 to file their legal briefs.

Although a court order issued in mid-December set April 3 as the date for the Texas primaries, court actions put on the calendar last week could bump them later in April or even May or June.

Special session

Pressure on the governor to call a special session of the Texas Legislature to address shortages in school funding is increasing.

Public education absorbed a multi-billion dollar hit when the Legislature, in its January through May 2011 regular session, made across-the-board spending cuts to address the state’s estimated $20 billion budget deficit for the 2012-13 biennium. Then, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Joe Straus steered fiscally conservative majorities in the Senate and House to approve the use of about $3 billion of the state’s $9 billion Economic Stabilization (also known as “Rainy Day”) Fund. The tapped amount was applied to the public education and health and human services budgets.

Texas State Teachers Association last week urged Gov. Rick Perry to call lawmakers to Austin to appropriate $2.5 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund “to head off another round of harmful cuts in local public school budgets for the 2012-2013 school year.”

TSTA President Rita Haecker, at a Feb. 1 Capitol news conference, pointed out the effects of the governor and the legislative majority’s cutting of $5.4 billion from public education for the current, two-year budget period, including $4 billion in formula funding obligations to school districts and another $1.4 billion in Texas Education Agency grants to districts.

An estimated 32,000 school employees including 12,000 teachers already have lost their jobs, and more than 8,200 elementary classes are larger than the cap set by state law. “Ultimately, these cuts and crowded classrooms harm our students’ learning environment,” Haecker said. TSTA is circulating a petition calling on the governor to call a special session, she added.

A year ago, the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts reported that $7.2 billion of the Rainy Day Fund came from oil and gas production taxes.

Oil, gas figures

These days, oil and gas industry trucks are seen moving up and down roads and highways in many parts of Texas and setting up shop here and there on sites visible from public rights of way.

Many Texas newspapers routinely report this information, but in light of the current call for a special session and the Rainy Day Fund’s tie to oil and gas production taxes, here are figures reported by the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

On Jan. 30, the Texas Railroad Commission reported it issued 1,630 original drilling permits in December 2011. “The December total included 1,480 permits to drill new oil and gas wells, 35 to re-enter existing well bores, and 115 for re-completions. Permits issued in December 2011 included 479 oil, 186 gas, 902 oil and gas, 48 injection, two service, and 13 other permits,” according to the report.

Ed Sterling is director of member services with the Texas Press Association, edsterling@texaspress.com.

 
 
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