AUSTIN - Texas voters approved Senate Joint Resolution 13 in the May 12 election.

Unofficial results available May 13 revealed the statewide turnout was only 7 percent, with 88 percent of the voters casting ballots in favor of the resolution.

SJR 13 amends the state constitution to authorize the Legislature to adjust the public school ad valorem tax or tax rates for taxpayers who are aged 65 or older, or are disabled, and who are owners of an exempted homestead.

The change benefits older or disabled taxpayers who did not receive tax relief as a result of the school tax rate reduction passed a year ago in the 79th Legislature, 3rd called session.

Guv threatens

special session

The bill the Texas House and Senate passed enacting a two-year moratorium on private toll road projects landed on Gov. Rick Perry's desk May 7.

The legislation, HB 1892 authored by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and sponsored by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, puts Perry's Trans Texas Corridor on ice but grants powers to certain county and regional tollway authorities. Those entities would have first option in building projects within their jurisdictions.

Perry said the moratorium is not what bothers him the most about the bill.

The big issues, he said, are potential loss of federal funding and the wording of the bill, which he said would adversely affect the Texas Department of Transportation's contracting and oversight responsibilities. A letter from the Federal Highway Administration raises those questions.

Perry suggested lawmakers reconsider and rework the bill before the end of the current session. He hinted that the alternative to that would be a veto and then a special session.

House passes

TYC reform bill

The House on May 7 tentatively approved legislation to overhaul the Texas Youth Commission, which earlier this year was put in conservatorship after reports surfaced of sexual abuse of inmates and fiscal mismanagement at the agency.

SB 103 by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is crafted to enhance transparency of its operations, prosecute offenses committed within the agency, and improve the hiring practices of guards.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said, "The abuse and poor performance identified at the TYC cannot be allowed to continue. This bill reforms the structure, management and oversight of the commission to provide true rehabilitation, not just the punitive warehousing that characterizes the system today."

In related news, Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, was named ombudsman for the TYC, contingent on passage of SB 103. His job will be to evaluate and secure youths' rights.

Agency would send

border funds

The House on May 7 passed its version of the border security bill.

HB 13 by Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, creates a border security council to oversee distribution of more than $100 million to border law enforcement agencies.

Swinford's bill encourages cities and counties to cooperate with federal agencies in immigration matters.

The bill also provides for a study to evaluate expedited deportation of illegal immigrants held in state jails and prisons for criminal offenses.

Speaker Tom Craddick said, "This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that we will pass this session as it affects the safety of every citizen of this state and country."

The bill moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Bill ties teacher

raise to tax relief

Also moving to the Senate for further consideration is HB 2785, legislation reducing the school property tax rate to 91 cents per $100 valuation in the 2008-2009 biennium.

An amendment to HB 2785 by Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, prevents the state from reducing property taxes further without giving school districts and open-enrollment charter schools an amount equivalent to $6,000 for every full-time teacher, librarian and counselor.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said Dunnam's amendment "tacks on $4.4 billion in other costs which would likely gut tax relief that we promised Texans last year."