AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation reducing the amount of property tax that a school district may impose on the home residence of Texans who are over 65 or disabled.

The legislation, HB 5 by Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, is a one-time tax cut that expires on Sept. 1, 2008.

HB 5 stipulates that the state will make up the revenue school districts will lose to the tax cut, estimated at $15 billion.

The money to make up the lost revenue would come from HB 1, the general appropriations bill, but HB 1 has not passed.

A conference committee of 10 lawmakers must work out a final version of HB 1 agreeable to both the House and Senate.

Conferees are Reps. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and Sens. Steve Ogden, R-College Station; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; John Whitmire, D-Houston; and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Jessica’s Law

goes to conference

The House and Senate did not agree on elements of HB 8, the Jessica’s Law legislation championed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and authored by

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, five joint authors and 23 cosponsors.

Dewhurst named conferees to meet with House members in a conference committee: Sens. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Kim Brimer, R-Arlington; Juan Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. House conferees are Reps. Riddle; Gattis; Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg; Jerry Madden, R-Richardson; and Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont.

“This legislation is one of my highest priorities and I have full confidence that the conferees will craft a final bill that sends a strong message to child predators: Don’t mess with kids in Texas,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst wants tougher penalties for child predators, including the option of the death penalty or life in prison without parole for persons twice convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a child under 14.

Combs offers

limited tax amnesty

State Comptroller Susan Combs announced she is offering a 60-day tax amnesty to businesses with overdue state taxes and those that may be operating without required tax permits.

From June 15 through Aug. 15 taxpayers can come forward, file past- due tax reports and pay their taxes in full, and the comptroller will waive penalty and interest charges normally added to delinquent taxes, according to a news release from Combs’ office.

The tax amnesty applies to taxes and tax reports originally due before April 1, 2007.

“We’re calling the amnesty period ‘Project Fresh Start’ because taxpayers have a unique, limited-time opportunity to clear up unpaid, underreported or overdue taxes without fear of penalty or interest and get a fresh start with the state,” Combs said.

The amnesty does not apply to assessments already identified by the comptroller, taxpayers currently under audit or review, and taxpayers the comptroller has already contacted about an audit or possible tax deficiency, Combs said.

House passes

‘Under God’ bill

The House voted 124-5 to put the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance to the state flag. HB 1034, authored by Rep. Riddle, would change the wording to “I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God and indivisible.” The current language is “I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible.” The Senate has yet to consider the measure.

Before the bill came to a final vote, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, asked Riddle if she would accept an amendment adding the words “and justice for all” to the bill, because if the intent was to mirror the U.S. pledge of allegiance, it would include those additional words.

Riddle declined.

Smoking debate to continue the House spent hours in debate May 4 over HB 9, legislation to ban smoking in all workplaces and public places, authored by Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton.

Debate was interrupted many times by points of order charging that parts of the official analysis of the bill were inaccurate.

Further consideration was postponed to May 9.

Casino gambling

measure fails

A bill to allow casino gambling on the federally recognized Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta Indian reservations narrowly failed in a House vote on May 4.

The vote was a tie at 66-66. One more vote would have sent the measure, HB 10 by Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, to the Senate for consideration.

ED STERLING of the Texas Press Association writes a weekly column for the Empire-Tribune.