AUSTIN - Back in June, Gov. Rick Perry used the line-item veto to kill funding passed by the Texas House and Senate that would have continued paying for health benefits of most people who work at community colleges.

Perry's veto prompted criticism from community college employees, state lawmakers, students and students' families who faced tuition and fee increases to make up for the loss in funding.

On Oct. 23, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick announced an agreement to allocate $99 million for the state's share of health benefits, a one-time $55 million transitional payment for fiscal year 2009, and the development of an incentive funding program for community colleges.

As part of the agreement, the governor's office said, community colleges are asked to rescind tuition, fee or tax increases adopted for fiscal year 2008 and any tuition, fee or tax increases under consideration for fiscal year 2009 meant to offset the original veto.

Court hears Capitol tape case

Closed-circuit security cameras record human activity in the halls of the state Capitol. Texas' 3rd Court of Appeals heard arguments in the Texas Observer's attempt to get access to videotape recordings of activity in the back hallway outside the House Chamber on May 23, 2005. The Texas Observer, a biweekly investigative journal based in Austin, filed a request with the Texas Department of Public Safety to view the tapes under the Texas Public Information Act, a law that makes most government documents available to all citizens.

The Texas Observer argues that it would be in the public's interest to release the tapes, but the DPS has consistently refused, saying that releasing them would compromise Capitol security.

What makes May 23, 2005, so interesting? It is the day Republican activist and campaign donor James Leininger of San Antonio allegedly met with lawmakers in the hallway when a vote on legislation to allow a pilot school voucher program was up for a vote. The Texas Observer wants to see if the tapes reveal interaction between Leininger and lawmakers.

Now, after many months in the legal process, the matter may take the 3rd Court of Appeals' three-judge panel days, weeks or months to rule on the matter.

Agency to reduce license fees

The Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation voted to reduce 21 licensing and registration fees. Before lower fees can take effect, agency rules will have to be amended, and that takes time. Fee reductions range from 8 percent to as high as 80 percent and are projected to exceed $1.3 million per year, the agency said. Among proposed reductions:

Barber licenses, from $90 every two years to $70;

Master electrician and master sign electrician licenses, from $65 annually to $50;

Journeyman electrician and journeyman sign electrician licenses, from $40 annually to $35;

Elevator contractor licenses, from $300 annually to $115;

Combative sports contestant licenses, from $30 annually to $20;

Air-conditioning contractor, initial license from $130 annually to $115 and renewal license from $80 to $65.

Cosmetology revised or duplicate license, from $53 annually to $25.

Austin receives Swiss trains

Austin's Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority accepted delivery of two rail cars shipped in pieces from Switzerland. Four more cars are on order.

“MetroRail is scheduled to begin in about a year, carrying passengers from Leander, north of Austin, to downtown Austin, with a few stops in between.

What's more, Austin Mayor Will Wynn is proposing a separate project - a light rail line - to connect Austin Bergstrom airport, downtown Austin, the University of Texas, and other stops. He wants to make it a November 2008 ballot issue.

Early voters have deadline

Registered voters can take advantage of early voting through Nov. 2. Computer users can easily determine polling locations and hours, by going to the Secretary of State's Web site, www.sos.state.tx.us.