AUSTIN — When the 82nd Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 11, the first big task for the House of Representatives will be to elect a speaker.

Incumbent Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced early for a second consecutive term, but a more conservative Republican movement is emerging with designs on the powerful office.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Marshall, on Nov. 10 announced he had withdrawn the pledge of support he had given to Straus.

 Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, on Nov. 11 filed to run for speaker and Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Rockwall, withdrew her pledge to Straus and said she would vote for Paxton.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, on Oct. 13 filed the necessary paperwork to run for speaker, and Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, in June made known his intention to oust Straus.

The current standing committee chairs that Straus named last session have signaled their support of him in the 2011 Legislature, but in question are the votes of the new crop of members-elect.

It takes a simple majority of 76 votes to win the speakership in the 150-seat House. So if Straus is to repeat, he needs 25 Republicans plus all of the Democrats to vote for him.

The Nov. 2 election increased the GOP’s advantage in the Texas House by 22 seats, giving them to 99 seats over the Democrats’ 51.

One of those Democratic seats came via a recount conducted last week, giving incumbent Austin House District 48 Rep. Donna Howard a razor-thin margin over Republican challenger Dan Neill.

If Neill had won the recount, the Republican Party would have had a super majority of 100 seats, which would have smoothed the way for the GOP to pass more of its legislation and block Democrats’ bills on party-line votes.

Another YFZ rancher sentenced

A Tom Green County jury on Nov. 9 sentenced Keith William Dutson Jr. of Eldorado to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine for sexual assault of a child, a second-degree felony in the state of Texas.

He was the 12th YFZ Ranch-related defendant have been indicted on sexual assault of a child, bigamy or other charges. Seven defendants have been convicted on felony charges and sentenced to prison. The other five defendants are awaiting trial.

In April 2009, state, federal and local law enforcement personnel entered the ranch. More than 400 women and children were transported to alternative living arrangements.

Since then, many ranch residents have returned but prosecutions handled by the Office of the Texas Attorney General continue in cooperation with San Angelo-based 51st Judicial District Attorney Steve Lupton.

Bus retrofit funding now available

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in late October welcomed grant applications to have eligible diesel-powered school buses retrofitted with emissions-reduction gear.

About $9 million in grant money was made available to public and charter schools operating one or more diesel-powered school buses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows a retrofit costs between $5,000 and $10,000 per bus. An emissions-reducing kit takes about 6 to 8 hours to install.

A simple calculation suggests 900 to 1,800 buses could be retrofit with the available grant money.

Ag chief lauds gas pump verdict

Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples applauded a Harris County jury’s handing down of a $30 million verdict against Petroleum Wholesale L.P.

The ruling stems from Operation Spotlight, a 2008 investigation led by the Texas Department of Agriculture that revealed pumps at the company’s SunMart service stations were set to dispense less gasoline than consumers were paying for.

Long-time lawmaker laid to rest

State Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, who served as a Texas House member from 1983 until his death, died of a heart attack in Austin on Nov. 4. He was 67.

Burial was in the Texas State Cemetery on Nov. 9. More than 1,000 people attended the funeral.

A special election will be held to fill the seat for House Dist. 44, which includes Wilson, Guadalupe and Gonzales counties. Three people have filed as candidates.

Legislators early-file bills

Nov. 8 was the first day legislators could file bills in advance of the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature.

House members got off to a quick start, filing 213 bills on Nov. 8 and Senate members filed 181 bills out the gate.

In 2009’s 81st session of the Legislature, House and Senate members combined to file a total of 7,419 bills, not including resolutions. Of those, 1,459 passed.