Who knew the Lege was so busy right about now? Well, too little time and too many stories equals one combo blog post, so here goes...
Small businesses are unrelenting in their push to change a state tax that many say has left them gasping, but budget leaders suggested Thursday any revamp can't cost the state tax money, at least, not much.
"We're still a billion short of what we want to raise. We don't want to add to that misery," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, but he added, "We still don't want to do anything that would cause people to have to go out of business."
Changes that don't have a big price tag could be accomplished in the legislative session that begins in January, he said, but not pricier proposals like one by the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas to raise the small-business exemption from $300,000 to at least $1 million.
After a Business Tax Advisory Committee meeting dominated by concerns from small businesses, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden said changes are needed, "but I don't know what those changes are," and he doesn't know whether small businesses will see relief.
"What I expect to happen, because it happened in the last session, is that the bill is going to have to be revenue neutral," said Ogden, R-Bryan, so any reduction in one area will need to be made up somewhere else.
State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, formally requested the opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Sept. 18 -- three days after a California appellate court allowed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's in-state tuition law to move forward.
"We are not giving in-state tuition to everybody in Texas ... so we're in direct violation of U.S. law," Berman said. "We have a lot of students from around the world going to school here in Texas on student visas who are here legally. They either pay out-of-state tuition or international tuition, while if you're here illegally, you pay in-state tuition. We're rewarding people who are violating our laws, and we're penalizing people who are here legally."
Legal experts said the Texas opinion request is premature. Supporters of the state law, passed in 2001, said Berman is playing politics with a case that may never affect Texas.
Michael Olivas, a University of Houston law professor who specializes in higher education and immigration law, filed a letter on Thursday with Abbott's office in response to Berman's request. The letter, signed by Olivas and six immigration lawyers and law professors, said the case is still being litigated in California and any opinion would be premature.
The letter also argued that the Texas statute is constitutional under state and federal law.
"I think Representative Berman is simply making mischief," Olivas said. "Texas would never be bound by anything a state court in California did. They're different statutes. They're different states. They have different residency statutes. And in our system, one state is not bound by what another state does in the state court system."
In Texas, students qualify for in-state tuition if they graduate from a Texas public school and have been in the state at least three years.
A Texas Senate committee this week quietly withdrew recommendations that would require the state's environmental agency to adopt stringent new limits on hazardous air pollutants.
The reversal came four weeks after the Senate's jurisprudence committee unanimously backed the series of nonbinding, but potentially influential, recommendations in advance of the legislative session that begins in January. It also dealt a blow to Mayor Bill White's efforts to clean Houston's air.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican who chairs the committee, said he had second thoughts about the recommendations after hearing from a Senate colleague and business lobbyists who asserted that the committee had overreached.
"We probably shouldn't have done it," Wentworth said of the initial push to require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to limit certain air toxics, adding that the Senate's natural resources committee is the appropriate venue for such deliberations. "It wasn't what we were asked to do."
The reversal also angered Sen. Mario Gallegos, a Houston Democrat and committee member who missed Monday's eight-minute meeting in Austin because of a doctor appointment.
"It raises a big red flag," Gallegos said, adding that he would propose a bill incorporating the recommendations during the legislative session. "We voted unanimously for it, and then all of sudden it's not in our jurisdiction."
Wentworth said he changed his vote because of "procedural concerns, not the substance" of the recommendations. Sen. Chris Harris, an Arlington Republican, also switched his vote.
[Elena] Marks, the mayor's environmental policy director, said she is hopeful that the matter will be heard in the natural resources committee. "It can't be that they belong nowhere," she said, "but that's where we are."