CAPITOL HIGHLIGHTS | Ed Sterling
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi on April 10 ruled the State of Texas has failed to prove that the voter identification law was not written with discriminatory intent and purpose.
The ruling came in response to a charge by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that Judge Ramos re-examine the evidence and her 2015 findings in Veasey et al., plaintiffs, v. Greg Abbott et al., defendants.
Plaintiffs alleged racial discrimination in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 in response to the passage of Senate Bill 14 by the Texas Legislature in 2011. The law changed the list of acceptable forms of identification voters may use at polls and enacted other restrictions. The State of Texas argued that the law was passed not with a discriminatory purpose, but to combat voter fraud at the polls.
Ramos wrote that lawyers for the State of Texas failed to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without a discriminatory purpose. Ramos said SB 14 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that generally prohibits the enforcement of discriminatory voting laws.
Ramos, under a directive issued by the Fifth Circuit last summer, prescribed an interim voting plan for Texas to overcome discriminatory effects in the voter ID law in time for the November 2016 general election. It is up to the Texas Legislature to craft a state law that does not violate the federal voting rights law.
Meanwhile, legislation filed in the current session of the Texas Legislature by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, addresses federal court issues with the voter ID law. Huffman’s SB 5 was passed on March 28 by the Republican-dominated Senate on a 21-10, party-line vote and now awaits a hearing by the House Elections Committee.
Hegar distributes revenue
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 12 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $620.2 million in local sales tax allocations for April.
The amount is 4.9 percent more than in April 2016. These allocations are based on sales made in February by businesses that report tax monthly.
“The cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations,” Hegar said. “The cities of Sugar Land, McAllen, Irving and Grand Prairie saw noticeable decreases.”
In other news, on April 10, Hegar promoted the upcoming “sales tax holiday” on emergency preparation supplies.
From April 22 to April 24, Texans may purchase tax free items such as batteries, fuel containers and flashlights priced at less than $75; hurricane shutters and emergency ladders priced at less than $300; and portable generators priced at less than $3,000.
Seat belt bill advances
The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously in favor of SB 693, legislation that would require all new school buses purchased by a school district to be equipped with three-point seat belts.
The bill would amend the Transportation Code to expand the type of vehicles to which the three-point seat belt requirement applies to include a “multifunction school activity bus” or a “school-chartered bus.”
Multiple school bus accidents in Texas have led to fatalities and caused injuries that could have been prevented if these buses were equipped with three-point seat belts, said the bill’s author, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “The goal of this legislation is to protect children, prevent injuries, and demonstrate that the State of Texas is serious about the safety of school children. We spend a lot of tax dollars educating children to buckle up. Not requiring them to buckle up on the way to school is inconsistent,” she added.
Kubota heads for Texas
Gov. Greg Abbott on April 7 announced Kubota Tractor Corporation North American headquarters is relocating from Torrance, California, to Grapevine, Texas. The new facility is expected to create more than 340 new jobs and generate $51 million in capital investment.
At a ribbon-cutting event, Abbott called Kubota “the model business partner.” Kubota has been one of the largest tractor producers in the United States since 1969.
TxDOT cautions drivers
The Texas Department of Transportation on April 6 reported work zone fatalities in Texas last year increased 27 percent, resulting in 181 lost lives. Of those fatalities, 174 — 96 percent — were motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. The agency asked motorists to take special care when transiting work zones.