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    Halfway-House Bill Still on Table

    BY Gary Susswein, Gaiutra Bahadur, Dave McNeely
    02/15/2001
    by Gary Susswein, Gaiutra Bahadur, Dave McNeely on 2/15/01.

    Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' attempt to keep halfway houses for sex offenders at least 1,000 feet from schools and day-care centers stalled briefly Wednesday. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee left the bill pending after several senators expressed concerns that halfway houses in their districts would be forced to close if Senate Bill 107 becomes law. The committee is expected to look for a compromise . Barrientos filed Senate Bill 107 after it was discovered last year that state parole officials had contracted with a private company to keep sex offenders, the majority of them convicted of sex crimes against children, in a halfway house across from a Del Valle school. State parole officials usually require facilities for sex offenders to be at least 500 feet but had waived that requirement. -- Laylan Copelin

    Increase in gas tax proposed

    A pair of lawmakers want to raise the state's gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon in order to build and maintain more highways.

    House Bill 1682 would increase the state tax on gasoline to 20 cents from 15 cents and would allocate 75 percent of the new tax revenue to roads and send most of the rest to schools. Its sponsors estimate it will raise close to $500 million a year in new highway money.

    "We know we have dire needs on the roads and highways, and it takes money to fix it, so let's step up to the plate," said House Financial Institutions Committee chairman Kip Averitt, R- McGregor, who filed the bill with Rep. Clyde Alexander, D-Athens and chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

    -- Gary Susswein

    Perry, Ratliff discuss budget

    The state's top two officials met for 45 minutes Wednesday to "get on the same page" in making budget projections for 2002- 03.

    Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff sifted through disparate budget numbers offered by agency officials and the legislative budget board.

    "We're getting close," Ratliff said.

    The state likely will spend $108 billion in 2002- 03 to maintain services.

    Ratliff has said the state might need to consider drawing as much as $1 billion from its so-called rainy day fund to pay for programs, although Perry has resisted that idea.

    "I don't think there were any conclusions reached," Ratliff said. "He didn't say no, but I think he's very reluctant to it."

    -- Gary Susswein

    Exercise for schoolchildren

    A bill by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would require that elementary students receive some form of physical activity every day as part of their curriculum.

    "Learning to take care of our bodies is as fundamental as reading and writing," Nelson said at a Wednesday news conference.

    -- Gaiutra Bahadur

    Tried-and-true Democrat

    Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, who was Republican Gov. Rick Perry's first appointment, has been elected and re-elected many times to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat from his strongly Democratic hometown of Laredo.

    But since he took a job in a Republican administration, there has been speculation that he would switch parties and run statewide as a Republican.

    So, does Cuellar still consider himself a Democrat?

    "I sure do," he shot back.

    Any thoughts of switching parties?

    "No sir," Cuellar quickly answered.

    Is that forever? Till death do us part?

    "Well, hopefully death will be a long time in the future, so I will just answer it that way," Cuellar said with a smile.

    -- Dave McNeely

    Today

    The House convenes at 10 a.m. The session is available live on the Internet via www.house.state.tx.us or on Austin cable Channel 17.

    The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. The session is available live on the Internet via www.senate.state.tx.us or on Austin cable Channel 18.

    Also:

    A reading of the script "Barbara Jordan: One Voice" is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Senate chamber. Jordan was a Texas senator and the first African American to preside as governor for the day in Texas.

    Valentine of the Day

    'Roses are red, violets are blue, we believe teachers deserve health insurance, too/Since health insurance isn't offered to only one-half of 1 percent, It seems we can solve this without state dollars being spent.'

    Excerpt of a Valentine sent to the House from Texas Citizens for a Sound
    Economy