Highlights from the Texas Legislature, 2-19-09

AUSTIN, Texas - A special panel of state lawmakers is trying to identify dozens of deadlines and triggers that will enable the state to receive more than $16 billion from the federal economic stimulus plan.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, the committee's chairman, said the panel must get a good grasp of the complex 1,100-page bill. His committee that will deal with the federal government money held its first meeting Thursday.

Texas' share of the stimulus package is divided among education, health and human services, transportation, labor, criminal justice, and housing and infrastructure.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who wrote President Barack Obama this week to accept the money on behalf of Texas, objects to the economic stimulus and has suggested some of the money be rejected even though the state faces a $9 billion revenue gap.

House Speaker Joe Straus said "all scenarios" are possible.



In an attempt to increase children's participation in the national school breakfast program and summer food program, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Thursday he has filed legislation designed to boost the number of kids getting nutritious meals.

One of his proposals would provide school breakfast to all students in school districts where 60 percent or more of children qualify for free or reduced meals.

Another proposal would require a school district participating in the school breakfast program to provide a free breakfast to elementary, middle or junior high school students who are eligible for a reduced-price breakfast. Lucio says eliminating the family copay for children who already qualify for reduced-price breakfast relieves a school's administrative burden and has successfully increased participation by up to 40 percent in other states.

He also wants to require school districts to serve summer meals for 30 consecutive weekdays in districts where at least half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch meals. Current law addresses only districts with at least 60 percent of students who qualify.

"As the economy continues to falter, more and more students must rely on school meals for their primary source of nutrition," Lucio said. "Summer school lunch programs are a viable avenue for these children."



Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott joined U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith on Thursday to applaud state and federal legislative efforts to protect children from predators.

Abbott voiced support for legislation by state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, that would update state sex offender registration laws to reflect technological innovations and communications platforms.

The proposals would require convicted sex offenders to provide their e-mail addresses, mobile telephone numbers, social networking aliases and other electronic identification information to the Department of Public Safety's sex offender registry.



Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, says she may run for governor or U.S. senator. But for now she's concentrating on the legislative session. She said in an interview with The Associated Press that she likely won't announce a decision on her political future until after the session ends in June.

"People are asking, and have been, 'What's the next step for you?' " Van de Putte said. "I can honestly say I don't know."

Over the past few months she's been mentioned as a potential U.S. Senate candidate, and lately talk has turned to a run for governor. Van de Putte said in the past she has declined to run for higher office because she had young children at home, but now the youngest of her six children is away at college.

Van de Putte was elected to the state House in 1990 and the state Senate in 1999. She chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus and has been gaining a higher profile statewide and nationally within her party.



House Democrats unanimously elected Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco on Thursday as the House Democratic leader and elected Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston to be caucus chair.

The caucus selected Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth as caucus chair pro tempore and Rep. Terri Hodge of Dallas as treasurer.

Since 2003, when Republicans took over in the House, the Democratic caucus has grown from 62 members to 74 members. Republicans barely control the chamber 76-74.



"It's just not my style to do stuff half-ass." - Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, explaining that if she decides to run for governor it will be because she thinks she can win. She made the remarks in an Associated Press interview.