SENATE PASSES CENTRAL PROVISIONS OF TAX REFORM PACKAGE
|Senator Steve Ogden and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst talk about the implications of the new tax reform package that passed the Senate Tuesday.|
The Senate gave final approval to House Bills 2, 3, and 4 today, which propose to change the way the state pays for its public school system.
These bills would broaden the business tax, taxing gross receipts of most businesses that make more than $300,00 per year at one percent. They would also modify the sales tax collection on used cars and dedicate the funds from today's bills to lowering the property tax rate.
Senator Steve Ogden, who chairs the Finance Committee, said that the passage of these bills will slash property taxes and address constitutional challenges to the state's public education finance system. "I think this was a historic day in Texas, because by broadening the business tax and lowering the rate, we were able to cut property taxes by the largest amount that anyone ever possibly imagined, and secondly, we now have in place a vehicle to permanently solve the continuous constitutional crisis we've been under ever since I've been in the legislature since the early nineties," he said.
Also today, Houston Senator Rodney Ellis called for an investigation into a murder case that he says may have led to the execution of an innocent man. Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of arson murder in 1992, after fire investigators testified in his trial that they believed the fire that consumed his house in 1991 was set intentionally, killing his three children.
Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004. Ellis says that an independent investigation by forensic experts concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to determine that Willingham was guilty of arson, and that Texas may have executed him wrongly. "I'm deeply troubled by the questions raised about the fairness of our criminal justice system and the prospect that Texas may have executed an innocent person," he said.
|Attorney Barry Scheck and Senator Rodney Ellis call for an investigation into a case of arson murder that may have relied on faulty evidence.|
An independent five-member panel, led by fire investigator John Lentini, determined that the testimony of the fire investigators in the Willingham case was not based on good science or current understanding of the dynamics of a house fire. " These guys [the fire investigators] didn't know what they were talking about. I'm not here to tell you that they got up there and lied, or that they misrepresented anything. They just didn't know," he said. He added that the fire investigation community has only accepted the scientifically based model of structural fire behavior in the last five years.
Ellis will submit a request to the newly formed Texas Forensics Science Commission, which is charged with reviewing forensic evidence in disputed cases, to review not only the facts of the Willingham case, but also the facts behind other capital arson murder cases in Texas. He said that Texas has the highest percentage of arson convictions in the country, with about 12 percent of persons convicted of arson in the US in Texas prisons.
Ellis said that he wants to make sure that no one on death row in the state is actually innocent. "We must make sure that we get to the bottom of the facts of this case, get the facts straight, and if this tragedy did occur, we must take the necessary steps to fix our broken criminal justice system, and ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 4 at 2 p.m.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.