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May 13, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 938, the hate crimes legislation, is in negotiations. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee postponed their meeting on the issue to work on some language in the bill. Committee Chair Ken Armbrister of Victoria says they are trying to create a tool prosecutors can work with. Armbrister says it is a work in progress but the clock is ticking, "If at 6:30 it's not there, I don't know if it's ever going to be there to tell you the truth." The bill, named for James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, enhances the penalties for crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual preference.

Cars and trucks traveling on U.S. and Texas state highways would have the same speed limit in areas outside of cities. Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins sponsored CSHB 676. Bivins says trucks speeding up may actually make Texas roads safer, "The problem is when you have trucks going at a slower speed and cars trying to get around them, it causes a safety problem. That was the reason for the bill and I believe it will improve safety on our state's highways." The bill does not include farm and ranch roads. The Senate approved an amendment allowing a county commissioners court to ask the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to lower speed limits on certain farm or ranch to market roads.

The Senate met as the Committee of the Whole today, to clarify the rules about who would replace the vacancies in the offices of governor and the lt. governor. A possible presidential run by Governor George W. Bush prompted the action. Senate members agreed with the House of Representatives, that if the governor leaves permanently, the lt. governor would take over. Senators would then meet within 30 days to elect one of their own to serve as acting lt. governor. That senator would perform the duties of both senator and lt. governor. Texas voters will have the final say on House Joint Resolution (HJR) 44, which will appear on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in November.

The Legislature will have $807 million more available to appropriate for the next two years, with $631 million in revised revenues and $176 million in cash balance. Comptroller Carole Keaton Rylander announced the new budget surplus estimate today. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos appeared on CNN soon after the announcement saying the extra money should be spent on Texas children, especially for education. Where to spend the surplus has been a big question since the beginning of the session. As the 76th Legislature begins winding down, many of the proposals waiting for a piece of the surplus are still being considered.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 14, at 10:00 a.m.

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