The swirling force of Texas politics

Capitol Almanac: Voting Maps, Fracturing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    flickr/tex1sam

    The following is a list of highlights from the state legislature from Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

    Proposed Voting Maps

    The Texas Senate on Wednesday released a proposed map of new voting districts for the 31-member chamber, prompting complaints from some Democrats that the new districts would be unfair to them.

    The Legislature draws new maps every 10 years after the release of updated census information. The procedure typically becomes a partisan fight and a personal battle between incumbent lawmakers trying to hold onto their districts and avoid getting forced into voting areas dominated by the rival party. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the Senate.

    Key changes targeted Democrats Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.

    Davis' new district would push her deeper into Republican voter territory, stripping it of Hispanic and black voters. Davis defeated Republican Ken Brimer in 2008.

    In a letter to Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, Davis said the map would violate minority protections in the federal Voting Rights Act.

    Seliger said he believes the map is "fair and legal" and would withstand any court challenge.

    "It's not whether you go to court, it's whether your work will stand up in court," Seliger said.

    Zaffirini's district would stretch from Laredo, around the outskirts of San Antonio and push into downtown Austin.

    Zaffirini, who has served in the Senate since 1987, was dismayed at the changes and said the district would not be fair to voters in Laredo or Austin. Zaffirini said she also lost two of the largest bases of support in Zavala and Atascosa counties.

    In Honor of Harry

    Longtime Associated Press photographer Harry Cabluck is being honored by the Texas House.

    Cabluck, a familiar face around the Capitol, returned to the House Wednesday for a resolution honoring his "half-century as service as a photojournalist."

    Cabluck, who was laid off from the AP in 2009, took some of the last photos of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, has photographed 10 presidents, two Olympics, countless Super Bowls, World Series and national championship games.

    Some of his photos, including the catch by Pittsburg Steelers running back Franco Harris that became known as the "Immaculate Reception," have become iconic, printed on covers of cereal boxes and magazines.

    Since moving to Austin in 1989, Cabluck was a regular fixture around the Capitol and on the sidelines of Texas Longhorns football games.

    Corporal Punishment

    House Republicans have defeated a bill to require schools to get parental permission before applying corporal punishment.

    Republicans defeated the bill on 69-73 vote.

    Hydraulic Fracturing

    The Texas House on Wednesday approved what would be the nation's first law to require drilling companies to publicly disclose the contents of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.

    Dozens of companies pump fluid into shale formations to break up the rock in order to extract natural gas, a process known as fracking. Most companies presently keep the chemical composition of the fluid secret.

    Under the bill approved Wednesday, natural gas drillers would have to report the content of the fluid to the Texas Railroad Commission. If the company believes the recipe is a trade secret, they can request that the commission keep the contents confidential. The attorney general would then decide if the claim of a trade secret is legitimate under the legislation.

    The Republican-controlled House approved the measure on a voice vote. After one more procedural vote, the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

    Some landowners have expressed concern that hydraulic fracturing may contaminate groundwater with toxic chemicals, a contention that gas companies reject.

    "This will make Texas the first start to require the public disclosure of the composition of the fluids used for hydraulic fracturing," said state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Granbury. "Although there have been no cases of the process contaminating groundwater in Texas, the people say they want to know the contents of the fluid used in the process."

    Pork Choppers

    The Texas Senate has voted to allow hunters to take to the skies to shoot down feral hogs and coyotes.

    A bill approved Wednesday allows landowners to rent seats on helicopters to hunt the animals. Some estimates say Texas has more than 3 million feral hogs that destroy crops, trample fences and cause other damage.

    The House has passed a similar version. The measure must go back to that chamber for a final vote.

    The state already allows some helicopter hunts by contractors. Renting seats on the choppers to hunters would help landowners pay for such trips.

    Bobcats, red foxes, wild dogs and various non-native "exotic" animals can also be hunted from the skies under the current program.

    Payday Loans

    Payday loan providers would be required to post the terms, interest rates and fees for their services under a bill approved by Texas lawmakers.

    The measure by Southlake state Rep. Vicki Truitt also requires loan companies to provide contact information for the Consumer Credit Commissioner and the consequences of extended refinancing of short-term loans. Truitt said she spent hours striking a delicate balance between industry interests and consumer protection.

    Proponents say the bill will require loan companies for the first time to disclose the full costs to the consumer.

    Opponents say the bill puts undue regulation on the industry. State Rep. Gary Elkins, who has a payday loan business, said the consumer already has enough information and that the new regulation would be burdensome.

    Planned Parenthood

    Planned Parenthood advocates and local physicians are calling on Texas lawmakers to stop what they say is playing politics with women's health.

    Supporters of the group gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to protest legislative attempts at both the state and national level to de-fund the organization. The latest jab is a proposed state Senate bill that would kick Planned Parenthood out of the Women's Health Program, leaving thousands of women without health care. If the group tried to sue to regain access to the program, the program would immediately dissolve.

    Though Planned Parenthood doesn't spend state money on abortions, the group often bears the brunt of attacks from anti-abortion legislators determined to keep state dollars from going to abortions.

    Planned Parenthood representatives said denying the group state money will strip away early prevention and treatment options for poor women. They called the Senate legislation "political blackmail," vowing to keep fighting to protect women's health.

    Quote of the Day:

    "This is not about abolishing corporal punishment ... This is a parental rights bill." State Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, on her failed bill to require schools get permission before using corporal punishment on a student.