Lights, Camera, Legislative Action!

Texas House tentatively approves film incentive bill

The Texas House tentatively approved its first substantive bill this legislative session Wednesday, dabbling in show business with a measure to use more financial incentives to lure movie and television producers back to the state.

The proposal by Democratic Rep. Dawnna Dukes of Austin easily won tentative passage.

"This will help Texas become more competitive in the United States and bring production of the film industry back to the great state of Texas," Dukes said.

Her bill would give the state's film office more flexibility in deciding financial incentives for moviemakers.

Currently, the governor's Texas Film Commission can award grants for the lesser of 5 percent of a production's in-state spending or a specified amount, depending on the type of project. The new legislation would give the film office power to establish a maximum amount of a grant and would change some qualifications that a production company would have to meet.

Only a few years ago, Texas was a hot spot for movies. But the state lost its luster as a location when Hollywood producers found more lucrative incentives in other states, including Louisiana, New Mexico and Michigan. Some states offer 25 percent tax credits or rebates.

Feature film production spending in Texas was $25.6 million for fiscal year 2008, down from $59 million in 2006 and nearly $95 million in 2003.

John Wildman, of the AFI Dallas Film Festival, said filmmakers are just waiting on legislative action before they cue the lights and cameras.

"The floodgates will open up like you would not believe once that's taken place," he said.

Film buff Scott Kennedy said the Lone Star State has a lot to offer Hollywood.

"It's a great place to film a Western of course," he said. "And then even here in the urban area -- downtown Dallas, one of the largest cities in the country -- (is) the perfect place to film a suspense thriller."

But will giving money to a largely liberal group of filmmakers play well with a mostly conservative voting base?

Republican Gov. Rick Perry is supporting efforts to bring more movies, television productions and video game makers to Texas as part of his job creation efforts. He wants to make $60 million available in the coming two years for incentives.

In 2007, the Legislature allotted about $20 million.

Republican Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville has filed a bill similar to Dukes' bill.

Those who want to expand the incentives say that in addition to luring more jobs, they don't want to lose Texas-based film and television crews who may decide to relocate.

Dukes' bill won its House approval with no debate and with a quick non-recorded voice vote. But some groups oppose the proposal.

The conservative Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has said providing state support to "a small niche industry" is not a good use of taxpayer money.

On Wednesday, the Libertarian Party of Texas issued a statement in opposition to Dukes' bill. It said all industries should be treated equally. State Libertarian Party Chair Pat Dixon said the incentives program and other taxpayer-funded job creation accounts distort the workings of Texas' free-market economy.

The House movie bill is expected to be up for a final vote Thursday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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