Assessing the Vetoes
Sat June 16, 2007 9:07 am

I'm going to evaluate the governor's vetoes. If you prefer your information unfiltered, the list of bills vetoed together with Perry's veto messages are available on the governor's Web site. I must add the caveat that what a bill does is not always apparent, at least to me, and I welcome any comments by readers that shed further light on the vetoes. This list represents 23 of the 49 vetoed bills, although the entry for HB 1092 includes three other bills on the same subject that were vetoed.

HB 44 -- Hodge/Uresti. This bill would have allowed TDCJ to restore forfeited "good time" credit to inmates. When I worked in the Senate, I was counsel for an interim committee on prisons, and one of the first things we learned is that good time is an important tool for prison managers. There aren't many ways to coax good behavior out of violent felons, and the loss of good time is one. So is the possibility, under this bill, of earning it back. Perry has never shown an iota of sympathy for prison inmates, but my guess is that TDCJ wanted the bill.

HB 47 -- Hodge/Hinojosa. The bill allowed TDCJ to provide in-cell education to prisoners in administrative segregation as a result of bad behavior. Perry's veto message says, "I think it is important to remember why offenders are in administrative segregation and to be judicious in how privileges are returned to those offenders." It's hard to argue with that. These guys aren't going anywhere, and the education can take place later. The bill also would have cost more than $2 million. I think this veto was more justified than the previous one.

HB 48 -- Chavez/Zaffirini. The bill provided for the distribution of surplus revenue from the employment and training investment holding fund. To understand the reason for the veto, all you need to know is that it reduces the distribution to the guv's Texas Enterprise Fund from 75% to 67% of the surplus. The El Paso Times did a story on the veto of bills authored by El Paso legislators. Here is the portion involving this bill:

State Rep. Norma Chávez's bill would have increased the amount of money going to the state Skills Development Fund, a statewide job-training program. Statewide, the training program last year helped create or upgrade more than 14,000 jobs, said Texas Workforce Commission spokeswoman Cynthia Hunter. "It's proven to be extremely successful," Chávez said. In El Paso, the Upper Rio Grande @ Work, along with El Paso Community College, received more than $650,000 in skills development grants last year to train more than 500 workers, said spokeswoman Lauren Macias-Cervantes.
Chávez's bill would have added about $12 million to the program over the next two years. With Perry's veto, that money instead goes to the Texas Enterprise Fund, which he uses to entice businesses to the state. Chávez said without more funding for programs that create a skilled work force, border cities and rural areas will be passed up by big businesses that use Perry's enterprise fund. Chávez said Perry's veto came as a shock because she had worked out a deal with his office. She would encourage legislators to put more money in the budget for the Enterprise Fund -- the amount increased from about $120 million in early versions of the budget to $225 million -- if Perry would allow more of the money to go to the Skills Development Fund. "I am very upset," Chávez said.

HB 317 -- Miller/Fraser. The bill repealed a requirement that the enrollment at Tarleton State University-Central Texas (a campus established years ago by Stan Schlueter) had to reach 1,500 before the university could make use of tuition revenue bonds that had been authorized. Two other campuses also would have been able to escape the enrollment limitation, Texas A&M San Antonio and University of North Texas Dallas. With his veto, Perry was essentially saying, before you build new buildings you have to show that you can attract the students to fill them. I agree 100 percent. These campuses, and you can throw Texas State Round Rock in the mix, were established by influential legislators, outside the normal channels, and in all likelihood will never amount to more than community colleges with a glorified name. The enrollment threshold should be maintained, but -- see my revised comments for HB 589.

HB 447 -- Callageri/M. Jackson. This bill dealt with the arcane subject of construction contracts with local governments. Architects, engineers, and contractors have been jockeying for advantage over each other and over local government entities, since the hammer was invented. The governor's veto message says that the bill "would discourage competition in public sector capital project development by limiting how government may contract for design and construction services. The limitations and extra contracting requirements contained in this bill would likely result in increased costs and project delays for taxpayers." I suspect that the reason for the veto was language, according to the Senate bill analysis, that "deletes existing text providing for a design/build contract" (as opposed to traditional low-bid contracts). Design-build contracts combine the design and construction phases of probjects and are strongly favored by Governor Perry as a cheaper, speedier way to build public projects. Others say that design-build is a way to get around having to accept the lowest bid and actually increase the cost of public projects. In his veto message, Perry said that he had vetoed a similar bill from the 79th Legislature, and it can't come as a shock that he did it again.

HB 541 -- Martinez-Fischer/Wentworth. The bill attempted to ease the problem of overcrowding in local jails by allowing parole violators who have been rearrested for administrative violations or minor misdemeanor offenses to be released on bail. This is somewhat risky, since they could face a return to prison, and Perry points out that the top 10 fugitives being sought by the Department of Public Safety are parole violators. I can understand why Perry vetoed the bill. On the other hand, the situation covered by this bill is part of a much larger problem: that so many prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders who have been returned to prison due to technical violations of the conditions of probation and parole that the state is facing the need to build new prisons. This is one of the most expensive undertakings of state government, not only because of the cost of construction, but also because warehousing inmates requires around-the-clock labor. This is why fiscal conservatives, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, have become advocates for bills like HB 541. Perry can't, or won't, see the big picture on this issue.

HB 544 -- Strama/Watson. The bill allowed community colleges to offer in-district tuition rates to students living outside the district who could demonstrate financial need. What's wrong with that? Perry's veto message says, "This is objectionable because taxpayers in the district should not foot the bill for students who live outside the district." Why is this any of the governor's business? Why should the governor tell the local community college board what it can and can't do? One of my longstanding objections to the Perry administration is its total disregard for local control (as evidenced by its support for appraisal caps and revenue caps, as well as mandates for school districts). This veto is a classic example. Why would the governor want to throw up roadblocks in the path of educating anybody in this state? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

REVISED POST FOR HB 589 -- Aycock/Frasher. In lieu of my original post, I am substituting the following letter from State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock to Governor Perry concerning Aycock's response to the veto. Although I stand by my belief that the establishment of satellite campuses by influential legislators is bad public policy and that enrollment thresholds before an institution may operate as a full-scale university are essential to protect the waste of state resources, I believe that the Central Texas campus of Tarleton State University is a special case. I rescind my previous agreement with the governor's veto.

Representative Aycock writes:

In direct rebuttal to the veto message regarding HB589, I offer the following
comments:

Response to Veto Statement of HB 589

"On behalf of myself, nearly one million Central Texans, and Ft. Hood's nearly 68,000 employees, I wish to take this opportunity to express my surprise and sadness that HB589 has been vetoed.

While HB589 would not by itself have accomplished "free standing" status for Texas A&M-Central Texas, it would have continued the move in that direction. The Senate amendments, while also helping the centers in Dallas and San Antonio, would not have brought either of these centers close to "free standing" status, and thus should not have been used as an excuse to veto the bill.

This issue has been ongoing for more than 15 years and has been worked on by numerous members of the House and Senate. I will herein provide narrative about this issue that will hopefully (1) record a response to Governor Perry's veto, and (2) provide context for any future consideration of this matter. The House research report from 4/19/2007 reflects the general nature of the arguments for and against HB 589.

The Governor's opening comments that the bill "would reduce enrollment requirements" is not accurate. Texas Education Code 87.861(d) establishes the "free standing" threshold of 1,000 full time student equivalents (FTSE). Other sections of statute provided the exact same threshold for the other two centers as well. The bill's only purpose was to clarify that the calculation of FTSE should be done on an annualized basis; a method in common usage by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board as opposed to the "single semester" language currently in statute.

The second paragraph refers to a policy of [Coordinating Board] that uses 3,500 FTSE as the measure for new universities. That is not the standard set by statute nor is it presently met by several existing universities.

In paragraph three, reference is made to "the Coordinating Board standards" and "deviations" signed by Governor Perry regarding Senate Bill 296 and House Bill 495. It is my contention that these statutes, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, established the present requirements of 1,000 FTSE. While the [Coordinating Board] may have a different opinion, present statutory law (ED. Code 87.861(d) and others) should be the measure for "free standing" status, not the "opinion" of unelected officials.

In the fourth paragraph, reference is made to fiscal estimates made by the THECB and
the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). I contend that the LBB fiscal note of "no impact" is correct in that no deviation from the present 1,000 FTSE threshold was requested save the method of calculation. All fiscal matters regarding Texas A&M-Central Texas were dealt with in separate bills (HB 317 by Miller/Fraser, vetoed) nd HB 1668 and SB 211 - neither of which passed). Regarding the costs for the other two centers in Dallas and San Antonio, neither would have benefited significantly from the annualized counting method and would still be years away from "free
standing".

In a broader sense, I will now provide background and reasoning to support Texas A&M-Central Texas (TAMCT) advancement to "free standing" status.

First, it is needed to address the "accessibility needs" of Central Texas. With the enrollment at Texas A&M, College Station, and the University of Texas, Austin, "capped", the only upper level public higher education courses available to Central Texans are at Texas State University, San Marcos; Tarleton State, Stephenville; and University of Texas, Arlington. All are more than 120 miles distant.

Second, there is clearly "demographic need." The rapidly growing Central Texas area is projected to continue its growth into the foreseeable future. Of the approximately 1 million residents in the area, about 250 thousand live within a 10-mile radius of the main gate to Ft. Hood. This population is so racially diverse that the Tarleton Center is one of the few state institutions that reflects the diverse racial mix of today's Texas. The major school districts of the area have enrollments of over 60,000 students.

Third, there is an "economic need." Texas A&M-Central Texas has for many years been a priority request by Ft. Hood, [which has] one of the largest payrolls in Texas, employs approximately 68,000 people and contributes well over 7 billion dollars to the Texas economy annually. Already there are multi-million dollar contracts between the U.S. Army and Texas A&M. The potential for additional contracts is beyond description.

Fourth, there has been considerable incentive offered to the State to encourage this issue. The Greater Ft. Hood area originally transferred over $8 million in cash and assets to the State of Texas when the center first came into existence. Since then, more than $7 million in "in-kind" benefits have been provided to the State. The U.S. Congress has agreed to the conveyance of 662 acres of land at a prominent intersection on Ft. Hood. This conveyance is bipartisan in its support and only awaits action by the State of Texas. The City of Killeen has made water and sewer available to the site and stands ready with further assistance.

Fifth, there is an issue of "fairness need." Despite the incentives and above explained need, the State of Texas has not spent $1 for physical plant construction. Meanwhile, Dallas has received $25 million and the Round Rock Higher Education Center has received $27 million. It should be noted that the Tarleton center is more than 50% larger than the next largest center, even without State funded buildings. Likewise, the funding for the Tarleton center has typically run about half that of the other centers while producing about twice the FTSE count.

Sixth, there is a "patriotism need." It was especially troubling to receive the news of the veto only hours after the Governor celebrated the opening of a plant in Austin where more than $10 million was granted to a foreign company in preference to the needs of Central Texans, especially those serving at Ft. Hood where more than 400 men and women have died in the War on Terror.

Most troubling of all was the fact that my office was contacted by the Governor's office during session about nearly every bill I authored except HB 589. On numerous occasions I had discussed this bill with Governor Perry's staff on the House floor. There had also been extended discussions with the THECB. At no time during those discussions was there any mention of the possibility of vetoing this legislation which passed both chambers unanimously. To so abruptly veto this bill sends a very bad message to the citizens of Central Texas, the U.S. military leadership, and our Congressional leaders who have worked toward the goal of higher education in Central Texas.

In conclusion, let me respectfully and imploringly request that the Coodinating Board, Governor Perry, the Legislative leadership, and any other interested parties assist in addressing this important part of "closing the gaps" in higher education in Texas.

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock

HB 738 -- Bonnen/M. Jackson. The bill would have permitted a person employed by a Class IV airport, which has an Airport Operating Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, to be appointed to a paid position with aircraft firefighter responsibilities. Perry's veto message said the bill would "unnecessarily impact the standardization of airport firefighting and the regulatory authority of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection." Sure. Or maybe the veto, which adversely affects Bonnen's county airport, was payback for his bill that necessarily impacted Perry's executive order mandating HPV vaccinations.

HB 770 -- Dutton/Lucio. The bill required TDCJ to give written notice to anyone being released from prison or who has completed their period of parole or probation, that they are eligible to vote and requires TDCJ to provide former inmates with a voter registration form. Given Perry's attitude toward convicted felons, not to mention his veto of a similar bill in 2003, this bill never had a chance.

HB 971 -- T. King/Uresti. The veto message says, "[The bill] would require the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to issue a year-round license exclusively to members of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas for hunting antlerless white-tailed deer. This would circumvent TPWD authority to regulate hunting and wildlife management in the State of Texas." Texas Monthly did a big piece on the Kickapoo some years ago, and I recall, imperfectly, that upon the birth of a child, the father of the newborn is supposed to kill a deer. Depending upon when the child is born, this may require hunting out of season, and, indeed, some Kickapoo have been arrested for violating game laws. If Parks and Wildlife opposes this bill, they ought to be ashamed. If Parks and Wildlife doesn't oppose this bill, Governor Perry ought to be ashamed.

HB 1023 -- Berman/Watson. The Texas Commission on the Arts makes grants. The bill delegated to the executive director the right to make mini-grants of less than $500. I can't imagine why anybody would care, but somebody does, and that somebody got this bill vetoed.

HB 1092 -- Hildebran/Wentworth. The bill adds RV parks and boat docks to the areas covered by criminal trespass. It was one of four bills that added places covered by the offense, the others being HB 1123 (Macias/Wentworth), SB 182 (Wentworth/Hildebran), and SB 1097 (Whitmire/Noriega). Perry vetoed all of them, saying that they were covered by current law and therefore redundant.

HB 1179 -- Flores/Nelson. The bill required the Lottery Commission to make its purchases through the Texas Building and Procurement Commission. I don't think this bill was about buying scissors and pencils; betcha some private agendas were at work. For one, Flores, the author, has no love for the Lottery Commission. For another, the Lottery Commission's big purchases are gaming services, and those companies who haven't been winning the contracts may have liked their chances better with the TBPC. The veto message says, "The Lottery should retain its flexibility in purchasing because the agency is contracting for and operating a unique business that deals with a limited vendor community qualified to operate the games." I don't think you can ever go wrong by vetoing a Flores bill.

HB 1205 -- Keffer/Eltife. The bill prohibited employers from discriminating against employees who are volunteer emergency responders and are absent from work because they are responding to an emergency. This kind of bill usually arises to ensure that a past injustice can't be repeated. Perry's veto message says, "Private employers should be allowed to continue to develop their own employment leave policies free of more government mandates. Further, this bill allows for a new civil cause-of-action to be created, thereby unnecessarily increasing litigation in the state. I remain steadfast in my opposition to creating opportunities for litigation." While I generally agree with Perry's statement that private employers should be allowed to develop their own leave policies, a public emergency certainly seems like an appropriate mandate to impose. The public interest requires that emergency responders be available in case of a true emergency. An employer who punishes an emergency responder for doing his duty ought to be subject to some sort of sanction, the governor's ideology notwithstanding.

HB 1427 -- Alonzo/Zaffirini. The bill would have allowed the University of Houston to create a summer program in the College of Optometry, funded by a "special item." The program had previously been funded through a federal grant that expired several years ago. Perry's antipathy toward, and Zaffirini's affinty for, special items is well known. This fruit was too low hanging for Perry not to pick. While we're on the subject, I have a question: Should a major university have a College of Optometry? Optometry is an important and respectable trade, but it isn't quite medicine, and it isn't quite science. Shouldn't it be taught in community colleges rather than serious academic institutions?

HB 1503 -- Lucio III/Hinojosa. This was a bill that expanded the right to carry handguns. Perry vetoed it because, he said, an amendment (by Seliger) "created an unintended consequence that would let ex-convicts who have completed their sentences for rape, murder, robbery or other violent crimes to possess firearms immediately after being released from prison." The language in the bill reads: ) "Convicted" means an adjudication of guilt or, except as provided in Section 411.1711, an order of deferred adjudication entered against a person by a court of competent jurisdiction whether or not the imposition of the sentence is subsequently probated and the person is discharged from community supervision. Perry's office read the word "discharged" as possibly applying to release from prison. It is clear that it applies only to community supervision. Rapists and murderers don't get deferred adjudication. The veto was needless, but then so was the original bill.

HB 1519 -- T. Smith/Carona. What is this, a bill about typewriters? No, it's about ambulance chasers. It prohibits chiropractors, other licensed health professionals, and licensed private investigators from engaging in barratry, which is illegal solicitation of employment with regard to litigation--here, a personal injury suffered in an accident or disaster. Solicitation is prohibited for thirty days. The governor's veto message reads, "The new section prohibits in person or telephone contact before 31 days have passed since an accident; however attorneys are included in the current law ... which covers improper written communications. The criminal acts covered by the statute should contain identical provisions for all covered professions." Huh? Surely Perry's staff knows that current law prohibits lawyers from soliciting business period. This reason is so weak that I'm sure Perry killed the bill for other reasons. Some possibilities: (1) The chiros wanted it killed. (2) The trial lawyers wanted it signed. (3) Perry wanted to keep the ambulance chasers around so he could continue to whip up on trial lawyers.

HB 1667 -- Geren/Brimer. This is a weird veto. In 2005 Geren passed a bill that raised wine and beer permit fees in hopes of making it difficult for small neighborhood bars in metropolitan areas (Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant counties) to stay in business. Session after session, black and Hispanic legislators bemoan bars and cantinas in the midst of their neighborhoods--often, as Perry notes, in converted houses and garages. Inadvertently, the bill raised fees for restaurants as well. All this bill did was reduce the fees for restaurants back to the 2005 level. (I should point out that Geren owns a popular barbecue emporium in Fort Worth.) Perry's veto message says: "[R]egulating businesses that engage in the alcoholic beverage industry should be accomplished through local ordinances in conjunction with an increased presence of law enforcement to preserve public safety, not through increased fees that are intended to price out businesses from existence." Yeah, but he signed the bill that increased the fees two years ago. This one reduced fees. The veto lays bare a problem with Perry's approach to vetos that has driven lawmakers nuts ever since he has been governor. When Bush was governor, and a veto was a possibility, the governor's office checked with the sponsor of the bill to get more information. Perry doesn't do that. One phone call could have saved this bill and, perhaps, improved the quality of life in the affected neighborhoods.

HB 1687 -- Farias/Ellis. The bill sets out the personal information that must be included on the face of an appeal bond. Perry vetoed the bill because, he says, the Texas Supreme Court is reviewing what personal information should be included in court records, in an effort to prevent identity theft. This is a reasonable veto that ensures that the problem will be dealt with in a consistent manner.

HB 1892 -- W. Smith/Williams. This was Perry's biggest veto, the first attempt to establish legislative oversight over the Trans-Texas Corridor project and to give local toll authority primacy in their regions. Williams had the votes to override the veto in the Senate, and the House was a sure thing, but the senators backed away from all-out war and passed Williams' SB 792 instead, which Perry signed.

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