Gov. Perry signs milestone Texas water legislation

Posted Wednesday, May. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Declaring he was “making history,” Gov. Rick Perry ceremonially signed landmark legislation Tuesday that he said will “secure the future” of Texas by ensuring that the nation's second-largest state has adequate water supplies for the next half-century.

House Bill 4 – one of the signature achievements of the 83rd Legislature – would authorize $2 billion to start a revolving water fund that is contingent on voter approval in the Nov. 5 election. The initiative would pave the way for billions of dollars for local and regional water projects to meet the long-term goals of the state water plan.

The bill-signing ceremony, which included Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and the measure's sponsors, came on the second day of a special session that Perry ordered Monday evening, less than an hour after the end of the 140-day regular session.

Responding to questions from reporters, Perry said it was too early to say if he would add other items to the special session beyond the one topic he has announced so far – political redistricting.

He also declined to give any hints about his political plans, saying only: “I will let you know in the future.”

Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, has repeatedly said he would make a decision sometime in June on whether to run for re-election in 2014 and possibly make another bid for the presidency in 2016.

The Texas governor waged a failed 5-month-long campaign for the Republican nomination in 2012 that was best known for his “oops” moment in which he couldn’t name all three federal agencies he had proposed to eliminate. Perry has signaled his interest in making a second try in the next presidential race, even though he has barely registered in early polls for the 2016 race.

Hearings are scheduled later in the week on Perry's request for legislative approval of interim, court-ordered districts that went into effect for the 2012 legislative and congressional races. Attorney General Greg Abbott asked for the special session, saying formal legislative approval of the districts would strengthen his hand in a continued legal dispute.

Redistricting fight

Democrats have begun signaling their intentions to push back against Perry's request, saying the interim maps contain discriminatory elements that would dilute the voting power of Hispanics and African-Americans.

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the House, said the Republican leadership's quick pace in convening the session and scheduling the hearings make it difficult to gather public input and air concerns about the political districts.

“It's reasonable to assume that blanket adoption of the interim maps ... would result in retaining a lot of the problematic districts,” said the Tarrant County lawmaker. “That's why it's not a good idea for us to go and just rubber-stamp these interim maps.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the interim maps were “clearly intended” to be only temporary so Texas could hold elections in 2012. “They were not intended to address all of the Legislature's failures in adhering to the Voting Rights Act, he said.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, acknowledged that lawmakers are facing uncertainty as they start tackling the traditionally divisive subject of redistricting. “The only thing we know for sure is at the end of the day the maps will be in the shape of Texas,” he said.

The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting has scheduled a hearing Thursday, and its counterpart in the House will hold hearings on Friday and Saturday.

Opening the call

Lawmakers and interest groups were calling on Perry to expand the special session to other issues even before he formally announced the session late Monday afternoon. The Texas Association of Business on Tuesday asked the governor to include additional funding for transportation projects.

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the influential business group, urged Perry to consider a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate half of future dollars that now go into the rainy day fund into transportation projects.

Perry told supporters that his office is studying legislation that passed during the regular session to determine if any other measures, including transportation, will be added to the special session.

“No decisions have been made at this time about any other additions than what we already have,” Perry said. “The members are here and if there's some things that need to be either tweaked or what have you, we'll address those as we can.”

In North Texas, one bill many officials want the special session call opened to include is a $2.7 billion state bond package to finance projects at colleges and universities. Included in the package was more than $350 million for projects in the region, including improvements at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau chief, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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