Capital Highlights: Briefs filed in support of voter ID law

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AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sept. 23 filed a petition on behalf of the State of Texas, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the Texas voter ID law.

On Oct. 31, Paxton announced that a coalition of states and members of Congress had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the United States Supreme Court, in support of Texas’ voter identification law that passed in 2011 as Senate Bill 14.

“Our democracy does not work unless voters have confidence that election results are not skewed by fraud,” Paxton said, alleging the existence of a nationwide voter-fraud problem.

The coalition in support of the Texas voter ID law includes the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. The states’ brief concludes, “There is no reason to expect that Texas’s Voter ID law will somehow cause substantial harm to voter participation, when nothing of the sort has happened in 10 years of Voter ID in Indiana.” A like-minded amicus brief was submitted to the high court by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both R-Texas, and Sen. David Vitter R-Louisiana; U.S. Reps. John Culberson, Blake Farenthold, Joe Barton, Kevin Brady, Bill Flores, Louie Gohmert, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, John Carter, Michael Conaway, Jeb Hensarling, Will Hurd, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, John Ratcliffe, Kenny Marchant, Pete Sessions, Michael McCaul, Lamar Smith, Randy Neugebauer, Mac Thornberry, Pete Olson, Randy Weber, Brian Babin, and Roger Williams, all R-Texas; U.S. Reps. John Fleming, Garrett Graves and Charles W. Boustany Jr. , all R-Louisiana; and U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi.

Like the Indiana law, the Texas law requires a citizen to present one of several forms of photo identification in addition to a voter registration certificate before casting a ballot in person.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the law, while not discriminatory in intent, is discriminatory in effect. Last summer, a federal district court relaxed voter identification requirements for the Nov. 8 general election.

Tax revenue inches higher

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Nov. 2 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.29 billion in October, 0.2 percent more than the amount reported in October 2015. 

“Opposing trends in consumer and business spending resulted in slight overall growth in state sales tax revenue,” Hegar said. He added that continued declines in collections from the mining, manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors, reflecting the subdued level of drilling for oil and natural gas production, were offset by significant gains from retail trade and restaurants.

Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in October 2016 was down by 2.1 percent compared to the same period a year ago, Hegar said.

Sales tax revenue is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 58 percent of all tax collections. Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes, motor fuel taxes and oil and natural gas production taxes also are large revenue sources for the state, according to the comptroller’s office.

Straus lauds TEA decision

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Nov. 2 welcomed the Texas Education Agency’s announcement last week that it is halting the use of one indicator in a special education monitoring system. 

Concerns had been raised that the 12-year-old indicator, which was designed to ensure that schools did not put students into special education when it wasn’t warranted, had actually been used by some school districts to keep students out of special education, according to the speaker’s office. 

In late October, Straus urged Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to suspend use of the indicator so that the education agency and legislators could work together in the 2017 legislative session to make sure students get the services they need.

“This is good news for Texas families,” Straus said in a news release. “TEA's decision will give the agency time to work with legislators and others to make sure students get the services they need.” 

Performance data posted

Texas Education Commissioner Morath on Nov. 3 announced the availability of preliminary 2015–2016 Texas Academic Performance Reports on tea.texas.gov, the Texas Education Agency website.

The reports, Morath said, provide a wide range of performance information for every public school and district in the state. The campus-level, district-level, regional and statewide reports combine details of academic performance with information about staff, programs and demographics.

The final version, following the resolution of district appeals of preliminary ratings, is scheduled for release by Dec. 2.

Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association. 

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