May 23rd State News

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Legislation requiring payday loan providers to post interest rates, fees and terms of service took another step forward in the Texas Legislature.

State senators voted approval Monday for the measure, which now returns to the House. The bill would require loan companies to display the disclosures prominently and advise the public that a payday loan is only meant to meet short-term needs, not long-term financial problems.

Companies would also have to post contact information for the state consumer credit commissioner.

Supporters of the bill say it’s important to provide the public with better information and give more oversight to the industry. But some lawmakers want to see more regulation in order to protect Texans from getting trapped in payday loans.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A bill to clean up campaign financial disclosure laws and keep Texas lawmakers from double-dipping spending practices stepped closer to becoming law.

The Senate approved Monday legislation to require lawmakers to disclose more information about their campaign finances, including the sale of an asset or investment purchased with a political contribution.

Lawmakers would also have to report potential conflicts of interests with lobbyists.

The bill now goes to the House for final approval before being sent to Gov. Rick Perry.

Current law provides little oversight for political travel funding, allowing lawmakers to pocket taxpayer money with few or no records.

Double-dipping practices have led to criminal investigation.

The bill changes the threshold from $50 to $100 in political expenditures that a lawmaker must report.

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MANSFIELD, Texas (AP) — A suburban North Texas high school student was burned when a chemistry lab experiment went awry.

The Mansfield Summit High School website says the unidentified student suffered first- and second-degree burns to his face and arms when the accident happened Monday afternoon. The website says the student was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where he was treated and discharged.

Mansfield is 15 miles southeast of Fort Worth.

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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (AP) — Two men died when their sport utility vehicle veered off a rural road and slammed through an East Texas mobile home that had been vacated only two days before.

The Texas Department of Public Safety report identifies the dead men as 30-year-old Zachtavius Demario Garrett and 23-year-old Jarome Ramon Murchison. Both were wearing seat belts when they were found dead in the wreckage of their SUV early Monday just behind the mobile home they had crashed through. Neighbors reported they heard a crash about midnight Sunday.

No other injuries were reported in the crash about five miles east of Nacogdoches. Mobile home owner Mary Lampin says the woman who had lived there had moved out and into a nursing home on Friday.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers have declared western swing the state’s official music with a mini-hoedown on the House floor.

Rep. Doug Miller donned a cowboy hat and crooned, “I saw miles and miles of Texas,” while Reps. Sid Miller and Charles “Doc” Anderson, stomped their feet to the beat.

The ceremonial resolution passed unanimously Monday and had already passed the Senate.

It means lawmakers gave the nod to such western swing pioneers as Bob Willis over a parade of other homegrown hit-makers, including everyone from Hank Williams to the Dixie Chicks.

A sub-genre of country that originated in the 1920s and 30s, western swing is an up-tempo dance sound that mixes pop and jazz with a string section, and can feature elements of fiddle and ragtime.

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HOUSTON (AP) — A new $1 billion renovation project at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport will soon begin.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and other officials at a news conference Monday announced that construction of the project’s first phase is expected to start by the end of the year.

The first part of the three-phase project will create a new Terminal B south concourse and provide a 225,000-square-foot facility to accommodate the fleet of regional aircraft for United Airlines. The airport is United’s largest hub.

The other phases of the project, expected to be completed in the next seven to 10 years, will improve the terminal’s lobby and baggage claim areas.

Bush Intercontinental is Houston’s largest airport. The 42-year-old airport handled more than 40 million passengers in 2010.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers have given final approval to legislation requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies and improve methods of prevention.

The Texas Senate voted Monday to send a bill to Gov. Rick Perry that provides a framework for districts to develop and implement policies that prohibit bullying in any form. Perry can sign the bill into law.

The bill gives school boards discretion to transfer a student who bullies another student to a different classroom or campus in the district.

Schools would also have to set out specific methods for reporting and investigating bullying incidents.

Lawmakers have been working to create a zero-tolerance for bullying, since some students have committed suicide as a result of being bullied.

More than 10 different versions of anti-bullying legislation were filed this session.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Public school districts wouldn’t be allowed to use older football helmets under legislation passed by the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Senate gave final approval Monday to a bill that bans schools from using helmets 16 years old or older. It also requires 10-year-old helmets to be reconditioned every two years.

Lawmakers have been paying increasing attention to head injuries sustained by student athletes in recent years. Supporters want to ensure that helmets are in adequate condition as they are the first line of defense against concussions and other head injuries.

Districts would have to document when a helmet was purchased and anytime it is reconditioned.

The bill has been approved in the Texas House and is headed to Gov. Rick Perry, who can sign it into law.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — House and Senate negotiators have moved closer to finishing up their work on the next two-year state budget.

The panel met Monday and wrapped up unfinished business on public schools, higher education and some general government issues. They’ll take a final vote when the massive document is printed, expected to be Thursday.

Leaders said last week that they had agreed on budgeting $80.6 billion in state dollars for the 2012-2013 spending plan.

Final details were not yet available, but public schools will get about $37 billion in state money for general operations. While more than expected, it still means a significant cut to public schools.

Once the panel takes a final vote, the budget goes back to both chambers for final adoption.

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THRALL, Texas (AP) — All school buses in one Central Texas district have been idled after their fan belts were cut.

A message on the Thrall Independent School District website said school buses were not able to run on Monday due to vandalism at the bus barn.

School secretary Ann Sisemore told The Associated Press that classes were going on as scheduled. Parents were advised to drop their children off at schools in Thrall, a town of about 1,000 located 45 miles northwest of Austin.

Interim Superintendent Ernie Lawrence says locks on the middle school and high school campuses were sprayed with glue. He says officials hoped to have most fan belts replaced by Monday afternoon.

Lawrence says Williamson County sheriff’s deputies and Thrall police were investigating.

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Trump Marina, you’re fired!

The Atlantic City casino that once bore Donald Trump’s name changed hands Monday.

The casino was bought by Texas-based Landry’s Inc., which renamed it the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. The sale was approved by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

Trump Entertainment Resorts sold the casino, one of three it owned, for $38 million in order to help pay down its debt. Just three years ago, it was to be sold for $316 million in a deal that fell through when the economy tanked.

The new owners plan to pump about $150 million into the casino, which has been one of Atlantic City’s worst-performing in recent years.

Landry’s owns the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev.

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DALLAS (AP) — A jury has been seated for the trial of a man accused of the 2009 slaying of a Dallas police officer.

Sr. Cpl. Norman Smith was shot when he and other gang-unit officers attempted to serve an aggravated assault warrant.

Testimony was to begin Wednesday in the trial of 29-year-old Charles Patrick Payne. Payne, who if convicted of capital murder could get the death penalty, has claimed he didn’t know that police were the people trying to enter the apartment during an exchange of gunfire.

Payne attorney Ed “Bubba” King has declined comment. Payne also has been charged with two counts of attempted capital murder of a police officer and cocaine possession.

A man sought on the assault warrant, related to a 2007 robbery, was caught at the home.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A golden retriever from Texas is being praised as a national hero dog for saving his owner’s life after an October bicycling accident in Central Texas.

The Humane Society of the United States on Tuesday will recognize an Austin-area pet called “Yogi” as the 2011 Valor Dog of the Year.

The animal led neighbors to where 58-year-old Paul Horton lay paralyzed after flipping off his mountain bike near Lake Travis. Horton was knocked unconscious along an out-of-the way road.

The Austin American-Statesman reports Yogi ran to the main road, where Bruce and Maggie Tate were walking when they noticed the agitated dog. The 85-pound pet helped lead the Tates to their injured friend.

Doctors say Horton remains paralyzed but has regained some sensation in his abdomen, legs and back.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A review has found that about 20 percent of the University of Texas at Austin professors teach most of the school’s students.

The analysis by the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity also says 10 percent of the faculty bring in 90 percent of its research grants.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Monday on the analysis by Richard Vedder, who’s an economics professor and a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The foundation has ties to Gov. Rick Perry.

Vedder looked at UT System documents released this month on salaries, course loads, research grants and evaluations. He says UT-Austin could save millions of dollars by increasing the teaching loads of professors and getting rid of under-performing ones.

UT faculty have questioned his interpretation of the data.

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HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston attorney has asked Texas regulators to give the state a break when it comes to required extra controls to deal with foreign pollution.

Jed Anderson, who represents the energy industry, says states should not be forced to make deeper cuts in smog-forming emissions to meet federal limits because of wind-borne pollution from places like Mexico.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that Anderson filed a petition with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last week, so Texans would no longer be responsible for paying for offsetting foreign pollution.

TCEQ has 60 days to respond. If the state agency agrees with Anderson, it could ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise the rules.

Environmentalists say Anderson’s petition does not address protecting the public health.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A plan to offer property owners tax breaks for water conservation is making its way through the Legislature as most of Texas struggles with drought.

A final vote was expected Monday in the Texas House.

The measure, which secured initial approval Saturday, offers property tax reductions for those who set aside open-space land for water conversation.

Backers say the tax breaks would encourage water conservation without forcing state government to pay. Critics say some of the bill’s language overlaps with existing tax incentives for protecting wildlife.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday showed more than 97 percent of Texas is in at least moderate drought. More than 47 percent of the state has the most severe designation, known as exceptional drought.

The regular legislative session ends May 30.

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