Texas Legislature to convene with list of big issues to tackle

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AUSTIN — The 86th Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 8 as the partial shutdown of the federal government that began Dec. 22 enters a third week.
As always, lawmakers’ priorities will be the writing of a two-year state budget and deciding how to fund it. In the 140 days of the regular session, they also will consider public education funding, property tax reform, health care, public safety, transportation, water and a host of other issues.
After the oath of office is administered by Texas’ new Secretary of State David Whitley, the first order of business for the 150-member Texas House of Representatives will be to elect a new speaker to succeed Joe Straus, the San Antonio Republican who presided over the body for five consecutive two-year terms. In the fall, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, eventually secured more than 76 pledges from fellow House members, the minimum number needed to win the race for speaker. Other House members who declared their candidacy for the office and later withdrew include Republicans John Zerwas of Richmond, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Phil King of Weatherford, Walter T. “Four” Price IV of Amarillo, Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, won a second four-year term, and again will preside over the Texas Senate. The lieutenant governor and the speaker will choose committee chairs and committee members before hearings commence and proposed legislation is heard.

Oldest WWII veteran dies
Richard A. Overton, America’s oldest-living World War II veteran, died Dec. 27 in Austin. He was 112.
Born May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County, Overton lived in his home on Austin’s Richard Overton Avenue, a street renamed in his honor on his 111th birthday.
Overton enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 and served in the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit operating on various Pacific islands, including Hawaii, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Palau and Guam. He mustered out of the service in 1945.
Services with full military honors and burial are set for Jan. 12 in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
“Richard Overton is an American icon and a Texas legend,” Gov. Greg Abbott said on Dec. 28. “With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many and I am deeply honored to have known him. Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans. We can never repay Richard Overton for his service to our nation and for his lasting impact on the Lone Star State. On behalf of Texas, Cecilia and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.”  

Founder of airline dies
Herb Kelleher, long-time president and executive chairman of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, died Jan. 3. He was 87.
The New Jersey native arrived in Texas in 1967 to open a law practice. With client and business partner Rollin King, Kelleher incorporated Air Southwest Co., later named Southwest Airlines.
In June 1971, the fledgling carrier opened gates at Love Field in Dallas and began service to Houston and San Antonio. The airline, with its fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft, grew to be a major carrier with destinations from coast to coast and in other countries.

Tax collections increase
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Jan. 3 said state sales tax revenue totaled $2.87 billion in December, an amount 4.7 percent more than collected in December 2017.
“Growth in state sales tax revenue continues to be led by remittances from oil- and gas-related sectors,” Hegar said. “The year-over-year rate of growth has moderated, as expected, due to strong collections from a year ago, as well as the decline in the price of crude oil.”
Also, Hegar said, total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in December 2018 was up 6.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
In the month of December, the comptroller’s office reported the following revenue from other major taxes:
• Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes: $395.9 million, down 4.5 percent from December 2017;
• Motor fuel taxes: $314.3 million, up 3.5 percent from December 2017; and
• Oil and natural gas production taxes: $478.5 million, up 20.7 percent from December 2017.

Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.

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