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Friday Recap from the Texas Legislature

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The Texas House has approved new rules to help small brewers expand.

Lawmakers used voice votes Friday to alter the beer industry’s pricing structure and overhaul regulations that apply only to craft breweries. That drew applause from brewers watching in the gallery.

Current laws prohibit pubs like Freetail of San Antonio from packaging their beer for retail stores. They also prevent breweries like Houston’s St. Arnold’s from selling beer to tour visitors.

The proposals split the state’s distributors.

In a compromise, brewpubs and small breweries would pay $250 for a license to sell only their own beer directly to consumers. Brewpubs would be limited to selling 1,000 barrels annually.

The bills passed the Senate in March. They must clear a final House vote before heading to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ A move to legalize switchblade knives is nearing success in Texas.

In a unanimous vote on Friday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced the bill. It has already cleared the House.

The automatic knives were outlawed across the country as an anti-gang measure in the 1950s. Several states have legalized them in the last few years at the urging of collectors and outdoorsmen.

The measure’s author, Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, had originally said he wanted to use the knife bill to open a debate on weapons laws, including gun control. But conservative Republicans embraced the measure, and it has produced few opportunities for debate.

After a quick vote as his desk, Committee Chairman John Whitmire shrugged. He said, “I figure everybody’s got a switchblade if they want one anyway.”

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The Texas Senate has voted to extend the life of the state lottery in a vote that was much less contentious than in the House, where some
lawmakers tried to kill it off.

In a unanimous vote with little discussion, the Senate voted Friday to continue the Texas Lottery for another 12 years. Last month, conservatives in the House led a charge to kill the lottery as an immoral tax on the poor.

House members ultimately defeated that effort, but will get another crack at the bill next week. The Senate changed the bill to require an audit of charitable bingo halls to make sure they are giving money to charity. That means the bill still needs House approval.

State lawmakers use about $2 billion from the lottery for education.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Gov. Rick Perry’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund would receive a state audit under a bill close to clearing the state Legislature.

The House on Friday used a simple voice vote to approve the measure that would require closer financial scrutiny of the decade-old program.

The fund has awarded more than $485 million to private companies looking to expand or relocate in Texas. But critics have targeted it, and Perry’s similar Emerging Technology Fund, over accountability and impact.

The bill mandates an audit report no later than January 2015. It passed the Senate last month, but the House made some modifications.

The measure must pass a final, procedural House vote. It then heads to conference committee to reconcile the latest version with what the Senate previously approved.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The Texas House has approved a dramatic overhaul of the state’s troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency, including replacing its entire, 11-member board.

The lower chamber used a simple voice vote Friday to give preliminary approval to one of the most-watched bills in the Texas Legislature. It mandates sweeping changes to the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The bill has already cleared the Senate, but the House modified it to include that CPRIT’s board has to go, among other changes.

The once-celebrated agency has since become the target of rebuke and remains under criminal investigation following several lucrative grants that were improperly awarded.

After a final, procedural House vote, the proposal will go to conference committee to reconcile the versions passed by the House and Senate.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ It’s Christmas in May in the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Senate on Friday approved a bipartisan bill that aims to remove legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” in Texas public schools. Traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, would also win a nod of state support so long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, says teachers have been reluctant to say “Merry Christmas” under fear of facing what he calls “frivolous” lawsuits.

“Merry Christmas to you all,” Nichols said when the bill passed.

The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his consideration.

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The Legislature has approved opening a medical school in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

The House on Friday passed a constitutional amendment already approved by the Senate which seeks to open, as early as 2016, a medical school along the underserved Texas border with Mexico.

Lawmakers also passed a funding bill for the new school. But that measure included two modifications to the previously approved Senate proposal, meaning both versions will have to be reconciled in conference committee.

The effort has been backed by Gov. Rick Perry and enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support in both chambers.

The new university is projected to enroll 28,000 students, employ 7,000 people and generate $11 million in research expenditures.

The University of Texas System already has pledged $100 million for the project.

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Posted by on May 17 2013. Filed under Featured Stories, News.

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