Abbott cuts down 40+ bills before end of veto period

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott arrives to the House Chamber to deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Abbott told lawmakers that roads, education and border security are the biggest issues facing Texans. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott arrives to the House Chamber. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t veto a bill by Sunday, it will become law. But before the final pen strokes finished this session, the governor stopped more than 40 bills. One of them by local lawmakers meant to help traffic congestion.

Growing up in Austin, Laine Higgins has spent a good part of his life sitting in traffic.

“It just slowly gets worse and worse. It’s getting to the point where you are rearranging your schedule, you’re changing the way you do things, just to avoid traffic,” said Higgins.

Even on mid-day Sunday, he sits in traffic jams on I-35.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to support that many folks being in one place,” said Higgins.

But the governor vetoed a bill designed to encourage some state workers to work from home and not have them drive in and out of work during rush hour. He issued this statement with the veto:

“Under current law, state employees are authorized to maintain flexible work schedules — including work from home, where appropriate — if the head of their state agency provides written approval. This policy provides flexibility for those employees who need it while imposing management controls that minimize the potential for abuse of these privileges.

Senate Bill 1032 takes this process further and would allow an employee’s immediate supervisor, rather than the agency head, to authorize flexible schedules and work from home. This would result in reduced accountability, inconsistent application, and greater potential for abuse. The bill’s provisions regarding overtime and compensatory time earned away from the office are also problematic. Authorizing employees to earn overtime or compensatory time for work performed at home raises legitimate record-keeping and management concerns.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Austin Democrat Rep. Celia Israel, says she’s disappointed the governor didn’t agree to let immediate supervisors, not agency heads decide the policy for telecommuting.

“If one more person who works at a state office can safely and securely do their job from home, even if it’s one or two days a week, that’s helpful to our traffic problem,” said Israel.

So Laine will continue to drive on roads, with the exact number of state workers as before.

Abbott also vetoed bills with controversial “spousal loopholes.” It would have allowed lawmakers not to disclose finances if those assets were under their husband’s or wife’s name.

Abbott wanted to dedicate this session to ethics. But in his veto message, he says, “At the beginning of this legislative session, I called for meaningful ethics reform. This legislation does not accomplish that goal. Provisions in this bill would reduce Texans’ trust in their elected officials, and I will not be a part of weakening our ethics laws. Serious ethics reform must be addressed next session — the right way. Texans deserve better.”

Jay Root, ethics reporter for our media partner the Texas Tribune, covered the issue all session.

“Most of the bad stuff, the sneaky stuff, happens at the end of a session — often without any debate or committee hearings. We’ll get some amendment that gets tacked onto a bill, and that’s exactly what happened in this case.”

Abbott also answered the Republican Party plea to veto an education bill.

We told you about Senate Bill 313, last week. The state GOP wanted it vetoed because of a provision encouraging local school districts to use electronic textbooks. They said it could be a backdoor to Federal “common core” standards.

In his veto message, the governor said:

“While Senate Bill 313 is intended to provide additional flexibility to school districts when purchasing classroom instructional materials, the bill potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms. Portions of Senate Bill 313 may have merit, but serious concerns were raised about other parts of the bill. I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to ensure this issue is vigorously evaluated before next Session.”

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