State of Texas: In Depth – Why everyone is talking about trees

A group of school girls from Houston urge lawmakers to "speak for the trees," at a reading of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. August 2, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – One item on Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of priorities for the special legislative session is facing pushback from tree advocates.

The bill would overturn ordinances in cities that provide protection to trees on personal property.

Advocates gathered this week at the Texas State Capitol for a bipartisan reading of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax in protest of the bill.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, says she believes the bill is “overreaching, and has a lot of preemption,” but she hopes that Abbott will ultimately sign it.

“We just believe that a person should have the right on their own property to do as they wish. And if they believe that a tree needs to come down, they should have the right to do that,” says Paul Workman, a Republican representative from Austin and author of the House version of the legislation.

While Workman’s bill wades through House committees, other lawmakers are bringing forward bills that are not on the governor’s call.

House Republicans Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson both filed ethics reform bills this week. While Abbott has called for ethics reform in the past, he lambasted the representatives this week for “showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call.”

Another bill not on the call that has received wide bipartisan support: a measure to restore funding to therapy providers for low-income and disabled children.

The bill passed the House this week 138-0. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, co-authored the bill. “These kids can’t wait another 18 months to get another bite at the apple next session. I think we have to do that now,” Krause said in an interview.

‘Character Assassination’

Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes, a Democrat, turned down a plea deal this week that would have dropped corruption charges against her, but only if she resigned and took a drug test.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said she was hoping to resolve the issue without taking Dukes to court, but is ready to go to trial in October.

Dukes has maintained her innocence, calling the allegations, which include corruption and misuse of state resources “impertinent” and deriding the case as “character assassination.”

Another Austin-area lawmaker, this time a Republican in Congress, was cleared of wrongdoing by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee this week.

Congressman Roger Williams proposed an amendment in 2015 that would have exempted auto dealers from a law that barred auto rental companies from renting out cars that had been recalled for safety reasons. The congressman owns the Roger Williams Auto Mall in Weatherford.

The House ethics panel decided Williams did not violate House rules but that he should have communicated with the panel before the vote to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

In a statement, Williams thanked the panel for its hard work and professionalism.

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