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Travis Commissioners get update on pending state legislation

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners Court has moved to address two pending measures in the Texas state legislature. If approved, those items would allow jurisdictions to assess new penalties against idling heavy duty trucks and change the way that local governments advertise mandated competitive bid public notices.


The court will also consider a bill that would change the responsibilities of magistrates in the county. If approved, that effort would allow magistrates to perform a portion of day-to-day paperwork responsibilities – such as orders associated with plea bargain cases – that they are currently barred from executing. A section of that measure could also extend magistrates’ judicial powers to include orders for pen registers and trap-and-trace devices. 


According to Travis’ Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Deece Eckstein, current idling regulations make it difficult for authorities to cite violators. “Because the (current) penalties are very strong, local law enforcement agencies are reluctant to get involved in it,” he said. “(Under the current law) they would have to arrest the driver of the vehicle, impound the vehicle, bring them down to the county jail – that sort of thing. So it makes it very burdensome for law enforcement to enforce it.”


The new rules would make idling a Class-C misdemeanor, a move that would allow officers to issue simple traffic tickets to heavy truck operators who sit with their engines running for more than five minutes. Under the amended regulations, officials would also be allowed to ticket truck owners and the company or business that the truck operator is delivering to or operating for.


According to a memo from Eckstein to the court, the law on competitive bid public notices requires that local governments post the advertisements “once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper published in the municipality or county.” The new rules would allow jurisdictions with Web sites to run newspaper ads only once, provided that the notice remains on that entity’s Web site for at least two weeks before a bid or proposal is opened.


Eckstein writes that in FY2011, “21 (governmental) entities report … (an) advertising budget of $273,410.” He suggests that, with the legislation, “this would be cut in half.”


He expects the measure to face opposition from the newspaper industry. 


The commissioners’ legislative review closed with a larger look at legislative efforts. In his testimony, the county’s legislative consultant, Greg Knaupe, told the court that members of the Texas house are “really challenged” by the current budget environment.


“They have extremely difficult decisions to make,” he said. “They’re now seeing the enormity and the impact on human lives that the budget is going to have, and it’s difficult for everyone across the political spectrum.”


He added that things had dramatically slowed in the Senate. “Generally, at this point … (it) has broken up into its individual work groups that deal with the individual articles of the budget,” he said. “They’re not even there yet.”


Knaupe said that he thought that legislators could complete a budget by the end of the current term without a special session. “But that’s not to say that they won’t pass a budget and come back, potentially next fall,” he said. “If revenues do increase and they see the impact of the budget, they’re going to want to come back and come up with a new budget at least for the final year of the next biennium.”


The court unanimously approved its support for the changes in the idling law and competitive bid advertising. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt asked her colleagues for another week to consider changes to the magistrates’ responsibilities.


Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber was absent.

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