Ed Sterling

Capital Highlights

AUSTIN — Now that it’s 2011, eyes turn toward the state Capitol in earnest, as weighty tasks lay in store for the 82nd Texas Legislature convening Jan. 11.

Certain things are known going into this legislative session:

1. Because 2010 was a census year, Texas, thanks to its swelling population, will gain four seats in Congress and district boundaries must be redrawn to accommodate those seats. If there’s pushing and shoving it’ll be no surprise. Federal court refereeing is par for the course.

2. Republicans dominate the House in number: 101 seats to the Democrats’ 49. But among the GOP contingency are twenty-some freshmen with a strong, conservative bent and constituencies expecting them to break the mold in Austin. Moderate GOP incumbents will feel pressure not only from the loyal opposition, but from within their own party ranks. The GOP edge in the comparatively chummy state Senate is 19 seats to the Democrats’ 12.

3. Lawmakers must pass a budget while facing a deficit somewhere between $8 billion and $25 billion, and those who aim to trim or mow down their least favorite state and federal programs and services likely will face challenges from many directions.

Then, what about the usual flood tide of proposed laws our elected representatives and special interest groups spend so much time and effort trying to pass? Well, the state constitution requires the Legislature to do one thing when it meets: pass a budget bill. Not just any budget: a balanced budget that makes the state pay as it goes while observing spending limits in various categories.

Plenty happened in

the past year

Like any other year, 2010 was ground-breaking for various reasons. Right off the bat, on Jan. 1, a new law took effect requiring that only the safer “Fire Standard Compliant” cigarettes could be sold in Texas. Now, here is a selection of other state news events in the past year.

January: Incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and challengers U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina engage in the first of two live-television debates. To address a projected state budget deficit, Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus direct state agencies and institutions of higher education to identify 5 percent in reductions that can be made to their 2010-2011 budgets. A man wielding a handgun fires shots near the south steps of the Capitol. He is captured and no one is injured. The incident prompts new concerns over safety. Officials begin to consider security upgrades.

February: A man crashes a private plane into a north Austin office building. The pilot and one man who worked at the building die.

March: Gov. Perry grants posthumous pardon to Timothy Brian Cole, a man who died in state prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence for a rape he did not commit. Gov. Perry draws more than 50 percent of the vote in winning Republican Party primary for governor. In the Democratic primary, former Houston Mayor Bill White wins with 76 percent of the vote. Attorney General Greg Abbott and the attorneys general of 12 other states file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

April: The Department of Public Safety increases awards for reporting fugitives on the 10 Most Wanted List. The State Preservation Board votes to install metal detectors at public entrances to state Capitol.

May: The state initiates an online application program for concealed handgun permits. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson offers General Land Office’s help in massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill off coast of Louisiana.

June: The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Baylor University decide to stay in Big 12 Conference.

July: Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott says 80 percent of the state’s high school class of 2009 graduated on time.

August: The Star Bar of Texas launches pro bono program to assist Texas veterans with legal issues.

September: Newspapers and other media try to stage a live debate between Gov. Perry and challenger Bill White, but the Perry camp refuses because White had not made public his 1993-95 tax returns.

October: The Texas Attorney General’s Office calls for halt on residential property foreclosures because of suspected cases of “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents by loan servicing companies.

November: Gov. Perry wins reelection to an unprecedented third consecutive four-year term as governor and the Republican Party picks up 21 seats in the House.

December: Two just re-elected Democratic state representatives, Aaron Peña of Edinburg and Allan Ritter of Nederland, switch to Republican Party.