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CITY'S FED FINE FOR STORM WATER SCREW UP IS $3.5 MILLION
by Trey Garrison    Thu, May 11, 2006, 11:13 AM

Here's the follow up on the story about Dallas' storm water problems with the feds that we first reported last week. (Thanks to A.E. McGill over at D Magazine for the find.)

As seems to be the case with city hall lately, their initial estimate of what the city might owe the feds for screwing up some wetlands around the Dallas Zoo and along the Trinity River Corridor was off - it's closer to a $3.5 million liability than the initially reported $2 million. And as Robert Wilonsky over at the Dallas Observer notes, there's some severe penalties for non-compliance and some hefty fines for every day the city doesn't pay up. Better get out the checkbook, Dave.

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DBJ GETS THE GOODS ON HUD SECRETARY JACKSON
by Trey Garrison    Thu, May 11, 2006, 10:41 AM

Whoa. Talk about a scoop. Normally, when you have to go cover some B-level cabinet secretary speaking to a business group all you have to look forward to is a speech as bland as the rubber chicken and vegetable medley they serve you.

Christine Perez at the Dallas Business Journal went to one April 28 and walked away with a story that's getting national attention.

You definitely need to read her story, but the short version is that HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said without apology that even when contractors qualify for HUD contracts, they may not get them if they have dissenting view from the Bush administration - and he even admitted a specific instance in which he'd canceled one. Go. Read.

The fallout is national. There are calls for an investigation in Washington and the secretary's resignation, and the secretary has since apologized, with a pretty flimsy reversal of his own remarks. Someone get that man a dictionary, because that's not what "anecdotal" means, and someone get Christine Perez a kudo.

Oh, and I like how the daily runs a meathead editorial on the issue without giving any credit to the DBJ for breaking the story.

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MORE MUSLIM VIOLENCE
by Tom Pauken    Thu, May 11, 2006, 09:20 AM

A news report out of Indonesia this week states that "seven suspected Islamic terrorists have confessed to beheading three Christian schoolgirls on Indonesia's Sulawesi Island."  The police reported that two of the suspects claimed to have ties to an al-Quada-linked organization.  That same organization has been blamed for a series of series of suicide bombings in Indonesia in recent years, according to the News24.com story.  This coastal area in Indonesia has been the scene of much violence against Christians in recent years.  This story is yet another indication of the international reach of the militant Islamic movement associated with al-Qaeda.

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RUPERT MURDOCH & HILLARY CLINTON: AN ALLIANCE OF CONVENIENCE
by Tom Pauken    Thu, May 11, 2006, 08:57 AM

The announcement this week that media mogul Rupert Murdoch will host a fundraising event for Hillary Clinton may signal that Murdoch, a major Bush backer previously, is switching sides in advance of an anticipated Hillary Clinton Presidency in 2009.  Murdoch is the guiding force behind the successful Fox news network and also is the owner of the New York Post and the Weekly Standard  Those outlets have been strong defenders of President Bush during his term in office and  particularly supportive of the Administration's military actions in the Middle East.  The Murdoch media entities have been closely identified with the neoconservative advocacy of the War in Iraq; and, more recently, his US publications have been pushing for military action in Iran.  Mrs. Clinton has been supportive of the Iraqi war and has called for stronger action against Iran to address that country's development of a nuclear capability. 

Murdoch also owns a number of British publications, and he endorsed Tony Blair, the leader of the Labour party in Great Britain, just prior to Blair's huge victory over the Conservatives in the 1997 elections.  Murdoch's publications previously had been supportive of the Conservatives in that country until Blair's emergence as the leader of Labour.  It will be interesting to see if  Murdoch's US publications adopt a more sympathetic tone towards Hillary's politics now that Rupert Murdoch has thrown his support to Mrs. Clinton in her re-election bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006.  She also is the Democratic frontrunner for that party's presidential nomination in 2008

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ABORTION CONSENT LAW YET TO BE IMPLEMENTED
by Brian Bodine    Thu, May 11, 2006, 01:00 AM

Eleven months after a parental consent law was signed into law by Gov. Perry, the Texas Medical Board still hasn’t approved a single form that would be used by doctors and clinics to obtain consent from the legal guardians of minors seeking an abortion. According to the Houston Chronicle, the TMB is saying that it has been a challenge to approve a form since they want to “consider all sides of the abortion debate”. At issue with the form being considered by the board is a requirement for the notarization of consent forms.

Click here to read story 

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ANOTHER HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION DEBATE COULD BE LOOMING by Brian Bodine
by Brian Bodine    Thu, May 11, 2006, 01:00 AM

The homestead exemption could be the subject of another debate in Dallas after voters in the district elect as many as three new trustees to the DISD school board on Saturday.

As a result of the potential $43 million dollar shortfall facing DISD due to the district’s status as a property-wealthy district, trustees have been considering and may continue to consider measures to reduce spending. At a DISD Board of Trustees retreat in late April, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told trustees that they have the option of lowering or eliminating DISD’s current homestead exemption, which makes the first 10 percent of assessed property value on a primary residence tax-free. (It is important to note that Hinojosa did not actually recommend lowering or eliminating the homestead exemption. He said that he was obligated to inform the board of what their options are.)

The suggestion of lowering the homestead exemption brought opposition to the idea from board President Lois Parrott, who said that even the mention of the homestead exemption would anger already irate homeowners.

DallasBlog recently spoke to the board president and asked her about the possibility of the board tinkering with the 10 percent homestead exemption in Dallas. Parrott said that she thinks there might be a push on the board to eliminate the homestead exemption in the future, though it is difficult to tell what might happen with the addition of one or more new board members.

Parrott said that she was steadfastly against lowering or eliminating the homestead exemption. “Once something is taken away, you don’t see it back,” said Parrott. “Right now, I would rather help out the homeowner.”

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BILL COULD GIVE EVACUATION AUTHORITY TO GOVERNOR
by Brian Bodine    Wed, May 10, 2006, 11:36 PM

A bill that may be considered in the special session would give the Governor the authority to order hurricane evacuations on the gulf coast if local authorities do not. According to the Austin-American Statesman, the bill would give more authority to the Governor to coordinate regional efforts while consulting with local authorities.

Governor Perry has said that he will not consider any other bills in the special session until lawmakers come to agreements on the cigarette tax and school finance.

Click here to read story 

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SHAPIRO AFFIRMS POWER OF ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD
by Will Lutz    Wed, May 10, 2006, 10:11 PM

Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) affirmed the authority of the elected State Board of Education on the Senate floor today. In response to questions from Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), Shapiro told Senators it was never her intent to take curriculum authority away from the elected State Board of Education. HB 1 contains provisions that direct the commissioners of higher education and public education to form vertical teams to work out proposals to align the K-12 curriculum with expectations in higher education. Shapiro stated that if the State Board of Education disagrees with the product produced by the vertical teams it is free to reject the product. She also amended the bill to clarify that it is not the intent of the bill to remove any authority from the elected board and that the board maintains full authority over the curriculum.

In addition, Shapiro told Senators that she supports putting new mathematics textbooks in Texas classrooms. Several State Board of Education members expressed concerns about language that was in the bill that directed the board not to issue any new proclamations ordering textbooks and to rescind previously issued proclamations. The provisions asking the board to rescind previously issued proclamations (the math books) will be deleted. In other words, the Senate declared that it will allow the process of ordering new math books to go forward.

Both changes are designed to address concerns raised by members of the State Board of Education. During the debate, Shapiro repeatedly affirmed her support for the elected State Board of Education and its authority.

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SENATE PASSES HB1 by 31 to 0 VOTE
by Will Lutz    Wed, May 10, 2006, 10:10 PM

 Senators have agreed on HB 1. The Senate voted to suspend 31-0 to take up HB 1. Here is the core agreement on equity:

In 2007 and 2008, districts will get four additional pennies (per $100 of valuation) of tax effort that they can access without an election. Those four pennies will not be recaptured. They will, however, be equalized at the property wealth equivilent to that of the Austin Independent School District (approximately the 94.5 percentile of property wealth). In 2009 and beyond, the number of pennies goes up to six. They are not recaptured but poor districts would receive a state guarantee equal to the amount the Austin school district would generate from its local tax base. The high school allotment created in the bill is $275 per student. This allotment goes to all school districts, regardless of property wealth. The agreement provides relief from recapture or "Robin Hood" for property wealthy districts and additional state aid for property poor districts.

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COUNCIL TO TRANSCONTINENTAL: IT'S ON
by Trey Garrison    Wed, May 10, 2006, 05:35 PM

Remember that historically protected, don't-knock-this-building-down warehouse - the old Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad freight depot - just south of downtown that Transcontinental Realty Investors went ahead and knocked down when no one was looking a few weekends ago?

Well, the Dallas City Council plans to sue, and not just sue a little. They plan to hit it like a vengeful god smiting a city of sinners.

“We’re going to sue their butts off. We can’t let them get away with this. What they did was a downright crime,” said Councilmember Angela Hunt. “We’re united on this. We’re going after them hard. The owner, the demolition company, everyone.”

When told that Transcontinental Realty's head honcho, Gene Phillips, was notorious both in the real estate and media communities for being litigious, Hunt said "Good. He better be prepared."

The council will have formal discussion on the lawsuits within a week.

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