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Texas House further softens state’s gun laws

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas House on Saturday approved a bushel of bills to further soften gun laws that were already among the most firearms-friendly in America, allowing college students to carry handguns in class, creating special, potentially armed marshals in public schools and exempting the state from any future federal bans on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines or universal background checks.

Dubbed “gun day” by supporters and opponents alike, the parade of votes came as tens of thousands of members of the National Rifle Association attended the group’s annual convention in Houston. Gov. Rick Perry welcomed convention attendees Friday with a video of him taking target practice using a semi-automatic rifle.

A Democratic parliamentary point of order managed to shoot down just one firearms measure, a bill by Rep. Van Taylor that would have allowed the use of a concealed handgun license as a valid proof of personal identification — even though obtaining such a license requires a background check unnecessary to get driver licenses and many other forms of ID.

The fiercest debate in the Republican-controlled chamber came over the plan to allow students over 21 who already hold concealed weapons permits to take their handguns into college classrooms. The issue became exceedingly volatile during the last legislative session in 2011, and ultimately failed.

Pro-Second Amendment lawmakers have revived it, however. Sponsor Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, reminded lawmakers: “College campuses are not crime-free zones.”

The measure would allow colleges and universities to opt-out of the new rules annually — which has softened opposition to it among some top higher education leaders. Current law already allows universities to opt-in, and the Texas A&M University System is among those that have done so.

Meanwhile, the Texas Senate has already approved a separate measure allowing college students to keep guns in their cars on campus. But the prospects for the campus carry bill passed by the House on Saturday appear far bleaker. Top Republicans have even suggested the issue will be a non-starter in the upper chamber.

The House also overwhelmingly approved a bill which attracted national attention when it was introduced by first-term, tea party Republican Rep. Steve Toth of the Woodlands. It would nullify within state borders any federal laws banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, or expansion of background checks for firearms owners — even though doing so would almost certainly violate the U.S. Constitution.

“There are 27 amendments in the Constitution but only one says ‘shall not be infringed,’ Toth said. “The Second Amendment is the amendment that keeps the people free.”

Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, raised a string of parliamentary objections to many of the gun bills — but all of his failed. He asked Toth, “Is your bill political posturing?”

“We just passed by voice vote a slew of pro-gun legislation,” Walle said. “So what is this? Why do we need it?”

Rep. Brandon Creigton, R-Conroe, and several co-authors, sponsored a bill to punish by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine police officers or government officials who try to enforce federal firearms limits in Texas.

Also passing was the school marshal measure, sponsored by Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba. The marshals would be employees who already hold concealed weapons permits and are chosen by their public school district or charter schools to receive firearms training. They would keep guns locked away on campus, but have access to them in an emergency — though their identities would not be divulged to the public.

Causing fewer fireworks when it passed was a measure reducing penalties for permit holders who accidentally show a concealed handgun.

Three other successful bills reduced the number of hours of training needed to obtain a concealed handgun license and tweaked the rules for renewing or being fingerprinted for one. A separate measure that passed 136-0 reduced for police officers, military veterans, national and state guard members — and even some Criminal Justice Department employees — the fee for concealed handgun licenses, despite costing the state up to $2 million in lost revenues.

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HOUSE OKS EXCLUDING GOLD COINS FROM SALES TAX

The Texas House has overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan measure removing sales tax when consumers purchase gold coins and other small quantities of precious metals.

The bill would exempt from sales tax the purchase of up to $1,000 in metal coins. It was authored by Rep. David Simpson, a tea party Republican from Longview.

Many lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors, saying it would make it easier for low-income Texans to bolster their savings with some precious metals.

It passed overwhelmingly with a simple voice vote Saturday.

The measure is expected to cost the state at least $375,000 through fiscal year 2015. But 21 other states already have no sales tax on gold and silver coins.

It must clear a final, procedural hurdle in the House before heading to the state Senate.

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HOUSE APPROVES BILL EXPANDING COTTAGE FOOD SALES

A bill allowing cottage food businesses to sell more items at more locations is advancing through the Texas Legislature.

Approved by a voice vote in the House on Saturday, the measure by Austin Democratic Rep. Eddie Rodriguez must pass a final time in the lower chamber before heading to the Senate.

It would allow vendors, including farmers, bakers and other small-scale producers, to sell homemade, low-risk items like candy, nuts, jams, pickles, vinegar and dried fruits and vegetables out of their homes.

It also permits selling such items at gatherings including farmers markets and fairs.

Under the measure, qualifying cottage food business operators would have to complete an accredited basic food safety program for food handlers.

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HOUSE REAUTHORIZES CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

The Texas House has approved an omnibus proposal to reauthorize the Department of Criminal Justice through 2021, with only a few key modifications.

A simple voice vote was enough to provide preliminary passage of the measure Saturday.

One amendment that was approved directs the department to consider the most-expensive options first when mulling which excess, privately run prisons should close.

Another will study how much state revenue the department could generate by expanding prison commissaries.

But an amendment requiring the department to study how much sending inmates to solitary confinement costs was defeated.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“You can hide under your desk if necessary,” Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton after a warning that members of the House should not be startled by an unrelated, ceremonial 21-gun salute being held on the grounds of the Texas Capitol on Saturday morning.



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