Perry vetoes 24 bills, makes few changes to budget


WILL WEISSERT,Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry vetoed 24 would-be laws late Friday, wiping out proposals to prevent wage discrimination against women, tighten ethics laws, limit the power of university regents and ban the sale of sugary drinks at many public schools — but leaving the roughly $100 billion budget mostly intact.

The governor has the authority to scrutinize the budget line by line and remove what he doesn’t like. Perry didn’t do much, however, except for making good on a threat to erase all funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit after the district attorney who oversees it was convicted and jailed for drunken driving. The unit investigates wrongdoing by elected officials.

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Perry carried out other cuts to the supplemental spending plan and main budget that appeared relatively minor. His office tweeted that they added up to $500 million, though it wasn’t entirely clear what that tally included and what it didn’t.

The final burst brings to 28 the number of vetoes Perry has issued since the legislative session ended May 27, and he line-itemed parts of the budget and one other measure. Perry summoned lawmakers into a 30-day special session immediately, but they cannot override any of his vetoes because they are only allowed to work on issues he places on the agenda.

The budget uses a surging state economy to restore large chunks of the historic spending cuts of two years ago and includes a ballot initiative that will ask voters to approve $2 billion for major water infrastructure projects.

“This session we took broad steps to strengthen our state for generations to come,” Perry said in a statement. “With the state growing by more than 1,000 people a day, the citizens of Texas entrusted us to make important investments in our communities while being responsible with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. I’m proud to say we’ve done just that.”

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Indeed, Perry’s only major modification to the budget came when he followed through on threats to strip the integrity unit of its funding. He wants Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who directs the Austin-based unit, to resign following an April drunken-driving conviction that saw her serve about half of a 45-day jail sentence.

Lehmberg will now have to decide whether to resign or lose funding for the unit, which had stood to receive about $7.5 million through fiscal year 2015 for more than 30 employees to investigate 400-plus active cases.

But the Legislature also passed many bills Perry blocked from becoming law Friday. Among them were new ethics rules requiring public officials to divulge more about their personal financial holdings, as well as a measure designed to limit the power of university regents that comes amid a nasty battle at the University of Texas between President Bill Powers and some members of the board of regents.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director for the watchdog organization Public Citizen, said he was shocked by the veto of the proposed ethics law changes, which he noted passed with broad, bipartisan support.

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“It is a bad sign for democracy when a single person can veto the will of almost an entire Legislature,” Smith said.

Perry also vetoed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would have helped ensure that employers provide women in Texas with equal pay for equal work.

The law passed after lengthy debate and a close vote in the Texas House, but had an easier road in the Senate. It sought to ensure that Texas law mirrored gender wage protections from the federal Ledbetter Act, which was adopted in 2009.

Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, learned about the veto even before the governor’s office announced it.

“By vetoing the equal pay for equal work bill, Gov. Perry shows a reckless disregard for the wages that are required to support Texas families,” said Davis, who was once a single, teenage mother herself. She added that the average woman will make $430,000 less in her career than a man.

Davis also rejected the premise that the act duplicated federal law, because she said it allowed women to sue in state courts and not have to go through a more expensive federal court case.

Perry also overruled a bill that prohibited the sale of sugary beverages in public elementary and junior high schools, limiting sales to water, low-fat milk and pure juice instead. Supporters said it would lower public health costs by helping to guard against obesity in young people.

But the governor said in his explanation statement that the measure took efforts to promote healthy eating “to an unreasonable and unnecessary extreme” while limiting “access to such innocuous beverages as 2 percent milk.”