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OPINION: State Capital Highlights – Many registered but few voted in primaries

AUSTIN — Looking back at the March 4 primaries, Texas boasted 13,601,324 voters registered in time to cast a ballot.

An estimated 9 percent of the overall number of registered voters (about 1.3 million) voted in the Republican primary and 4 percent (500,000) voted in the Democratic primary. 

Runoffs between the top two vote-getting candidates in a number of contests are scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, the day after the federal holiday, Memorial Day. Votes count big in any election, but as historic participation records reveal, the portion of the electorate that actually votes in runoffs is an even thinner slice of the whole. And voter turnout is especially low in mid-term (non-presidential election year) runoffs, as those set for May 27 will be. Usually about 2 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in those.

Next, let’s look at the final component of the March 4 primary ballot — propositions — reflecting interests of the Texas Democratic and Texas Republican parties. Propositions and percentages of votes in favor or against each, as posted by Office of the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, are as follows.

Republican Prop. 1: Ability to freely express religious beliefs and prayer in public.

– In Favor: 1,311,353 (97.24%)

– Against: 37,117 (2.75%)

Republican Prop. 2: Expanding locations where concealed handgun-permit holders may carry.

– In Favor: 1,160,360 (86.92%)

– Against: 174,594 (13.07%) 

Republican Prop. 3: Abolish the state franchise tax to encourage business growth.

– In Favor: 1,152,521 (88.47%)

– Against: 150,132 (11.52%)

Republican Prop. 4: Welfare recipients to be tested for drugs before receiving benefits.

– In Favor: 1,280,839 (94.90%)

– Against: 68,729 (5.09%)

Republican Prop. 5: Elected officials and staff be subject to same laws as constituents.

– In Favor: 1,344,230 (99.36%)

– Against: 8,583 (0.63%)

Republican Prop 6: Repeal The Affordable Care Act.

In Favor: 1,253,915 (93.00%)

Against: 94,310 (6.99%)

Democratic Prop. 1: Immigration reform.

– In Favor: 477,578 (86.46%)

– Against: 74,744 (13.53%)

Democratic Prop. 2: A living wage for all Texans.

– In Favor: 498,360 (89.09%)

– Against: 60,977 (10.90%)

Democratic Prop. 3: Medicaid expansion.

In Favor: 495,788 (88.95%)

Against: 61,567 (11.04%)

Democratic Prop. 4: On non-discrimination legislation.

– In Favor: 488,148 (88.11%)

– Against: 65,850 (11.88%)

Tax revenue increases

State sales tax revenue in February was $2.2 billion, up 5.8 percent compared to February 2013, State Comptroller Susan Combs said last week. “Sales tax revenue continues its growth streak and has now increased for 47 consecutive months,” Combs said. “Growth in tax collections was seen across all major economic sectors including oil and gas, wholesale trade and the services sector.” Combs said the state would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their March local sales tax allocations totaling $553 million, up 4.1 percent compared to March 2013.

Protection ruling to come

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to protect the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and a ruling on the bird’s status is expected March 30. 

The bird’s Texas habitat includes short grass and mixed grass prairies in 24 counties of the Panhandle region, where energy companies have interests.

A lesser prairie-chicken advisory committee that first met in February 2010 produced a list of recommendations, and one was that industries operating in lesser prairie-chicken habitat develop best management practices to minimize impact. Many oil and gas companies responded, saying they voluntarily would enroll acreage in a habitat conservation plan for the bird.

In 2012, a conservation compromise was struck between the State of Texas and the federal government over the listing and proposed protection of the dune sagebrush lizard and its West Texas shinnery oak dunes habitat where oil, gas and wind energy development operations are sited.

DWI enforcement steps up

Texas Department of Public Safety on March 6 announced a planned increase of DWI patrols, before, during and after spring break, running from March 7 to March 23. For the duration of the enforcement period, state troopers’ focus has been on “high-risk locations” at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent.

During last year’s spring break enforcement period, the agency reported, more than 1,000 DWI arrests with enforcement also were made, resulting in more than 11,400 speeding citations, 1,600 seat belt/child safety seat tickets, 552 fugitive arrests and 463 felony arrests during the period.

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