- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A new House committee will take a closer look this session at Texas law enforcement in the wake of heightened attention on local police following a string of high-profile incidents across the United States.

Republican House Speaker Joe Straus did not refer to any recent shootings or controversies involving police in announcing the Select Committee on Emerging Issues in Texas Law Enforcement. But body cameras and training are among the issues the panel is tasked with studying.

The committee will review how Texas police officers “face the challenging task of protecting Texas citizens from rapidly changing and emerging threats while remaining faithful to the federal and state constitutions.”

Republican Allen Fletcher, a former Houston police officer, will chair the committee.

Straus on Wednesday revealed appointments to more than three dozen committees that will review proposed bills. Republican John Otto is taking over the powerful House Appropriations Committee that will help write the next Texas budget.

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TREASON THREATS

In an online video Wednesday, a gun rights activist pushing for legislation allowing Texans to openly carry handguns tells state legislators that “treason is punishable by death.”

Kory Watkins of Open Carry Tarrant County posted, then later pulled, the video on YouTube, but not before another user uploaded it. The link was then shared by groups that oppose open-carry legislation.

In the 4-minute video, Watkins, 31, says, “We should be demanding these people give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason. Do you understand how serious this is, Texas?”

He tells viewers to do “more than foots in doors,” apparently referring to a confrontation he had with Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 13. That was the opening day of the legislative session, and Watkins and a group of other activists had a heated exchange with Nevarez in his office. Soon after, the Texas Department of Public Safety assigned a security detail to the Democratic lawmaker from Eagle Pass.

Watkins, 31, has been a vocal advocate of legislation that would allow open carry, something that has been prohibited in Texas almost since the Civil War.

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TRANSPORTATION FUNDING PLAN

The head of the influential Texas Senate Transportation Committee proposed Wednesday a constitutional amendment that would funnel part of the money generated by vehicle sales taxes to building and maintaining roads strained by a booming statewide population.

Jacksonville Republican Sen. Robert Nichols said if car and truck sales stay strong, the plan could mean $2-plus billion annually for traffic-clogged roads, highways and bridges. It would also allow top Texas conservatives to keep campaign promises about bolstering transportation infrastructure without raising taxes or expanding toll roads.

“We’re not talking about creating a new tax, we’re talking about capturing a portion of the tax you pay on your car or pickup,” Nichols said at a Texas Capitol news conference, flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads the Texas Senate.

Taxes collected on vehicle sales currently flow into the state budget’s general revenue. If passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, Nichols’ plan wouldn’t touch the first $2.5 billion generated annually, but would divert the rest for transportation infrastructure beginning in the 2018-2019 state budgetary cycle.

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ON DECK

Both chambers are adjourned until Monday afternoon, but the Senate Finance Committee and its Nominations panel meet Thursday morning.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“With only 118 days left in the legislative session, we have a lot of important work ahead of us,” House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in a statement announcing committee assignments.

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