- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday to a limited medical marijuana bill that would give epilepsy patients access to trace amounts of cannabis oil.

The next stop is Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, marking a milestone that marijuana-reform advocates say is nothing short of historic in Texas. The Republican hasn’t said whether he will sign one of the most talked-about measures in his first legislative session as governor.

Here are some questions and answers about what would be Texas’ first law allowing some form of legalized marijuana for medical reasons:

Q: WHAT DOES IT DO?

A: The bill allows patients with intractable epilepsy, whose seizures are not controlled by usual treatments, to receive trace amounts of a marijuana plant extract to help treat their seizures. The maximum legal dosage would be so low that it wouldn’t produce the high associated with other parts of marijuana. The oil could only be obtained with a prescription and would remain off-limits to patients with other medical conditions.

Q: WHERE ELSE IS THIS ALREADY LEGAL?

A: Fourteen states in the past year have passed similar low-dose cannabis oil laws. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott were among the first. Republicans in those states have stressed that the oil would be strictly supervised and wouldn’t be a precursor to legalizing recreational marijuana.

Q: IF IT’S SO LIMITED, WHY ARE MARIJUANA SUPPORTERS EXCITED?

A: Even the mildest proposals to relax marijuana laws in recent years have been dead on arrival in the Texas Legislature. Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick, the House sponsor of the latest cannabis bill, has said even she wouldn’t have supported her own legislation two years ago. Klick, a nurse, said learning about the impact the oil can have on patients changed her mind. Progress Texas, a left-leaning group that has pushed for marijuana reforms, called the measure an “important first step.” But not all marijuana reform advocates are celebrating. The Marijuana Policy Project calls the legislation “unworkable” and blasted lawmakers for not following the lead of 23 states that allow comprehensive medical marijuana.

Q: WILL ABBOTT SIGN IT?

A: Since taking office in January, Abbott - the state’s former attorney general - has mostly limited his comments about marijuana to saying he doesn’t see decriminalization happening this year. But that’s far from the issue outlined in the legislation now in front of him. He also has plenty of political cover in the form of other GOP governors and his own Republican-controlled Legislature that have supported legalizing its restricted medical use.

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NEW PRIVATE COLLEGE POLICE FORCE DISCLOSURE RULES HEADING TO GOVERNOR

A bill on its way to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk requires private campus police to release certain records to the public.

The House on Tuesday endorsed a proposal already passed by the Senate. It designates private college police as governmental entities, and thus subject to public records laws.

The bill’s sponsor, Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, said he filed it after Rice University declined to release information about an incident in 2013. That’s when police used batons to hit a suspected bicycle thief who they claim resisted arrest.

According to the Student Press Law Center, Texas would become the fourth state to require that private campus police disclose the facts and circumstances of crimes reported to them - should Abbott sign the bill into law.

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HOUSE OKS STRICTER STATE CONTRACT RULES

The House has approved a bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in state contracts, following a $110 million no-bid state contract scandal.

The lower chamber voted 143-0 on Tuesday to pass a measure that the Senate approved unanimously in March.

Sponsored by Flower Mound Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, it requires more reporting on contracts, including forcing agencies to disclose and justify any no-bid agreements.

Gov. Greg Abbott has called for better contract safeguards, and is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

Clamor for tighter rules comes in the wake of the Health and Human Services Commission awarding a lucrative 2014 contract to the Austin-based tech company 21 CT outside the normal bidding process.

Several top state officials have resigned over the 21CT deal.

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‘JUDICIAL BYPASS’ ABORTION RESTRICTIONS HEADED FOR FULL SENATE

A Texas Senate panel has approved tighter restrictions on a process enabling teens to have abortions in extreme cases, when they can’t get the required parental consent.

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday recommended Republican Rep. Geanie Morrison’s bill to the full Senate. It passed the House last week and now only needs upper chamber approval.

Morrison’s measure would drastically alter “judicial bypass,” allowing girls under 18 to seek a judge’s permission to have an abortion without parental consent.

Opponents and even supporters worry about a bill provision stating that if a judge doesn’t rule on a judicial bypass application within five days, it is automatically denied.

Texas Alliance for Life executive director Joe Pojman said the provision would face constitutional challenges “without any realistic benefit.”

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ON DECK

The House is adjourned until 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Senate reconvenes at 8:30 a.m. to do a calendar of uncontested bills, before heading into full session at 11 a.m.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Are we supposed to make companies threat-proof? Should we guard Blue Bell now because people have died?” - Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, during a debate on a bill to keep the names of companies that provide execution drugs to Texas confidential.

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