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House approves change to Texas primary date

House approves change to Texas primary date

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AUSTIN - The House gave final approval Friday to moving the state's primary elections from March to February to give Texas more clout in choosing presidential nominees.

Republicans and Democrats endorsed the proposal, which would make the 2008 primary elections Feb. 5. Under current law, primary elections are held the first Tuesday of March.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Several other big states also are considering moving their primaries to Feb. 5 in 2008. The effect could be replacing the old Super Tuesday in March with a new slate of impact primaries a month earlier.

"The House has moved Texas one step closer to becoming a real proving ground on the road to the White House," said Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Utility bills

A bill to cut electric rates 15 percent for some residential customers paying the highest prices and to give state regulators the power to reject futures sales of some electric utilities won final approval from the House on Friday.

The bill would not affect the pending $32 billion sale of TXU Corp.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, which passed a different version last month.

The rate-cut provision would apply to more than 2 million Texans who are still paying the so-called price-to-beat - the basic rate charged by former monopolies such as TXU and Reliant Energy Inc.

Many customers have gotten lower rates by changing electric companies or signing long-term contracts with the former monopolies. They would not be helped by Friday's vote.

The House also voted to give the Public Utility Commission more power to review the sale of regulated electric-distribution companies.

The measure would not cover the sale of power-generation companies or electricity sellers. It was also applied only to deals made after April 1 so that it wouldn't cover any part of the pending sale of TXU to private investors led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group.

Border security

The House State Affairs Committee spent the day hearing testimony Friday on a high-profile border security bill. Among other things, House Bill 13 by Republican Rep. David Swinford of Amarillo would specify spending $100 million for border security, much of it going to border sheriffs' departments.

"The border is lacking in funds, and we are doing our best to get it," Swinford said, adding that the federal government hasn't provided the money it should.

Security database

Lawmakers also heard concerns in committee and the House chamber about the Texas Data Exchange database in Gov. Rick Perry's office, part of his homeland and border security initiatives.

Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, filed legislation Friday that would move the database out of the governor's office to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Raymond cited a report published by The Texas Observer that said Perry has spent more than $3.6 million to create an extensive centralized database containing detailed personal information on thousands or perhaps millions of Texans.

"It is imperative that this information be retrieved and be secured within the DPS. It should not be used until guidelines are determined to protect the privacy rights of the Texans included in the governor's improper data file," Raymond said.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said he didn't know about the database until Raymond mentioned it on the House floor Thursday night.

"We weren't aware of it at all," Craddick said. "They're using federal funds and it's up to the governor's office, but I think there are concerns by a lot of [House] members."

Perry's spokeswoman, Krista Moody, said the Texas Data Exchange is part of the Texas Division of Emergency Management and is already housed under the Department of Public Safety, not the governor's office.

"The governor is not authorized to view this database," Moody said. The only one in the governor's office authorized to view the information is Steve McCraw, director of homeland security, she said.

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