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The Mayor’s Austin agenda

No, not his future run for Governor, which I will continue to believe is Bill White’s fate until proven otherwise. This is about the Mayor’s last legislative session while in office and the things he’d still like to accomplish there.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said White’s air quality agenda has a better chance than two years ago, and he attributed much of that to the election of Barack Obama as president. The new federal administration will have tougher clean-air standards, and states will have to scramble to comply, said Ellis, who chairs the Senate’s Government Organization Committee.

“Those states that have done something in the area of ambient air standards will be rewarded under the package that’s coming from the EPA,” Ellis predicted. “In Texas, we need to do catch-up.”

I presume at least some of that can be attributed to there being more Democrats in the Lege as well, since these things have largely broken along partisan lines as of late. There’s nothing like the specter of being forced to take action to make the Lege do something it had strenuously avoided doing before (see “school finance reform” for Exhibit A), but if that’s the motivating factor, then unless President-elect Obama gets those tougher standards implemented right away, I’d bet that the Lege will continue to procrastinate until at least 2011, when an actual deadline may be hanging over them. I appreciate Sen. Ellis’ optimism, but I cannot embrace it just yet. As long as Tom Craddick is still Speaker, we’re in for another 140 days of Rep. Dennis Bonnen as the Chair of the Environmental Regulations Committee, and as long as that’s the case, ain’t nothing happening.

White has added pawnshops to his list of industries that need some reform. The city has 139 of them, and police officials say it’s still too easy for thieves to fence stolen goods at the shops. But the city can’t crack down unless state law is changed first.

Specifically, the city wants the shops to file information on pawned goods electronically, rather than by paper.

“Because it may take several days to enter the (paper) information into the database, that stolen material could be already pawned off again, or out the door,” said Darrin Hall, a deputy director for governmental affairs.

The police department processes more than 1.2 million paper pawn tickets every year, Sgt. Joe McGee said. Electronic processing would be instant and would help the police match pawn data with police reports of stolen TVs, stereos and computers.

(Pawn tickets use serial numbers, so this only works if victims of theft have written them down elsewhere.)

In the information age, paper processing is outdated, White said. “People within the industry say they do not want to deal with stolen merchandise, so this is something that would be a real tool for law enforcement and citizens.”

Now this is both a no-brainer and should be doable. The only argument against I can think of is the cost of purchasing a computer, an Internet connection, and maybe a bar-code scanner. Surely some kind of incentive, maybe a tax abatement, can be conjured up to help defray these costs for the smaller operators. If this one doesn’t happen, I’ll be surprised.

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