AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — State lawmakers have given Texas Motor Speedway a big helping hand if the state's premier stock-car track wants to lobby for NASCAR's All-Star race and season-ending championship. The Texas Legislature approved a bill Thursday that makes those two races eligible for the state's Major Events Reimbursement Program, the same fund that's used to help attract big events such as the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament's Final Four and Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix. The two NASCAR events would fit right in, too.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — State lawmakers have given Texas Motor Speedway a big helping hand if the state's premier stock-car track wants to lobby for NASCAR's All-Star race and season-ending championship.
The Texas Legislature approved a bill Thursday that makes those two races eligible for the state's Major Events Reimbursement Program, the same fund that's used to help attract big events such as the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament's Final Four and Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix. The two NASCAR events would fit right in, too.
"They want to be able to go after those races, just like we try to court a Super Bowl or any other major sporting event," said Rep. Tan Parker, a Republican whose district includes Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. "They will immediately go after them as best they can, and this gives them a tool in their tool box to be aggressive when competing with other venues."
NASCAR has already set its 2018 schedule with the All-Star race in May in Charlotte and the championship finale set for Homestead, Florida, in November. NASCAR has held the All-Star race in Charlotte almost every year since it was created in 1985, the lone exception a race in Atlanta in 1986. Moving it would mean uprooting the race from an area most NASCAR teams call home.
Still, some drivers have said they'd like to move those events out of their traditional spots.
Cup Series leader Kyle Larson, who finished second in the All-Star race last week, has suggested moving both to generate driver and fan interest. Other big leagues do it and so should NASCAR, he said.
"I think you look at other sports and their all-star games switch venues all the time. It's the same game, so it doesn't really make a difference other than the venue, but for us I think it's really cool to change the venue," Larson said. "I don't know if race tracks could bid on the All-Star race or bid on the final race of the season, but I think that would be really cool."
SWEEPING ABORTION BILL CLEARS LEGISLATURE
The Texas Legislature approved a sweeping package of new abortion limits Friday, despite the legal challenges they're likely to provoke and nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled a 2013 law that prompted more than half the state's abortion clinics to close.
The bill sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott includes a measure that federal courts have already blocked in several states — a ban on a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation.
Abbott is still expected to sign what amounts to Texas Republicans' counterpunch to last year's Supreme Court ruling, which struck down tough rules on abortion clinics and doctors and changed the landscape of abortion access in the nation's second-largest state.
"That's why the courts are there," Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner said moments before the state Senate gave its final approval. "We shouldn't be afraid to pass laws that we think are necessary, proper and right."
The bill would also require the burial or creation of fetal remains — a requirement that a federal judge has already blocked in Texas after the state health rules were changed at Abbott's behest last year. The measure also would ban the sale or donation of fetal tissue, even though federal law already prohibits the sale of fetal tissue.
SEXUAL ABUSE SCHOOL TRAINING
Texas children as young as 5 could soon be taught how to better ward off sex abuse.
The state Legislature has approved a requirement for all public schools to provide sexual abuse prevention training to students.
The measure heads to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk after final House passage Friday on a 136-9 vote.
It mandates that both elementary and secondary schools offer age-appropriate, research-based training to promote self-protection and prevent abuse and human trafficking.
The schools must provide the instruction twice a year, and explain the content of course materials both on their websites and in a handbook.
The bill is designed to combat an increase in reports of sexual abuse and trafficking in Texas.
Abbott can either sign or veto the bill or allow it to become law automatically.
A bill allowing volunteer firefighters and first responders to bring their guns into restricted areas has cleared the state Legislature.
It pertains to volunteer emergency personnel who have concealed-carry licenses and passed the House on a final 136-9 vote Friday.
The proposal now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott. He's expected to sign it, though it will become law automatically without his approval unless he vetoes it.
Proponents say the legislation protects first responders arriving to potentially dangerous scenes and lets them get there faster since they won't have to worry about stashing their guns beforehand.
But opponents noted that first responders don't receive extra training to carry their guns and worried about unintended consequences.
The bill is one of several loosening firearms restrictions this legislative session in Texas.
GUN LICENSE FEE CUTS
Gov. Greg Abbott has visited a gun range to sign a law reducing Texas' fees for licenses to carry handguns to the lowest in the nation.
The Republican endorsed Friday a law dropping to $40, from $140, the cost of first-time permits, and from $70 to $40 fees for 5-year-renewals. Abbott then took target practice, as he often does after signing gun bills.
The National Rifle Association said Texas' gun-carry fees are now America's lowest.
It'll cost Texas nearly $22 million in its 2018-2019 budget, despite the oil-price slump leaving the state up to $6 billion short of being able to maintain current spending levels.
Still, supporters argued that Texas' high past fees made many people travel to other states to obtain cheaper licenses they could use back home.
There will be a joint session of the Legislature beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday to honor Texas veterans killed while serving over the last year. After that, both chambers will have sessions furiously approving laws ahead of Monday's end of the legislative session.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I'm going to carry this around in case I see any reporters" — Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, joking with journalists after being given his target sheet at the gun range where he signed the bill reducing gun license fees.