Daily Digest | May 22

We’re now just ten days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today.

The Senate is debating the so-called “open carry” bill, House Bill 910, today. It would allow people with a concealed handgun license, or CHLs, to openly display handguns in public. Police departments had voiced concern over an amendment that would block police from stopping someone just to check if they are licensed, but that provision was stripped away in a Senate committee. That means if passed in the Senate, the House will still have to approve that change. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Thursday he expects the bill to clear the Legislature, while Governor Greg Abbott has also said he would sign an open carry bill into law. Questions still remain about another gun law, the so-called “campus carry” bill or Senate Bill 11, which would allow for the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. Senators said Friday it will not be added as an amendment to open carry, and voiced confidence that it will pass as its own legislation, which is now in the House. The big sticking point in that bill: allowing campuses the opportunity to opt out of the campus carry program, which has been proposed by university leaders. That has not picked up traction so far in the Legislature.

Another controversial piece of legislation is scheduled to come to a Senate vote today, this one regarding abortion. House Bill 3994 would limit the use of judicial bypass, which lets teenagers get a court-ordered abortion if they can’t get parental permission in extreme cases like parental abuse. It would limit where minors could apply for those orders and would require more tangible evidence that they face possible abuse. The bill would also require doctors to assume all pregnant women are minors unless they can prove otherwise with an ID. Critics say that, in effect, creates a voter ID requirement, which would affect poor women, minorities and undocumented immigrants, much like the voter ID law. If approved without changes, it will go straight to the Governor.

A bill that would reduce higher education benefits for Texas veterans could come up for a vote in the House today. Senate Bill 1735 is an attempt to reign in the rising cost of the so-called Hazlewood Exemption, which lawmakers say has become unsustainable. Current law allows veterans with at least six months of active duty to get up to 150 credit hours of free tuition at a public university, and any time they don’t use can be passed on to their children. That cost Texas universities about $170 million last year, and could double in the next five years. This bill would tighten eligibility requirements, requiring recipients to live in Texas for eight years. It would also cut the amount of free tuition to 120 credit hours — the equivalent of a four-year degree — and would cap the number of free credit hours that could be transferred to the child at 60. Critics call the bill a betrayal of the state’s veterans. Supporters point out the need to get the rising costs under control.

And the dust is still settling after two major, albeit unexpected, announcements from the Capitol last night. First, the conference committee on the state budget gave approval to their compromise plan on House Bill 1 last night. Now the plan just has to clear votes in the two chambers before their plan to fund the state government for the next two years can go to Governor Abbott’s desk. Then, Governor Abbott formally announced the $3.8 billion tax cut plan. There weren’t any surprises in the announcement; it’s a combination of property tax cuts and business tax cuts, including a permanent 25 percent cut in the margins tax for businesses. It also creates a $10,000 homestead exemption for homeowners, but that would have to be approved by voters. Homeowners would get an average annual break in school property taxes of $126, starting with taxes owed this year. In all, the entire package amounts to about $3.8 billion, about a billion dollars less than initially proposed. The plan still hast to clear a few more votes before going to the governor for final approval.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined tonight by three members of the capitol press corps to discuss the week’s legislative headlines: Terry Stutz with the Dallas Morning News, Ross Ramsey with the Texas Tribune and Scott Braddock with the Quorum Report. Then Gardner Selby from Politifact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman will join us for his weekly fact-checking segment. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 21

The 84th Legislature ends eleven days from today. Here’s a look at what we’re watching today:

A controversial anti-union bill hit a major speed bump in a House committee this morning. Hundreds of union organizers showed up to speak against Senate Bill 1968, which would ban government employees from having union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Police, fire, and EMS employees are exempt from the bill as it is currently drafted. It’s part of a larger conservative effort to weaken unions; the authors of the bill say state money shouldn’t be funneled directly into politically-active organizations. Critics of the bill say making it more difficult to pay — or remember to pay — their dues will cut union funding dramatically. They say the bill would, in effect, minimize the voice at the Capitol for other state employees like teachers. Testimony on the bill was cut off after about two hours, with dozens of people still to speak. House State Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Byron Cook said the bill was too flawed to make it through the lower chamber. The bill was left pending, and it is unclear whether the committee will take a vote.

We could have a final budget sent to the two chambers by the end of the day. The budget-writing conference committee on House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill, began voting on parts of the budget yesterday. The final version will still have to get approval from both chambers and the governor. Once approved, we’ll know how the state plans to spend taxpayer money over the next two years, including major programs like education and border funding. That will also pave the way for the tax cut deal to finally get pushed out of the Legislature.

And the House could soon take a vote on a so-called religious objection bill that critics have called anti-gay. Senate Bill 2065 has been placed on the House calendar. It would protect churches, clergy and religious organizations from being sued for refusing to officiate same-sex marriages. Supporters say it’s protecting freedom of religion. Opponents say this protection is already in place, and have questioned whether same-sex couples would force someone to officiate their wedding. Governor Abbott has come out in favor of the measure.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Dr. Terri Givens, associate professor in the Department of Government at UT. This week’s theme in our “New Texas” series: our changing culture, and that of course includes immigration. Based on current demographic trends, how different will Texas be in the near future? And what’s going on now in terms of policy decisions that may affect the state? All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.



Daily Digest | May 20

Twelve days left until the end of the 84th Texas Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on today:

There’s a lot of movement today on components of the state budget and tax cut plans. The budget conference committee is expected to start voting on components of the budget this afternoon, according to Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R – TX Senate District 12). She also told a group of reporters today that the full budget could be passed out of conference committee as soon as tomorrow. That came after a Senate Finance Committee meeting this morning where they passed a modified version of the House business tax plan. The proposal approved out of committee includes a 25 percent franchise tax cut, and raises the threshold for businesses to use the E-Z calculation rate to $20 million. It also makes that 25 percent tax cut permanent, removing a provision that would have allowed lawmakers to lower that rate again in the future. The competing tax cut plans have been the biggest sticking point of the session, but it now seems details of the plan are taking shape with less than two weeks left in the session. And of course the the tax cut plan is a critical part of the budget, the only thing the Legislature is required to pass to avoid an automatic special session.

We’re also getting a better idea of how the tax cut plan will affect Texans, and it may not be as much as lawmakers promised. The $3.8 billion deal is expected to wrap up this week, but it is about $1 billion less than what House Republicans first proposed. This means the average homeowner would roughly save about an extra $120 on their property taxes, and those savings may be short-lived. Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson acknowledged Wednesday that rising home appraisals could mitigate that tax relief.

Also tonight, we will take a closer look at the House’s omnibus border security funding bill as it starts to regain its momentum in the upper chamber. House Bill 11 was voted out of the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security this morning as lawmakers get closer to a possible deal.  It would increase the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border over the next two years. It would also establish an intelligence center in Hidalgo County to analyze border crime data, and create a volunteer corps of retired DPS officers to bolster the agency’s ranks.

Our guest tonight is highly-involved in both of these major pieces of legislation. Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25) is the chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, which handles tax cuts. We’ll talk to him about that, plus he wrote the House border security bill, so we will talk about what that plan will mean for Texans as well. All that plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will join us with his observations. Tune in to “Capital Tonight”, at 7 and 11 p.m., only on Time Warner Cable News.



Daily Digest | May 19

We’re now thirteen days from the final gavel of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on at the State Capitol today:

Immigrant rights advocates are marching on the Governor’s Mansion to call for changes in immigration policy. The group “United We Dream” is protesting the Governor’s lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which would have shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. It comes as two bills that critics have called anti-immigrant return to the Senate intent calendar, which is usually an indicator the legislation has a chance to pass.

Senate Bill 1819 would repeal the Texas DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they have lived in Texas for three or more years. The other legislation recently added to the calendar is Senate Bill 185, or the so-called “sanctuary cities bill.” That proposal would expand immigration enforcement authority for local law enforcement. Supporters say it helps enforce immigration laws, while critics argue it leads to discrimination and would turn Texas into an anti-immigrant, “show me your papers” state. Our Karina Kling will explore the political implications of those bills as the House’s border security funding bill, House Bill 11, makes its way through the Senate.

In other headlines, the House Public Education Committee is set to take up Senate Bill 14, the so-called “parent trigger bill.” It would make it easier for parents to intervene and make changes at low-performing schools in their district. The author of the bill says it gives parents more power in shaping their child’s education, but critics argue it will just hurt schools that are already struggling even more instead of bringing them up to speed. And the House’s major overhaul of the state’s economic incentive funds is going before a Senate committee. House Bill 26 would abolish the Emerging Technology Fund and put that money toward Governor Abbott’s University Research Initiative. It would also create an Economic Incentive Oversight Board to monitor how state incentives are being distributed, after accusations were leveled at Governor Perry over lax oversight policies in the awarding of state funds.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Gary Godsey, the head of the influential group, the Association of Texas Professional Educators or ATPE. We’ll discuss the major education-related legislation this session, including the parent trigger bill, the A-F campus accountability bill and school funding, which is still in question. Plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 18

Sine die is two weeks from today, and there’s still plenty of work to do at the Legislature. Here’s what we have our eye on today:

The House’s border security funding plan could be sent to the full Senate as soon as this afternoon. House Bill 11 was left pending in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security this morning, but is expected to be brought back up later this afternoon. It would increase the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border over the next two years. It would also establish an intelligence center in Hidalgo County to analyze border crime data, and create a volunteer corps of retired DPS officers to bolster the agency’s ranks.

Gun control legislation, which dominated the early parts of the session, is coming back to the forefront this week. The House’s version of open carry, House Bill 910, is set to go before a Senate Committee today after going untouched for weeks. If it becomes law, concealed handgun license owners would be able to openly carry handguns. Law enforcement agencies have spoken out against an amendment that would prohibit police officers from stopping people who are openly carrying to ask them if they have a license, saying it would make it impossible to distinguish law-abiding citizens from criminals. As Chuck Lindell with the Austin American-Statesman reports, that provision is expected to be stripped from the bill in the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 11, which would allow concealed handgun owners to bring their guns onto campuses — but not carry them openly — is expected to get a second chamber vote this week. The full House could consider that bill as early as Wednesday, and if they approve the bill without any changes, it will go straight to the governor’s desk.

Governor Abbott is set to sign a major piece of legislation into law today: House Bill 40. That’s the legislation that would ban municipal governments from creating regulations on hydraulic fracturing. Critics of the bill say local governments and its citizens should have a say in whether drilling is done on their land. The bill’s authors say a statewide regulation would eliminate the confusion that could arise from a so-called patchwork of different regulations among local governments.

And the Senate sent a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors to Governor Abbott’s desk this morning. House changes to Senate Bill 97 were approved by the upper chamber today. Critics raised concerns about government overreach, but in the end it passed, on a 20-10 vote. A recent study found more young people are trying e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, and supporters of the bill say they should be treated like real cigarettes until more is known about their health effects.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight will be Charley Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT. He’ll talk about what’s been addressed by lawmakers this session, including CLEAT’s role in the compromise over a police body camera bill. Plus Harvey Kronberg from the Quorum Report will join us for his weekly analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 12

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

The bills are coming fast out of both chambers as major deadlines loom for the 84th Legislature. Lawmakers are trying to push through their proposals before Friday, which is the deadline for bills to be voted out of their originating chamber. It comes on the heels of a relatively slow first four and a half months of the session. Tonight, we look into how this session’s legislative pace compares to past sessions, and what lawmakers are doing to get bills to the governor’s desk.

One of those bills slated for a vote is House Bill 3130, which would ban women from using insurance to cover abortions, even in the case of rape or terminal fetal abnormalities. If approved, women would have to buy a supplemental “abortion insurance” plan to get covered for the procedure. Supporters of the bill say this ensures people who don’t support abortion aren’t subsidizing abortions for others through insurance payments, while opponents say this restricts abortion access even more in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the upper chamber’s tax cut plan, Senate Bill 1. Committee Chair Dennis Bonnen (R – TX House District 25), who authored the House tax cut bill, slammed the Senate’s plan, which would increase the homestead exemption to lower local school property taxes. He likened it to previous property tax cut plans, which he says didn’t end up decreasing property tax bills because of increases in property appraisals and local taxes. Rep. Bonnen went so far as to say he’d rather scrap the Senate bill and the House bill — which focuses on sales tax cuts — altogether in favor of increasing business tax cuts. Both chambers’ tax cut plans include business tax cuts, but do it to different degrees.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.”  Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick is our guest. She is part of the agency that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state.  A magnitude 4 earthquake recently shook a part of North Texas, just weeks after a recent independent study that says gas well activity is the likely cause of recent nearby tremors. We’ll ask her what the Railroad Commission is doing in light of the quakes and study, and get her thoughts on the state of the oil and gas industry when it comes to the global market.  Plus, political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their observations of activity at the Capitol. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 11

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

We’re down to crunch time in the legislative session, with just three weeks until the final gavel drops. Monday marks a major deadline: Senate and House committees have to vote out their chamber’s bills by the end of the day. Committees will still be able to take up bills referred from the opposite chamber, but they have to get their versions passed by the end of Monday if they are to have any chance moving forward. Then, another deadline comes up Friday. That’s when bills have to have cleared the full chamber to survive into the last two weeks of session. That could set up a frantic week as lawmakers try to push through their priority legislation.

Meanwhile, the House approved Speaker Straus’s priority veteran’s health bill today. House Bill 19 was approved on a 131-5 vote. It charges the Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Veterans Commission with coordinating a mental health intervention program for military families. It also authorizes the creation of a new preventive mental health program for veterans considered “at a high risk of family violence or abuse or neglect.” The bill also establishes new training protocols for mental health volunteers who would participate in the program. The bill does not have a companion in the Senate, so now must be referred to a Senate committee.

And a proposed statewide ban on texting while driving has cleared another hurdle. House Bill 80 was approved by the Senate State Affairs committee today on a 5-1 vote. It would make texting while driving a class C misdemeanor. Violators would face fines ranging from $99 for first time offenders to $200 for repeat violations. The bill was amended to create an exemption for drivers who have to use handheld devices while driving for their jobs. Similar bills in previous sessions have died in the Senate, but supporters hope the third time is the charm for the bill to clear the upper chamber. If it’s approved this time, it will go back to the full House for a vote on the changes made in the Senate.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Carlos Rubinstein, the chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. We’ll check in with him about a plan from last session, which was later approved by voters, to set aside money for water projects. We’ll ask him what types of projects are getting money, and when will they make a difference. Plus, the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will join us for his weekly commentary. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 7

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

Governor Greg Abbott’s priority pre-kindergarten legislation could go up for a second chamber vote today. House Bill 4 would give at least $130 million to schools to help bolster pre-kindergarten programs, although they would have to already be meeting certain state quality standards to receive the money. Critics of the bill have come from both sides; some argue it should be bigger and include full-day pre-kindergarten programs, others question the need for the program at all. The bill had stalled for weeks after getting House approval, and was the subject of a scathing letter from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s grassroots advisory board. The subsequent fallout between chamber leadership has been pointed to as a turning point in this legislative session.  If the Senate approves the bill, the House would have to agree with any changes that are made, then it will go to the Governor’s desk for a signature. Governor Abbott named pre-kindergarten education his first emergency item in his State of the State speech.

Another high-profile bill started its journey through the second chamber today. House Bill 80 would create a statewide ban for texting while driving. If approved, it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a $99 fine, to send or receive texts or emails or check social media sites while driving. Talking on a cell phone while driving would not be affected, though that is already banned in many cities due to citywide ordinances. Supporters say it would make roads safer and iron out differences in the patchwork of different rules across the state, while opponents have questioned whether the law is enforceable. The bill went before the State Affairs Committee this morning, and is expected to get a committee vote next week. Former Governor Rick Perry vetoed a similar bill, but Governor Abbott has not commented on his support for the bill.

Social media continues to buzz about a surprise committee vote last night to fully legalize marijuana in Texas. House Bill 2165 was approved on a 5-2 committee vote, but faces an uncertain future in the full chamber. We sat down with the bill’s author, Rep. David Simpson (R – TX House District 7) earlier this session to talk about the bill. You can watch that interview here.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re continuing our “New Texas” series with a discussion about our dwindling water supply. We’ll be joined by Rep. Eddie Lucio (D – TX House District 27), who serves on the Natural Resources Committee and the Land and Resource Management Committee, to talk about water-related legislation this session. Plus, political analysts Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us to give their take on the week’s headlines under the dome. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.