May 21st - 12:16 pm
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.
May 20th - 1:13 pm
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.
May 19th - 12:32 pm
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.
May 18th - 1:24 pm
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.
May 15th - 11:59 am
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:
Starting with major news outside the Capitol, we’re expecting to know in less than three weeks whether former Governor Rick Perry will run for president. Perry’s wife, Anita, tweeted out an invitation this morning to an event in Dallas on June 4th with the caption, “@GovernorPerry and I have been discussing the future of this great country and how our family can play a role.” It’s widely assumed Perry will once again run for president. He has been traveling across the country for months speaking at events in key early primary states. Of course Perry ran for president back in 2012, and was a brief front-runner, before fading from the lead in the primary.
Governor Abbott signed another bill into law this morning. Senate Bill 788 requires direct dialing of 911 from multiple-line telephone systems. The bill was filed after a murder of Kari Rene Hunt in Marshall back in 2013. Her young daughter tried calling 911, but never reached the police because the phone required her to dial “9” to get an outside line. Governor Abbott released this statement:
“There’s a lesson virtually every parent teaches their child – if you face an emergency, call 9-1-1. I am signing Kari’s Law to ensure that whenever there is an emergency, any child and any adult who dials 9-1-1 is going to be able to connect with emergency personnel to ensure they come to the rescue of those who need help the most.”
And finally, the dust is still settling from House deadline day. State representatives had until midnight Thursday to get preliminary approval on legislation that originated in their chamber. Texas House Democrats dragged their feet all day with stall tactics called “chubbing,” and successfully kept a controversial anti-gay marriage bill from ever being debated. The Republican-led effort was meant to be used to defy the U.S. Supreme Court if gay marriage is legalized, by prohibiting state government employees from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Democrats stalled with lengthy debates over noncontroversial issues, and took a lot of time trying to pass a measure to raise the state minimum wage — which ultimately failed. Earlier in the day, Representative Jimmie Don Aycock took down his school finance reform bill to try to speed up the process, saying he didn’t want to take up too much of the chamber’s time with a bill that he didn’t think had a chance in the Senate.
For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’ll be joined by three members of the capitol press corps on our reporter roundtable: Jay Root with the Texas Tribune, Ben Philpott with KUT and Christy Hoppe with the Dallas Morning News. Then Gardner Selby with Politifact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman will fact-check recent comments by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D – TX House District 147) and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.
May 14th - 11:44 am
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:
Hundreds of bills are in a race against the clock as a major deadline looms in the House. Midnight Thursday is the deadline for House bills to get their first vote by the full chamber. Anything that doesn’t come up for a vote is considered dead, unless they are tacked onto other bills as amendments to other legislation.
Lawmakers have been using stall tactics all week, through parliamentary procedure, to slow down debate and keep bills they oppose from coming to the floor for a debate. There are several key bills that have yet to be brought, including a key conservative push to undercut a Supreme Court ruling if it decides in favor of legalizing gay marriage. The bill would prohibit state, county and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other high-profile bills include the school finance reform plan, and legislation that would decriminalize or even legalize marijuana.
People on both sides of the reproductive rights issue are still reacting to a controversial abortion-related bill approved by the House last night. House Bill 3994 got the preliminary OK on a 98-47 vote Wednesday and then final approval Thursday morning. The bill changes state law regarding judicial bypass, which allows minors to get a court-ordered abortion if they can’t get parental permission due to extreme cases like parental abuse. It would limit where minors could apply for those orders, and would require more tangible evidence they face possible abuse. Statewide, about 300 teens are granted these orders per year, but another portion of the bill would have a much larger impact. It would require doctors to assume all pregnant women are minors unless they can prove otherwise with a government-issued ID. Critics say this creates a de facto ID requirement that would disproportionately affect the poor, minorities and undocumented immigrants, much like the voter ID law. Several amendments to weaken and delay the bill were shot down by supporters who say they’re trying to help protect women and the health of the fetus. The bill is now headed to the Senate.
Finally, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development is hearing public testimony today on a bill aimed at preventing another deadly explosion like the one in West, Texas two years ago. House Bill 942 would create a statewide regulation on the storage of ammonium nitrate — a common but highly flammable ingredient in fertilizer — including changes in storage and inspection protocols. The West fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people and injured more than 200 others back in 2013.
For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” On our show tonight, we take a look at the state’s changing economy — this week’s theme here on Time Warner Cable News as part of our month-long series, “New Texas.” Our guest will be Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly and former correspondent for the Economist, who also wrote a book that considers what America can learn from Texas. She’ll give her thoughts on the so-called “Texas Miracle,”and what the economic future may hold. 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.
May 12th - 12:12 pm
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.
May 11th - 12:34 pm
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.
May 7th - 12:20 pm
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.
May 6th - 12:43 pm
Karina Kling is exploring the increasing momentum for abortion bills in this legislative session. After months without much action on this issue, several bills are moving forward. Rep. Debbie Riddle’s (R – TX House District 150) House Bill 416 is expected to go up for a vote today. That would require abortion clinic workers to undergo human trafficking training. That comes after Tuesday’s vote in the Senate on the first major abortion bill of the session. Senate Bill 575 would prevent insurance plans from covering abortions unless it’s a medical emergency. Republicans say it prevents other insured Texans from paying for a procedure they believe is morally wrong, while critics call it more unnecessary restrictions for a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country already. That measure now heads to the House, which has already passed a similar bill out of committee. This was a major issue during last session, culminating in then-State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster that launched her into the national spotlight.
A Texas political icon, whose career ended in controversy, has died. Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright served as a Democrat in Congress for 34 years. Wright became the first House speaker ever to step down because of an ethics scandal back in 1989. Wright was charged with violations of House rules on reporting of gifts, accepting gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and limits on outside income. He never admitted wrongdoing and accused his critics of forcing him out due to partisan politics. Wright also spent nearly a decade in the Texas Legislature. He moved back to Fort Worth after he left Congress, and stayed there until his death Wednesday. He was 92 years old.
Earlier this week, House Bill 507 was voted out of committee. The bill, by Rep. Joe Moody (D – TX House District 78), would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. It’s the farthest this type of legislation has advanced in the Texas Legislature. That bill, combined with a renewed push for legalized medicinal marijuana, has turned this session into a possible turning point for marijuana reform in Texas. Our LeAnn Wallace is exploring the future of the bills.
For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’ll be joined by Rep. Moody, the author of that marijuana decriminalization bill. He will tell us about the vote’s significance, and the bill’s future. Plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg will be with us. Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Time Warner Cable News.