Archive for January, 2013

Capital Tonight: House committees come together

It’s still too early to pass any laws, but a crucial part of the legislative process can now begin. Thursday, House Speaker Joe Straus released the official list of committee assignments.

In addition to the state’s 38 standing committees, three new groups were formed. Among them is one that will focus on transparency. Rep. Dan Flynn was selected to co-chair the committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

“It’s going to be very simple,” Rep. Flynn said. “We want good public policy. Give us an opportunity to look at agencies and investigate some of the issues that come down that might look questionable.”


On the Senate side, committee assignments are important as well. Sen. Kel Seliger sits on several of them, including the finance, education and open government. He is also chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Sen. Seliger visited the Capital Tonight studio to talk about some of those issues, as well as his Senate Bill 225, which would change requirements for high school graduation.


Also in the show, we heard from political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi. Click the link below to hear their take on the day’s committee assignments and more.


Poll: Clinton could win Texas; voters have no interest in a Perry 2016 presidential run

With all the talk lately about Texas as the next battleground state, a new poll shows Hillary Clinton would stand a fighting chance at winning the Lone Star State, if she runs for president.

The latest in a Texas’ series of Public Policy Polling surveys released today show her with leads in hypothetical matchups against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Chris Christie. Clinton holds the widest margin over Gov. Perry, with 50% of people polled saying they’d cast their ballot for her.  That is compared to 42% who say they would vote for Perry.

“If Clinton is the 2016 nominee, she could conceivably expand the electoral map for Democrats in deep-red Texas,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling.

When it comes Gov. Perry’s political aspirations, it seems most Texas voters would prefer that he not run for president again. Of those polled, just 19% said they would support another run for the White House.  70% said he should forgo another attempt.

Speaker Straus announces committee assignments

Speaker Joe Straus handed out committee assignments on the House floor, today.

In addition to the standing committees, Straus created several House Select Committees. Those include a Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsiblity and a Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

According to the proclamation, the Federalism and Fiscal Responsiblity Committee will “monitor actions of the federal government, including federal legisltion and regulations” that diirect the states to take action or pass certain laws.

The purpose of the eight-member transparency committee will be to monitor other branches of government and state agencies and provide a clearer picture to the public about  how state money is spent.

You can find the full list of committee assignments below.

Capital Tonight: Texans not shy about gun debate

While matters in the state legislature continue to ramp up slowly, debate on Capitol Hill was fierce during a hearing on gun control.

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, nearly two years after becoming the victim of gun violence herself. During testimony, she went face-to-face with the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, and made her case for stricter gun laws.

“It will be hard, but the time is now,” Giffords said. “You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

Sen. Ted Cruz also weighed in on the issue. The Senator from Texas questioned LaPierre about the logistics of the proposed bill, and harshly criticized the possibility of a ban on assault weapons.

“The reaction to this tragedy in Newtown is for a lot of elected officials in Washington to rush to reenact a law that, according to the Department of Justice, did absolutely nothing to reduce gun violence,” Cruz said.


Back in Austin, researchers at one biotech company are pointing out that, amid all the scandal, the state’s cancer-fighting efforts are yielding real results.

Mirna Therapeutics received $10.3 million from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT. The company’s CEO, Dr. Paul Lammers, says the public money has done its part inside his lab.

“Oh, absolutely vital, because it is very difficult time right now for funding in biotech,” he said. “Developing a new medicine, a new drug, doesn’t matter if it’s for cancer or for hypertension or diabetes, it is a long exercise.”

Scientists at Mirna say they’ve successfully created an experimental cocktail called the MRX34, which could inhibit the growth of tumors in humans. The drug is currently on its way to the U.S. Food Drug and Administration for clinical testing.


And the board that determines what Texas students are taught in school held its first full meeting since the November elections. The State Board of Education is still comprised of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, but there are signs that the culture wars that drew national attention in 2010 could now be a thing of the past.

“It’s much more of a focus on academics and less on partisan politics,” board member Thomas Ratliff said.

Ratliff says his reason for serving is because of the negative national attention. Click the link below to hear more from SBOE members, along with an update on hearings from the Senate Finance Committee.


Cornyn calls for hearings on gun law enforcement

Sen. John Cornyn is hoping to use his spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee to push for stronger enforcement of federal gun laws. At a committee meeting today, Sen. Cornyn called for a hearding on the Department of Justice’s handling of enforcement. Afterward, we got a chance to ask Cornyn which specific laws he thought weren’t being enforced. One thing he mentioned was a state-level obligation to submit mental health data to a larger database.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from some of these terrible tragedies, it’s that we need to get a better handle on people with mental health conditions who may end up committing these heinous acts of violence, and submitting this information by the state to the federal government so it can be included in background checks as an important part of that.”

You can see his full response by clicking on the video link below.

Perry to WFAA-TV: If I run, Abbott won’t

There are reports today that Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have a deal for the 2014 election. If Perry decides to seek reelection, Abbott won’t mount a primary challenge. WFAA in Dallas and the The Dallas Morning News are reporting that Perry made the statement in an exclusive interview for Inside Texas Politics, with WFAA’s Brad Watson and the Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers. 

According to both news outlets, after the taping, Perry said “Greg is a dear friend. He has said clearly that if I ran again he’s not going to be running against me.” 

Abbott spokesman Eric Bearse said he could not confirm or deny if such a conversation took place. Bearse told the paper, “Gov. Perry and Gen Abbott are close friends, and talk frequently. I am not going to comment on private conversations I am not privy to.” Bearse said, “General Abbott is focused on taking care of the business of Texas, and political speculation right now is unproductive.”

Gov. Perry and General Abbott have declined to say formally if they are planning to run for the state’s highest office in 2014. Both have said they will make their plans clear after the legislative session, in June.



Poll: Texas voters support both the NRA and an assault weapons ban

Texans have a favorable view of the National Rifle Association, but most support a ban on military-style assault weapons. That is according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey released today. 

Of the 500 Texans polled, 46% said they had a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association, compared to 41 percent who had an unfavorable opinion. On the issue of guns, more people said they trust the NRA than trust President Obama. 

In contrast, the poll also shows 49% of Texas voters would support a ban on assault weapons. 41% of those polled say they are against a ban. PPP’s Tom Jensen said: “We’ve found support for the assault weapons ban everywhere we’ve polled it, but it’s particularly striking to see that voters favor it in a pro-gun, anti-Obama state like Texas.”


Sen. Cornyn explains ‘no’ vote on Kerry confirmation

Sen. John Cornyn is going on record about why he voted not to confirm Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State. In a satellite interview, Cornyn explained that he knew Kerry’s confirmation would survive the Senate vote.

“But on all of the important issues, I can’t think of very many I agree with him on, and I thought it was appropriate to cast a “no” vote as a statement of my disagreement with him on those policies.”

Sen. Cornyn was one of three lawmakers to vote against Kerry’s confirmation. Fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma were the other two. Kerry will replace Hillary Rodham Clinton once he is sworn in.

Watch Cornyn’s full statement by clicking the video link below.


Capital Tonight: Analyzing the ‘State of the State’

“It is my pleasure to report that the state of our State is stronger than ever,” Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday. What came after will be subject to debate throughout the 83rd legislative session.

In his seventh State of the State address, Gov. Perry told a packed House chamber that Texas is doing something right. He called on lawmakers to continue along a fiscally conservative path, spending only what the state has in its piggy bank.

“We’re in a position today to put our financial house in order, and it’s time to do so,” Perry said.

Apart from budgeting matters, the governor touched on education, infrastructure and the possibility of tax relief. 


Rep. Dawnna Dukes was one of several Democrats who responded immediately after the governor’s speech. She mostly took issue with Perry’s repeated refusal to expand Medicaid.

“Under Medicaid expansion, 1.8 [million] additional Texans of the 5.8 million who are uninsured in Texas would have an opportunity to be on health insurance,” Rep. Dukes said. “Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation.”


Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi also had something to say about the day’s events. Hear their analysis and watch the full episode by clicking on the link below.


Prominent CPRIT grant recipient out of businesses amid agency scandal

One of the biggest benefactors of the state’s embattled cancer research agency is folding amid scandal. The Clinical Trials Network of Texas announced today that it is out of money and now out of business. 

CTNeT was founded in 2010 with a $25.2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It conducted clinical trials and had signed research agreements with 20 cancer research institutions across the state. CPRIT began withholding payments last month, after state auditors found some questionable expenses. 

The audit, released yesterday, recommended that CPRIT improve its management of the CTNeT research grant and identified weaknesses in the agency’s decision to award the grant. The audit found that “CPRIT’s relationship with CTNeT and its lack of enforcing contract requirements impair CPRIT’s ability to ensure that CTNeT is properly using grant funds and complying with grant requirements.”  

Questions were also raised over $160,000 in bonuses that were awarded to CTNeT’s chief operating officer.

CPRIT is currently the subject of several criminal and civil investigations over the way it awarded research grants. At the request of state leaders, the agency issued a moratorium on future grants, pending investigation.