Archive for January, 2013

Capital Tonight: Guns, teachers and women’s health

Lawmakers took an early weekend, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of big news in Texas politics.


After a full day in court, a Texas judge denied Planned Parenthood’s request to rejoin the state’s Women’s Health Program. This was just the latest go-round in court for the nonprofit, which hasn’t been receiving any state funding since the New Year as a result of action lawmakers took last session.

Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made waves by calling for gun a training program for Texas teachers. Speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation luncheon, he suggested school districts could opt in to the program, and choose which faculty members would be armed. He stressed that state funding would be necessary, because standard training for a conceal-and-carry license would not be sufficient.

“As someone who’s on his third renewal of my concealed handgun license in Texas, but has gone through the USA’s Air Force in weapons training, and I was in the CIA, and I was posted abroad, and I’ve gone through extensive weapons training — 8 hours of instruction and two hours on the range is not sufficient.”



The biggest class of freshman Representatives in decades has descended on the State Capitol — 41 to be exact. Over the next five months, we’re going to be taking a closer look at what kind of mark they’re making. This week, we talk to Republican Rep. Jason Villalba.  


We also heard from the Dallas Morning News’s Christy Hoppe  and  Corrie MacLaggan with Reuters, Plus KUT’s Ben Philpott as part of our new Reporter Roundtable segment.
Click the link below to view the entire episode online.


Perry reacts to Planned Parenthood decision

A state district court denied Planned Parenthood’s request to participate in the Texas Women’s Health Program on Friday. Gov. Perry’s office released the following statement:

“This is great news for Texas women and further proves that Planned Parenthood’s case attempting to derail the Texas Women’s Health Program lacks merit and is nothing more than a desperate move by an organization more concerned with obtaining taxpayer money than with helping women get care. With this ruling, our state can continue caring for Texas women.”

Planned Parenthood loses appeal

Planned Parenthood today lost its latest appeal in its fight to receive state funding as part of the Women’s Health Program.  State District Judge Steve Yelenosky said he denied the injunction because Planned Parenthood would likely lost at trial. 

In a statement, Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek applauded the ruling, saying:

“This allows us to continue to provide important family planning and preventive care to low-income women and fully enforce state law. We’ve got the Texas Women’s Health Program up and running, and we’ll continue to provide help to any woman who needs to find a new doctor or clinic.”

(UPDATED) Dewhurst suggests state funded firearms training for school employees

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst jumped head first into the guns in schools debate, Friday.  Speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event, Dewhurst called for expanded firearms training for teachers and administrators.

Dewhurst said the training would extend beyond the traditional requirements for a concealed handgun license. 

“If there’s going to be and increase in people carrying handguns in public schools,” Dewhurst said. “The state should pay for robust training for those personnel that are authorized by the school boards to carry concealed weapons in the schools so that they can protect themselves and protect the children.”

Under state law, it is up to individual school districts to decide if staff members can carry concealed weapons on campus.  Dewhurst said this program would not change that law and school districts would not be required to participate. 

He didn’t offer any details about where that funding would come from. 

UPDATE: Dewhurst released this statement, following his remarks at the TPPF luncheon, announcing that Senators Dan Patrick and Craig Estes would hold a hearing on school safety.

 “With the increased violence we’ve seen in public schools in recent years, we must do everything we can to protect the safety and well-being of our most precious possession – our children.  I’m asking the Texas Senate to consider various school safety proposals, including providing state funds to make sure that school personnel approved by local school districts to carry concealed firearms have adequate training to protect our children and themselves.  I have asked Senator Patrick, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, to hold a hearing on school safety, and I have asked Senator Estes, Chairman of the Committee that oversees Homeland Security, to recommend additional ways to prevent heinous acts of violence against our children.”

Planned Parenthood resumes court battle

Planned Parenthood is resuming its fight to be included in the Texas Woman’s Health Program.  Attorneys are back in court today to ask a judge to issue an injunction, clearing the way for Planned Parenthood to receive state funding.

Planned Parenthood was cut out of the program on January 1.  At issue is state law banning clinics affiliated with abortion providers from receiving taxpayer money – even if the clinics themselves do not provide abortions.  As a result of the state’s so-called ‘affiliate ban rule,’ Texas lost federal funding for women’s health care.  Instead, the state is moving forward with its own self-funded program.

Planned Parenthood sued, claiming the new rule violates state and federal law and discriminates against health care providers.

Last month, a Travis County District Judge turned down Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order; clearing the way for the Health and Human Services Commission to cut off funding.  Today, Planned Parenthood is asking for a permanent injunction banning the state from excluding it from the program until a trial can be held.



Capital Tonight: One-on-One with Governor Perry

Click the video at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s show

Since the start of session Tuesday, we’ve been hearing a lot of vague plans and priorities from state leaders.  Thursday, in an interview with Capital Tonight, Gov. Rick Perry shared more specifics on his plans for the future. 

We talked to him about calls from some lawmakers to restore funding cuts made to education last year. 

“Why wouldn’t we want to have an open and very transparent discussion about which one of these programs delivers the best results for the people of state of Texas. Have that conversation,” the governor said. “And if the legislature agrees that this needs to be funded at a higher level, then I would suggest to you that’s what’s going to happen.

Gov. Perry also talked about the embattled Cancer Research Prevention Institute of Texas.

“We know that the best and quickest way to get cures into the marketplace is to have commercialization of those technologies,” Perry said.

Rep. Craig Eiland is among the lawmakers questioning that path for CPRIT, saying: “If you look at the ballot language that was sent to the voters, ‘commercialization’ was not mentioned to my recollection.”

Thursday’s show also digs into why some politicians are backpedaling on a bill passed last session. The Sunset Advisory Commission put the brakes on nine commercial projects slated for the Capitol Complex this week, including a proposed planetarium. Now, some lawmakers who voted for the bill that set those projects in motion are changing their minds.


Bill filed to restore $5.4B in education funding

The first shot in the battle over school funding has been fired.

Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam is sponsoring a bill that would restore all of the $5.4 billion cut from the state’s public schools in 2011. Burnam says Texas’ better economic picture means there’s now funding to undo the cuts, which the Texas Legislature approved during weaker economic times.

More than 600 school districts have sued the state over the cuts. If the courts side with them, it will be up to the Legislature to remake Texas’ funding system. But no ruling is slated to come until after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

In the meantime, Gov. Rick Perry is calling for restraint when it comes to the projected budget surplus. He says public education has been funded at a “rather substantial level” over the last decade.

“As a matter of fact, from 2001 to 2012, public education funding went up 70 percent. Population enrollment went up 23 percent,” Perry said in an interview with Capital Tonight, Thursday.

Rep. Burnam’s assesment is less optimistic. A report prepared by his office says class size increased in nearly 7,000 elementary classes statewide.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gov. Perry gets specific on tax relief

In an interview with Capital Tonight, Gov. Rick Perry repeated his suggestion that some form of tax relief could come out of the legislature this session, and went into more detail about what the end result might look like.

“During the last year, as I’ve talked about implementing a budget compact, I talked about specifically putting into place a permanent exemption from the business tax for small businesses. Those businesses that are a million dollars or less in receipts,” Gov. Perry said.

The governor made a brief mention of tax relief on the 83rd Legislature’s opening day, but he hadn’t named specific plans until now. The call for lower taxes comes just three days after a new report from the State Comptroller’s office, predicting 12.4 percent more money will be available for this session’s budget than for the last one.

But the rosier numbers won’t necessarily mean a full restoration of education cuts.

“Listen, the state’s growing,” the governor said. “I think anybody that says we’re not going to put any more money into education, that’s just false on it’s face. But the idea that we’re going to stand here today before we’ve even had one hearing — to say ‘Oh, we’re going to restore full funding.” There may be some people out there saying that, but I will suggest to you that they don’t know how this process works, and frankly, they’re being irresponsible.”

You can see an extended interview with the Governor tonight at 7 on Capital Tonight.

Capital Tonight: State leaders lay out broad plans

Click the video link at the bottom of this post to watch tonight’s show.
The state’s top three leaders took time out to reinforce their priorities for the session, Wednesday. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus joined Governor for a press conference, following their traditional Wednesday morning breakfast.
Perry took the time to paint broad strokes of his big picture vision, and his outlook on education is being met with some criticism from those who say funding issues needs to be dealt with, immediately.

This year’s freshman class is one of the biggest in history. In our new segment “Inside Out,” two former lawmakers offer their take on the session so far and offer some advice for newcomers trying to get the lay of the land.
Legislators did not spend long on the Senate and House floors Wednesday, but some important work did get done. Harvey Kronberg from the Quorum Report explains the importance of some of the procedural votes taken today.


 Click below to watch tonight’s show:


Comptroller’s revenue report now available

The State Comptroller’s full revenue estimate for the next biennum is now available to the general public.  By law, the full Biennial Revenue Estimate has to be posted at before the budget work can begin at the Capitol.

Monday, Combs announced that the legislature will have about $101.4 billion dollars to work with this legislative session.  That includes a surplus over more than $8 billion dollars left over from the current budget cycle.

So if you’re in the mood for a little light reading on this rainy day, here it is.