Archive for February, 2013

House approves Medicaid IOU bill

The Texas House of Representatives approved its Medicaid supplemental spending bill today. Last legislative session, lawmakers did not set aside enough money to fund the program through the end of this year. House Bill 10 closes that $4 billion gap.

The bill had bipartisan support, and today’s vote was unanimous. Democrats had sparked a small floor debate last week over a Republican-supported rules change. The measure prevented them from setting aside some of the money in the Medicaid bill to help offset the $5.4 billion in education cuts made in 2011.

Those lawmakers eventually withdrew their amendments. House Speaker Joe Straus has promised that education funding will be addressed in a separate appropriations bill in the next few weeks.

 

Perry urging gun company to move to Texas

A week after returning from a trip to lure California businesses to the Lone Star State, Gov. Rick Perry is setting his sights on a Colorado company. As was reported today by The Daily Caller, Perry is encouraging gun-parts manufacturer Magpul Industries to move its operations to Texas.

Magpul had said publically it would look to leave Colorado, if the state legislature passes a ban on high capacity magazines.

In a letter, posted below, Perry boasts the advantages of Texas as a “right-to-work state” and touts the business and financial incentives the state offers companies that relocate to Texas.

 

Strama not seeking sixth term; undecided on mayoral run

This will be Austin Rep. Mark Strama’s last session in the Texas House. The democrat announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection and he has not yet decided if he will run for mayor.

Strama was first elected to the legislature in 2004. On his blog, Strama says he decided before the start of the legislative session that this would be his last.

Capital Tonight first reported that Strama was mulling a city hall bid during the Democratic National Convention in September. In a later interview, Strama expressed frustration at being a Democrat in a Republican dominated legislature. “If cities are the place that are getting things done, that makes city government a lot more interesting,” he said.

Strama says he realizes making the announcement this early puts him at risk of being a lame-duck representative, but he wants to give people interested in running for his seat as much time to prepare as possible.

As far as his future aspirations: Strama isn’t giving anything away, just yet. In a statement on his blog today, he said

“I know you’re all assuming this means I’m running for mayor of Austin. It doesn’t. I still haven’t decided, and don’t intend to decide until after session is over. I’m very focused on getting the most out of my remaining time as a member of the House. I am thinking about running for mayor, but I’m also thinking about a lot of cool things I could do in the private sector once I’m freed up full time again. I’ve done a lot of work on renewable energy and on education technology, and both are areas where I believe I might have a greater impact through private entrepreneurship than I’m able to have in government.”

 

Capital Tonight: Sen. Cruz returns to Texas

Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz stopped by a gun manufacturing business in Leander Tuesday to reiterate his stance on gun control.

“I will fight every day to protect our constitutional right to bear arms,” Cruz said.

Karina Kling spoke with Harold Cook and Ted Delisi about Cruz’s growing influence in Washington. They also discussed Sen. John Cornyn and how the possibility of a primary challenger might be affecting his votes.

 

Funding infrastructure

Transportation is a top issue this legislative session. Tuesday, TxDOT hosted its annual Texas Transportation Forum in Austin. Innovate funding ideas, such as toll roads, could help fund future road building in Texas.

 

 

Gridlock in Washington

President Obama spoke about the challenges Washington lawmakers face in trying to avoid the sequester scheduled for March 1, which would automatically cut $1.2 trillion in spending from defense and social programs.

 

 
Click the image below to watch Tuesday’s full episode.

Capital Tonight: Gambling for state dollars

While lawmakers squabble over funding for everything from education to state parks, proponents of legalized gambling say the solution is simple.

Others, including many women, rallied at the Capitol Friday sought to direct lawmakers’ attention to the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. They were hoping to avoid cuts to victims’ services funded by the state.  

 
Broken promises

Rep. Mark Strama spoke about education cuts from last session and the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act. He also gave his take on the experiences of incoming freshmen this session, compared to those of two years ago. 

 
Reporter Roundtable
Paul Brown sat down with Tim Eaton from The Austin American-Statesman, Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News and Chris Tomlinson from Associated Press to discuss the week in state politics.
  
Fact-checking Perry’s California trip

Finally, Gardner Selby from the The Austin American-Statesman and PolitiFact Texas stopped by Friday to discuss an editorial attack on Gov. Perry published in The Sacramento Bee. Click the image below to view Friday’s full episode.

Lone Star Project welcomes Gov. Perry home with new ad

Gov. Rick Perry returned to Texas yesterday from a businesses recruiting trip to California; but the radio ad war continues. This time, Lone Star Project is targeting listeners in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio with its new spot, “Straight Up.”

The ad comes on the heels of another Lone Star Project ad buy in Sacramento, CA last week; and a major market blitz all across California by Texas One. In those ads, Perry urged California businesses to relocate to the Lone Star State.

 In its’ new :30 spot, the Lone Star Project, which is a democratic Political Action Committee, is urging Texans to ask Gov. Perry “park the plane and get to work fixing our schools.”

You can listen to the ad, below:

 

Capital Tonight: Rules change delays standoff over education funding

The Texas House of Representatives saw one of its biggest debates of the session Thursday. At issue was a rules change that blocked Democrats from reallocating the funding in a Medicaid spending bill toward other areas, like education.

Last session, the state legislature didn’t set aside enough money to pay for Medicaid through the end of this year, which means they still need to pass a supplemental bill to fill the gap.

 

Democrats had been trying to force a quick vote on public school funding, and there was talk of using some of the money to pay down the debt accrued during the historic Bastrop County wildfires. The rule blocking those plans passed overwhelmingly, meaning the bill in question will remain focused on funding Medicaid.

Democrats we spoke to say there was never any question of support for the supplemental appropriations bill, but that there was a point to be made.

“Clearly we all knew we’d be supporting this bill, so voting for the rule didn’t really impact things there,” Rep. Donna Howard said. “However, I think there was a lot to be said for voting against the rule, making the statement that this precluded us from adding things, such as the Bastrop fires to this must-pass bill. So quite frankly I think you could justify voting either way.”

A supplemental bill that includes education funding could still be brought to the House floor later this session.

Paying for prisons

Another challenge facing lawmakers is how to fund the state’s adult and juvenile justice systems. Thursday, lawmakers in one subcommittee listened to hours of testimony from various agencies and advocacy groups, all in the midst of some dramatic changes affecting the entire criminal justice system.

We caught up with the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Sylvester Turner, after the day’s hearings.

Sex education

Another piece of legislation being talked about at the State Capitol deals with sex education in the classroom.

If the Texas Parental Control Accountability Act passes into law, students would need a parent’s permission to take part in any human sexuality instruction administered by anyone other than a public school employee. The bill would also ban the use of any educational materials that are affiliated with an abortion provider.

Click the image below to hear more about the bill, along with reaction from Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network.

 

Burnam files bill overturning same-sex marriage ban

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Rep. Lon Burnam is looking to overturn Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. He filed the Freedom to Marry bill, today.

Burnam’s bill would give same-sex couples the right to marry and would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  HB 1300 would also go a step farther by guaranteeing legal rights such as property, child custody, and state employees and worker’s compensation benefits.

“This is a civil rights issue, an economic justice issue and a family values issue,” said Rep. Burnam. “This is not just about the word ‘marriage;’ it is about extending vital legal protections to Texas families that suffer from living in a state where others’ bigotry puts their families at risk.”

Several other democrats, including Austin Reps. Donna Howard and Mark Strama, have signed on as co-authors. Several other similar constiutional amendments have already been filed in both the House and Senate.

The bills have little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature. If they did succeed, voters would still have to vote to remove the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

 You can see Rep. Burnam’s video release on the proposal, below: 

Abbott adds Dodd-Frank to litigation list

The State of Texas is joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Dodd-Frank Act, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced Wednesday. Signed into law in 2010, Dodd-Frank was designed to better regulate the financial industry and increase government oversight in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

In a suit filed in U.S. District Court, Texas and 10 other states are claiming parts of the act are unconstitutional.

Specifically, the suit challenges a measure known as the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which allows the Treasury Department to dismantle failing financial institutions without warning.

In a statement today, Abbott said it gives too much power to the federal government and puts Texas taxpayer dollars at risk.

“The Dodd-Frank law is bad for banks, harmful to businesses and worse for consumers who want to borrow money,” he said. “The State of Texas could be denied basic due process rights and taxpayers’ dollars could recklessly be put at risk.”

Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia are also parties to the lawsuit.

UT Regents approve 4-year guaranteed tuition plan

One of Gov. Rick Perry’s stated goals for this session is about to become a reality.

Today, UT’s Board of Regents approved a four-year, guaranteed tuition plan. That means a freshman starting in 2014 would pay the same rate on his or her fourth year of college as on day one, regardless of whether tuition rates go up in the meantime.

Gov. Perry called for the change in his State of the State speech last month.

For UT officials, it’s part of a larger plan to get students to graduate on time. According to the University of Texas, just over half of its undergraduates earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. UT’s goal is to get the rate up to 70 percent. In addition to fixed tuition, the university hopes to reach its goal through increased student counseling, along with $5 million in targeted financial aid.