Archive for February, 2013

Capital Tonight Extra: Sen. Dan Patrick talks about CSCOPE controversy

Sen. Dan Patrick stopped by the Capital Tonight studio Thursday to talk about several issues. Discussion on one in particular turned into its own six-minute segment. In the video below, hear Sen. Patrick talk about his reasons for holding a hearing on CSCOPE, an online curriculum management system used by teachers in more than 800 school districts.

Click the link below to watch the full segment.

Investigation into Dewhurst campaign manager widens to federal level

The man accused of stealing money from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaign coffers is now being investigated at the federal level. 

The Dallas Morning News reports Dewhurst campaign manager Kenneth “Buddy” Barfield is accused of taking at least $1 million from Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate campaign. Barfield is already accused of stealing at least $600,000 from Dewhurst’s state campaign committee.

The Dewhurst campaign first notified Travis County officials that something was wrong back in December, when an accountant noticed discrepancies in bank statements. A spokesman for Dewhurst told the Morning News that the investigation into the Senate account began not long after.

Signs of the alleged embezzlement showed up in campaign finance reports last month, when the Dewhurst campaign reported $3.3 million raised in the last reporting period. However, just $1.97 million in cash on hand was reported.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers moving quickly to reform standardized testing

Re-grading the test

Standardized testing took another hit in the Capitol Wednesday, when Senate lawmakers voted unanimously to do away with the so-called 15-percent requirement.

Already deferred by the Commissioner of Education twice, it requires school districts to count the results of the STAAR test as 15 percent of a student’s final grade. Wednesday’s bill would leave that decision up to individual school districts.

The same day, Republican Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock filed an expansive education bill in the House. It, too, includes ending the 15-percent requirement.

“We get in situations where [students] may pass their courses, but not their end-of-year exam and not graduate,” Rep. Aycock said. “So they have lots of opportunities to keep them from graduating, and we’re looking to reduce those obstacles somewhat.”

The House bill also lowers the number of required tests for high school students from 15 to five, a change Sen. Kel Seliger is pushing for on the Senate side as well.

We also spoke to a representative of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, who pointed out that similar changes were adopted during the group’s annual convention.

“It’s in line with our overall desire to reduce the emphasis on high-stakes testing in this state,” Holly Eaton with TCTA said.

How we got here

The bigger story hovering over all these changes is the recent ruling on school funding. Monday, a state District Judge ruled the system for funding education in Texas violates the state constitution. It’s one of several decisions dating back to a 1989 ruling known as Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby.

In that case, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed a suit against the commissioner of education claiming students in poorer districts weren’t getting equal funding compared to students in wealthier districts. Capital Tonight spoke to MALDEF legislative attorney Luis Figueroa about where things stand today.

The ‘Majority Party’ party 

Texas Democrats got together Wednesday night to celebrate the start of session and to do some fundraising. Known this time around as “The Salute 2013,” the yearly event was once called the “Majority Party” party. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa joined us from the event to talk about how Texas Democrats plan to return to majority status again.

Click the image below to watch tonight’s full episode online.

Capital Tonight: Deciding the future of CPRIT and water

Cancer agency ready for reform

CPRIT officials went before members of the Senate Health and Human Services and Finance committees Tuesday afternoon to address issues uncovered last year. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been under scrutiny since an audit discovered problems in the agency’s grant review process.

Sen. Wendy Davis also addressed the issue of CPRIT reform Tuesday. She filed a bill to make changes to the structure and guidelines of the organization. Davis’ bill calls for removing Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the Oversight Committee. The bill also moves up the agency’s review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to 2015. Davis spoke to Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling about some of her goals for CPRIT and regaining the trust of taxpayers.

Water planning takes center stage

Members of the Texas Water Development Board met Tuesday with lawmakers to discuss their plans for the future of water in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry called for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure in his State of the State address last week, a move many lawmakers from both parties support.

Former Texas lawmakers Aaron Peña and Hector Uribe sat down with Paul Brown to discuss how the continuing drought might affect spending in the legislature this year. They also talked about education funding and potential changes to the Permanent Education Fund.

Jobs, training and education

Paul Brown sat down with Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken to discuss unemployment and education in Texas. Click the image below to see that interview, as well as the full episode.

Sen. Davis files CPRIT reform bill

After months of planning and discussion, Sen. Wendy Davis has filed a bill calling for major reforms to the state’s top agency for cancer research funding.

Sen. Davis has talked about plans for the bill since last December, when the head of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas resigned. At the same time, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation into the agency over its grant review process.

Sen. Davis’ bill calls for a number of changes, including a restriction on donations and political contributions to those sitting on the CPRIT Foundation board or the Oversight Committee . It would also prohibit donations to the agency from those applying for grants or recieving funding. At Sen. Davis’ request, the CPRIT Foundation released a list of donors last month that showed multiple potential conflicts of interest.

Many of the bill’s changes echo recommendations by the State Auditor. That includes a call for the removal of state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs from the CPRIT Oversight Committee, a group Sen. Davis strongly criticized.

“Throughout the period of time that these egregious actions occurred, the CPRIT Oversight Committee […] apparently sat on its hands, with at least some of the oversight members actively participating in the agency’s missteps,” Davis said in a press release. “The committee’s failure to catch activities that gave rise to the problems in the agency it was tasked with overseeing begs the question: was the oversight committee overseeing anything at all?”

At a hearing on CPRIT earlier in the day, Interim Executive Director Wayne Roberts said he would adopt those recommendations.

Capital Tonight: State loses in school finance, Morton testifies in Anderson inquiry

Click the video link at the bottom of this post to watch the Monday’s entire show.

School Finance Trial

After months of testimony from the state and attorneys representing a majority of Texas school districts, a judge finds that the state’s system is unconstitutional.

More than 400 school districts across the state sued after the legislature cut $5.4 billion from education. The school districts claimed schools aren’t adequately funded and that the current system violates the Texas Constitution. Closing arguments wrapped up Monday afternoon and District Judge John Dietz delivered his decision a short time later.

“We feel the judge made very clear that we have increased our expectations for school districts in the state but we haven’t increased our resources to match,” said John Turner, an attorney representing the school districts.

Attorney General Greg Abbott had previously said he would appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.  He did not, however, release a statement Monday.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had this to say following the ruling:

“As a product of Texas’ public school system, I have always worked to ensure the state provides the opportunity for a good education to every student.  I disagree with today’s school finance ruling by the district court in Austin, but I expect an immediate appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.  While we await their final ruling, I will continue to work with Governor Perry, Speaker Straus, and the Legislature to continue to support our students and improve public education.  Together we will ensure that Texas continues to have an accountable, efficient system of public education that produces graduates ready to compete in college and in our global economy.”

Anderson faces court of inquiry in Morton case

A court of inquiry got underway in Georgetown, today to determine if District Court Judge, Ken Anderson should face criminal charges. Anderson is facing accusations that he hid physical evidence and tampered with government records during Michael Morton’s 1987 trial.

Morton spent 24 years behind bars for murdering his wife. DNA evidence later tested in 2011 proved his innocence. Now, Current District Court Judge Ken Anderson is answering to charges he denied Morton justice at his trial more than two decades ago.

Michael Morton spent nearly five hours on the witness stand, Monday. Morton answered questions about statements he gave to police the night his wife was killed and fielded inquiries about reports that a suspicious green van had been seen in the area around the time of the murder. See more from today’s testimony, in the video link, below.

Lobbying Texas

In Monday’s “Lobbying Texas” segment we sat down with the former Texas Medical Association President Dr. Bruce Malone to talk about Medicaid. The group wants to see Washington and Austin reach a bipartisan compromise to expand the state’s medicaid program as part of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

“We agree with the governor in that we would like to see an innovative way to change the Medicaid program,” Dr. Malone said.  “We want to do it so that we have more flexibilty in how we spend the money so we can provide excellent care to our citizens and make it available to more people.”

Click on the link below to hear more details about potential ways Austin can work with Washington and what a hybrid plan might look like.

Staples talks border security ahead of book release

WASHINGTON — Border security continues to be a focus for Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in his run for lieutenant governor. Now, he has taken that message straight to Washington, D.C.

Commissioner Staples spoke Monday to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and their staffs about the H-2B visa, designed to allow businesses to fill labor shortages. Staples wants reforms in the program, which he says is plagued with “bureaucratic red tape and antiquated quotas, and helps create an insecure border.”

He told the group that the guest worker process is to be blamed for the deaths of 591 individuals, from 2006 to 2011, in Texas counties along the border region.

“These individuals had a desire to better themselves, and in response to an under-populated U.S. labor market, literally risked life and limb to enter the United States,” Staples told the group, according to today’s news release from the Texas Department of Agriculture. “Nearly 600 died on their journey to what they hoped would be a better life.”

Commissioner Staples is about to release a book he wrote, “Broken Borders, Broken Promises: How Porous Borders Are Robbing America’s Future.” The commissioner is expected to appear on Capital Tonight later this week to talk more about his book and border security.

Staples is one of several Republican office holders who have indicated they are running for lieutenant governor, or have at least expressed interest. That list includes Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and State Comptroller Susan Combs. Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has already indicated he plans to run for re-election.

Read Staples’ entire remarks here.

Perry to California: Texas is “Wide Open for Business”

Californians stuck in traffic might hear Gov. Rick Perry’s voice coming through their car speakers this week. In a new radio ad, Perry is pitching Texas as a great place to start a business.

The :30 second spot is being played on six radio stations in cities like San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. It invites California companies to ditch the Golden State for the Lone Star State by promising low taxes and fewer regulations.

The commercial was paid for by TexasOne, which is a public-private marketing company that promotes Texas as an ideal place for business. Perry launched the organization as part of the Texas Economic Development Corporation in 2003.

You can listen to the ad, here. The full text is below:

“Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible. With California’s cost of business at 6.3 percent above the national average and Texas’ at 4.6 percent below, I believe it.

Now with the passage of prop 30, which increases California’s already excessive income and sales tax, while Texas maintains no state income tax and a low business tax burden – businesses are moving to Texas.

Being named the Best State for Doing Business eight years running isn’t easy, but when you provide an economic climate that stimulates innovation and not a crippling regulatory environment that stifles business, people notice.

Zero state income tax, low overall tax burden, sensible regulations and fair legal system are just the things Texas offers to get your business moving. So come to Texas – where Business Moves.”

Welcome to Texas,

Governor Rick Perry