Archive for March, 2013

Capital Tonight: The Week in Review

Reporter Roundtable

Christy Hoppe from The Dallas Morning News, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report and Jay Root of The Texas Tribune sat down with Paul Brown to discuss this week’s events in politics, including recently passed education legislation. They also talked about the Texas Faith and Family rally and the need for water legislation this session.

Fact checking Sen. Ted Cruz

Gardner Selby from PolitiFactTexas discussed Sen. Cruz’s statements at CPAC this week.


Alaska Republican’s racial slur draws swift response from Cornyn

A Republican congressman’s racial slur against Hispanics is drawing swift condemnation from fellow lawmakers, including Sen. John Cornyn.

In an interview on Alaskan radio station KRBD, Republican Rep. Don Young used a derogatory term to describe migrant workers. He spoke about the changing nature of American industry, and used the term to describe workers on his father’s ranch.

Sen. Cornyn issued a statement in response: 

“Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families. They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials. The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity.”


Capital Tonight: The gun debate beyond Washington


President Obama is urging Americans — especially those in Washington — not to forget about the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.

Flanked by the parents of Newtown victims, Obama pushed for the passage of a number of gun control bills in the Senate, including expanded background checks, stricter gun trafficking legislation and school safety measures.

The address was just one of dozens of rallies across the country. Austin’s Mayor Lee Leffingwell joined the city’s police chief as part of “National Day to Demand Action.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says it’s not about infringing on a person’s Second Amendment rights, but about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. He accused lawmakers of distorting the issue.

“It does not add up. You cannot argue against universal background checks with a straight face and tell me that you are in favor of public safety,” Acevedo said.

Fill in the Blanks

Days after the House approved legislation reducing the number of standardized tests and creating new vocational paths, another education bill is gaining momentum at the State Capitol.

The Senate Education Committee approved a measure that gives parents more direct say in how their kids’ schools are run. Senate Bill 1263 speeds up the process parents can take if their local school gets rated as poorly performing.

Our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, weighed in on the latest development on education reform.

Testing the Waters

A bill to pump $2 billion dollars into Texas water problems received overwhelming support in the House this week. We spoke to Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy of Texas to get a second opinion on the bill.

Gohmert parking ticket scuffle prompts ethics complaint

An ethics watchdog group has filed a complaint against Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert after reports that he attempted to pull rank to get out of a parking ticket. Politico first reported yesterday that Gohmert got into a confrontation with U.S. Park Police after they ticketed his SUV near the Washington Monument on March 13. Gohmert was parked in a spot reserved for National Park Service vehicles. According to Politico, Gohmert was “rude to the officers,” took the ticket off his windshield and put it on a police car with a message reading “Oversight of Park Service is my job! Natural Resources Thus the Congressional Plate in window.”

In a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is asking that Gohmert be investigated for possibly violating House rules. The letter states that “Rep. Gohmert’s conduct violates House Rule 23, which requires all members of the House to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.”

In a statement to Politico, Gohmert’s office said the congressman later accepted the ticket and apologized to the officers. There’s no mention of that in the official police report.

The letter of complaint is after the jump.

More >

Capital Tonight: Turning dollars into water

Lawmakers are getting serious about the state’s water deficit.

By a vote of 144-3, the Texas House voted to use $2 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (known as the Rainy Day Fund) to finance much needed water projects.


Texas experienced the state’s worst draught on record in 2011, and many of the effects are still being felt. In light of those conditions, the state’s Water Development Board has recommended a plan that would cost $53 billion to implement. House Bill 4 would use the $2 billion as a starting point to prioritize infrastructure, reservoir construction and pipeline improvements.

Debating DOMA

The Supreme Court wrapped up arguments Wednesday afternoon on the Defense of Marriage Act, and supporters of overturning the law say they’re hopeful the outcome will be in their favor.

The 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman, and prevents legally married same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

On Wednesday, the four liberal justices and swing-vote Anthony Kennedy appeared to question whether the act is constitutional.


Art of the Amendment

The path from creating a bill to having it become law is a lengthy process, and part of that path includes amendments.

We spoke to two former state lawmakers about that process, and the strategy behind it. 

Two more craft beer laws sail through Senate

Craft breweries are toasting to two more laws that passed in the Texas Senate today. Lawmakers unanimously approved SB 516 and SB 517 as part of a larger package of bills loosening restrictions on the state’s small brewers. The bills passed today expand sales opportunities and raise production limits from 75,000 to 125,000 barrels of beer per year.

Earlier this week, the Senate approved two other measures that allowed brewpub products to be sold at retail locations and freed up small breweries to open on-site taprooms.

Currently, state law bans micro-brewers from selling their beer on site. The passage of the bill package is the result of months of negotiations between brewers and distributors. Brewers had argued that existing law favored out-of-state brewers. They faced opposition from distributors who have a strong lobby voice at the State Capitol.

“I appreciate the support and attention that my Senate colleagues gave to this issue,” said Sen. Kevin Eltife, the bills’ sponsor. “I would also like to thank all of the stakeholders for their hard work and willingness to seek compromise on these bills. We would not have been successful if not for the dedicated craft brewing community who have worked for several sessions to pass this important legislation.”

All four bills will now head to the House of Representatives.


House school curriculum bill passes on third reading

The Texas House this morning gave final approval to sweeping education overhaul bill. HB5 passed on third reading, after nearly nine hours of heated debate and 165 proposed amendments, Tuesday.

The law is designed to shift the focus from college-readiness only to include more vocational training. It scales back the number of standardized tests high school students are required to pass from 15 to five. It also does away with Algebra II and other advanced math and science classes.

Capital Tonight: Changing social climate

Social Issues

The United States Supreme Court is addressing same-sex marriage this week, and YNN’s Michael Scotto has the update from Washington, DC.

Also Tuesday, Texas Faith & Family Day was held at the Capitol. Among the topics discussed at the rally were same-sex marriage and pro-life policies.

Education Overhaul

The House passed House Bill 5 Tuesday night with 145 to 2 vote. House Bill 5 adds options for high school students who may not go on to college after graduation. The bill allows students to graduate without taking Algebra II or other advanced math and science classes. It also changes the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5.


Paul Brown sat down with Harold Cook and Ted Delisi to discuss the political climate for changing social issues in Texas. Education was a big topic for the Capital Commentators.
They also discussed the change in support for same-sex marriage.


Paul Brown sat down with immigration lawyer Paul Parsons. They discussed the issues those facing immigration face.

Michael Morton Act moves out of committee

The Michael Morton Act is a step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee today passed SB 1611, a landmark reform revamping Texas’ discovery statute for the first time since 1965. State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and State Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) worked together on the legislation. They say it ensures that all relevant evidence is revealed. 

 “Discovery reform is simply vital to the reliability and quality of our justice system,” Ellis said in a statement released by his office Tuesday.  “We must weigh all relevant evidence and ensure we bring all the relevant facts to light to safeguard the innocent, convict only the guilty, and provide justice the people of Texas can have faith in. We look forward to working with our House sponsor, Representative Senfronia Thompson, to get this important legislation to the Governor’s desk.”

 “I have long been an advocate for an efficient, effective and uniform court system across Texas.  This legislation is a giant step forward in reaching that goal,” Duncan said. “I am proud that stakeholders from across the state were able to come together and set aside their differences to improve our criminal justice system.”

The bill’s namesake, Michael Morton, was released from prison after more than two decades when DNA evidence proved he did not murder his wife Christine. He had the following statement read into record:

“I would like to thank all of the interested parties that have worked on this legislation.  I would especially like to thank Senators Ellis and Duncan and their staff for the many hours spent drafting and negotiating the language that has gotten us to this point.

“Sitting where I sit today, I can say I have seen the best and the worst of the Texas Criminal Justice System.  Having had such a unique vantage point, I hope that my experience allows me to contribute in such in such a way as to protect those things that make the system work and to change those things that weaken it.

 “I have previously said I do not want a revolution and I am not out for revenge.  My goal has been and continues to be to effectuate changes that promote transparency and accountability.  I believe this bill is a positive step towards that goal.  

 “Like any negotiation, it is not a perfect bill.  Nobody got everything they wanted, including me.  However, I support SB 1611 and I ask for your favorable consideration.”

Capital Tonight: Political family legacy

In his first speech since announcing his candidacy for Texas Land Commissioner, George P. Bush played it safe, touting Texas exceptionalism and support for military veterans, among other topics.

Reporter Roundtable

Emily Ramshaw from the Texas Tribune, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report, and Colin Pope from the Austin Business Journal sat down to discuss this week’s events in politics, including Gov. Rick Perry’s discussion with the Shark Tank about his intentions to run for governor.

Federal Funds

Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat sat down with Paul Brown to give an update on the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Texas. Naishtat also discussed a bill to extend health benefits to domestic partners at state university.