Archive for March, 2013

House budget calls for $2.5 billion education funding increase

The Texas House Appropriations Committee approved its 2014-15 budget today. The $193.8 billion spending plan includes a $2.5 billion increase for the Foundation School Program. That’s in addition to what had already been set aside for enrollment growth and does not include tapping the Rainy Day Fund. The House version of the budget restores about a billion dollars more in education dollars than the Senate plan.

“By putting additional resources into Texas classrooms, this budget demonstrates that public education is a top priority for the members of the Texas House,” Committee Chairman Jim Pitts said. “The additional resources that this bill provides for public education and higher education will expand opportunities for young Texans.”

The full House will now have to approve the budget. Once that happens, the House bill and Senate bill will head to conference committee where compromises will have to be made in order to pass a final budget.

Here are some of the other highlights of the House budget:

MAINTAINS FISCAL DISCIPLINE

  • Stays below the constitutional spending limit
  • Funded within available revenue
  • Does not use Rainy Day Fund

 INCREASES FUNDING FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

  • Fully funds enrollment growth
  • $2.5 billion increase for the Foundation School Program (in addition to enrollment growth)
  • $147 million to increase state’s contribution for TRS pensions from 6.4 percent to 6.6 percent

 INCREASES FUNDING FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

  • $175 million increase for financial aid programs, including $150 million increase for Texas Grants
  • 3 percent formula funding increase (on top of enrollment growth) for all institutions — community colleges, general academic institutions, and health related institutions.
  • $59 million increase for the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund

 IMPROVES HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES PROGRAMS

  • $264 million increase for mental health programs (across all articles), which includes extending services to more than 6,000 adults and almost 300 children on waiting lists
  • $100 million increase for women’s health services
  • Increased funding for Child Protective Services to reduce delinquent investigations and lower caseloads to 2009 levels

 OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • $50 million increase for Parks and Wildlife Department (General Revenue and GR-Dedicated)
  • Salary increases for correctional officers and Schedule C employees (law enforcement)
  • 1 percent per year merit increases for state employees

 

 

Cornyn demands more detainee release hearings

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is demanding more hearings related to the release of thousands of detainees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. As a member of the Senate Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security Subcommittee, Cornyn wants Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) to call for a hearing.

In a letter, Cornyn said “At least 700 of these detainees were directly released into Texas. We also know that at least 30 percent of these released detainees had criminal records — potentially including aggravated assault, financial crimes, theft, larceny, drug offenses, drunk-driving, and domestic violence.” Sen. Cornyn says Texans have a right to know what kind of criminals were released into the community and he wants the people behind the decision held responsible.

Last week, the detainee release was the subject of a Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. ICE Director John Morton stressed no dangerous criminals were released. He also denied that the sequester prompted the decision. Rather, it was fear that they would not be able to live within their budget before government funding expired at the end of March.

Sen. Cornyn’s full letter to subcommittee chairman Sen. Schumer is below:

Chairman Charles Schumer

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Chairman Schumer:

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am writing to request that the Subcommittee conduct full oversight of the recent United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency decision to release 2,228 persons from immigration detention, hundreds into Texas, for no legitimate reason. These actions, made at the direction of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership, call into question the Department’s commitment to its core national security missions and raise serious concerns about the judgment of high-level DHS officials. As the Subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the Department of Homeland Security, I believe that it is our duty to hold hearings on this matter in the next month.

Though multiple members of Congress and state governors have requested detailed information about these DHS actions, we have yet to receive a response from the Department. What we do know is that at least 700 of these detainees were directly released into Texas. We also know that at least 30 percent of these released detainees had criminal records—potentially including aggravated assault, financial crimes, theft, larceny, drug offenses, drunk-driving, and domestic violence. At least 8-10 of the criminals released by DHS were classified as “Level one offenders”—the most dangerous group of criminals detained by ICE. This is unacceptable.

I am also very troubled that senior DHS officials, including ICE Director John Morton, have attempted to downplay the seriousness of releasing more than 600 criminals from their custody and into the general population. Though some have suggested that these released criminals were not dangerous offenders, the victims of assault, drug crimes, theft, drunk driving, and domestic violence would strongly disagree. Texans and the rest of America have a right to know exactly what kinds of criminals were released into their communities by DHS and to see that the persons who made these decisions are held fully accountable. I look forward to working with you to find a mutually agreeable date and time for an oversight hearing.

 

Tom Pauken announces run for governor

Update: Capital Tonight has confirmed that Tom Pauken will, in fact, run for governor.

Former Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken didn’t take long to decide what he’ll do after stepping down from his post recently. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, Pauken is running for governor in 2014.

Pauken, who was a guest on Capital Tonight before his departure from the TWC, is also a former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. He was appointed to serve on the Texas Workforce Commission by Gov. Rick Perry, who has indicated he will make a decision about running again after the current legislative session.

Pauken would face Perry in the GOP Primary should the governor seek reelection. Pauken could also face State Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been the focus of speculation about a gubernatorial run. Abbott told us this week that his focus is on the job at hand and that political decisions will sort themselves out after the session.

Education is expected to be a major issue for Pauken, who is against the Robin Hood school funding plan established in the early 1990s. Pauken has also written a book titled “Bringing America Home,” which focuses on the conservative movement in politics.

 

Rep. Oliveira involved in car accident

Update: At 12:45 p.m., officials at Brackenridge hospital said Rep. Oliveira is there and is in good condition.

Earlier: Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) was treated at Brackenridge Hospital following a car accident this morning. An announcement was made on the House floor just after 11:30 a.m. and Speaker Joe Straus asked lawmakers to stand for a moment of silence.

We are still waiting for details on the accident, but representatives were informed that his car was totaled. Details of Oliveira’s condition have not been released, but staff members say they did speak to him today and that he informed them he was going to the hospital.

Capital Tonight: Bills get moving out of House, Senate

State Senators are now a step closer to passing the one bill that’s required each session. In a vote of 29-2, the Senate version of the 2014-2015 budget was approved late Wednesday afternoon. But even with a strong show of support, many lawmakers say the budget process has a long way to go.

 

While lawmakers hash out the details on education funding, one group is making sure the debate over vouchers doesn’t get ignored.

Raise Your Hand Texas took out a full page ad calling vouchers a plan to give public money to private schools. We spoke to the group’s CEO, David Anthony.

A bill dealing with Austin’s plastic bag ban got a lot of attention at the Capitol Wednesday. Rep. Drew Springer has proposed what he calls the Shopping Bag Freedom Act, which would overturn the Austin ordinance banning reusable plastic bags at grocery stores.

A number of people came to a hearing on the bill in the House Urban Affairs Committee. Click the image below to hear what opponents of the bill have to say, along with Rep. Springer’s response.

Senate approves two-year state budget

The Texas Senate approved a $195.5 billion budget for 2014-2015 by a vote of 29-2 this afternoon. The dissenting votes came from Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

Both Davis and Garcia wanted to see more money put into education funding, which took a $5.4 billion hit last session.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass a version of the budget Thursday. The House has put together a very similar plan.

Full Senate considering budget draft

The first budget bill of the legislative session is on the Senate floor, today. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the $195.5 billion dollar plan. The bill calls for $94.1 billion dollars in general revenue and adds funding for mental health services and state parks.

The measure will likely face opposition from Senate democrats who wanted to see more education funding restored. Lawmakers cut more than $5 billion to help make up for a massive budget shortfall last legislative session. Democrats say the $1.4 billion being put back under this proposal is not enough to close that gap.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass it’s version of the budget, tomorrow.

Capital Tonight: Abbott pushes for pre-trial DNA testing

A bill limiting statewide officials to two consecutive terms passed out of the Senate Tuesday. If approved by the House, the bill would go to voters in November.

A joint committee is looking into the relationship between the University of Texas Board of Regents and UT President Bill Powers. The committee asked for a year’s worth of communication between the Board of Regents and all University of Texas staff.

Attorney General Greg Abbott discussed a recently proposed bill to ensure DNA testing of evidence is done before cases that involve the death penalty begin.

Abbott described the bipartisan bill as a way to streamline the criminal justice process.

“We need to get all that [DNA testing] done upfront, to make sure that we convict the right person, or if the DNA evidence shows the person was innocent, they are released,” Abbott said.

Paul Brown also spoke to Abbott about the Second Amendment and gun-control efforts in Washington.

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss a statement Gov. Rick Perry made to a Florida political blog. In an interview with The Shark Tank, Perry said he’ll likely make an announcement about a possible 2016 presidential run later this year.


Joint committee submits information request to UT regents

No university officials were in the room Tuesday, as members of a special joint committee on higher education convened for the first time, but the questioning has already begun.

Lawmakers on the Joint Select Oversight Committee on Higher Education, Governance, Excellence and Transparency revealed they’ve sent a letter requesting more information from the University of Texas’ Board of Regents.

The letter requests a wealth of data under the Public Information Act, including all communication between regents and any University of Texas system president, vice president or staff member. It also asks for any data requests submitted by regents, including requests for information about the hiring or firing of any UT employee since January 2012.

Earlier this month, UT Regent Wallace Hall submitted a request for information spanning a two-year period, which netted nearly 40 boxes worth of documents. It’s one of several moves that led to allegations of micromanagement by regents.

Rep. Jim Pitts, who co-chairs the committee, put it bluntly:

“There has been witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt, to try to remove one of our best presidents in the State of Texas of our universities and I hope that we will be able to end these witch hunts and put this bed,” he said.

Read the letter submitted to the Board of Regents below:

Information Request

Perry to make 2016 presidential plans clear later this year

The plot is thickening when it comes to Gov. Perry’s future political plans. Perry has long maintained that he wouldn’t decide if he was planning another run for governor until after the legislative session. Now, in an interview with the Florida political blog The Shark Tank, Perry says he’ll likely make an announcement about a possible 2016 presidential run later this year.