Archive for March, 2013

Senate passes term limit constitutional amendment

Statewide elected officials in Texas may soon face a limit on the number of consecutive terms they can serve. The Texas Senate approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would prohibit officials from serving more than two consecutive terms in office.

Texas is currently one of only 14 states without term limits in place. And in a state where both the governor and lieutenant governor have held their current jobs for more than a decade, the change in law would certainly have a major impact on the political landscape. The legislation includes limits for the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and elected commissioners. It does not affect members of the Texas House or Senate or any current office holders like Gov. Rick Perry or Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The bill will now head to the House, where similar measures are already being discussed. Rep. Lyle Larson is pushing a bill that would go even further. It would require any lawmaker running for higher office to vacate their seat, if they have less than two years left in their term.

Any change to the constitution would still have to be approved by voters in November.

Capital Tonight: Lawmakers halfway through legislative session

Click the video link at the bottom of the post to watch Tuesday’s entire show.
Getting down to business

Lawmakers are officially halfway through the 83rd legislative session. With 70 days left of the 140 day session, there is plenty of work to be done. Lawmakers have been meeting in committees for weeks already and now it’s time to get down to the business of passing laws. Things are expected to get moving pretty quickly with a major vote on the budget expected in the Senate, Wednesday.

Before that happens, though, another issue is also grabbing lawmaker’s attention. It’s been 50 years since a letter, written by an innocent man in prison, helped changed how the poor are prosecuted.

Gideon v Wainwright is a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that state courts are required under the 14th Amendment to provide counsel in criminal cases for those who can’t afford a lawyer.

In the video below, Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling spoke Rep. Rodney Ellis. He is one of the supporters of a bill that would strengthen DNA testing laws and extend the statute of limitations in prosecutorial misconduct cases.


Gonzalez apologizes

The state representative charged with driving drunk last week appeared on the house floor Monday, for the first time since her arrest. Rep. Naomi Gonzalez was taken into custody following a crash that injured several people on Congress Ave., last week.

Monday, she appeared remorseful as spoke out publicly about it for the first time. “I made a mistake and I am deeply, deeply sorry for it,” she said. “I am sorry for the shame I have brought upon this house and I have brought upon the district.”


On the Agenda

Sen. Ted Cruz is continuing to make a name for himself on a national level. Last week, Cruz made headlines following several high profile Senate committee exchanges over everything from gun control to the use of drones on American soil. This weekend, he received rave reviews for his keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

The response to Governor Rick Perry’s CPAC speech, meanwhile, was barely a blip on the radar. He received a lackluster response as he spoke to a half-empty auditorium last week.

The Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg compared the two and offered his commentary on how Texas republicans are being received on the national stage.


Capital Tonight: Lawmakers mull drug testing for benefits

Lawmakers are considering a bill requiring drug testing of those receiving unemployment benefits. Both sides gave testimony this week about the bill’s effect on those receiving unemployment.

Reporter Roundtable

Paul Brown sat down with Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune, Peggy Fikac from the Houston Chronicle and Terry Stutz from the Dallas Morning News to discuss Gov. Rick Perry’s appearance at CPAC, lawmakers turned lobbyists, and all the week’s events in Texas politics.

Texas White House

The importance of the LBJ Ranch to Central Texas dates back over 50 years. Superintendent Russ Whitlock discussed the park’s importance and how recent budget cuts affected the operating budget.

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


Perry blasts Medicaid expansion at CPAC

Governor Rick Perry returned to Washington, D.C. and the national political spotlight Thursday as one of the featured speakers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC.

He talked about the recent release of detainees due to the sequester, calling the move a federally-sponsored jail break.

He also addressed his resistance to Medicaid expansion in Texas under the Affordable Care Act.

“I say Medicaid doesn’t need to be expanded, it needs to be saved and reformed,” Perry told the crowd. “We care about our poorest Texans. We want them to have the best care possible, and that can’t happen with a program that is on its way to bankruptcy.”

Governor Perry added that President Obama four years ago called Medicaid a broken system.

This was not the governor’s first speech at CPAC. Before his presidential bid, he gave a well-received address in 2011, and also spoke at CPAC last year after dropping out of the race.

State representative from El Paso arrested for DWI

State Representative Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated Thursday after an accident on Congress Avenue.

Police said Gonzalez rear-ended another car with her BMW near the intersection with Barton Springs Road around 2 a.m. That car was pushed into a bicyclist. Rep. Gonzalez and the bicyclist were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Rep. Gonzalez was later arrested and charged with DWI. As of Thursday afternoon, she was still being held at the Travis County Jail.

Gonzalez was first elected to the State House in 2010. She currently serves on the Ethics and Ways and Means committees.

Chancellor writes Perry about guns on campuses

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa is expressing concern once again over legislation relating to allowing concealed handguns on university campuses.

According to a press released issued by the UT System on Wednesday, the chancellor has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry on the matter. The letter was also delivered to House Speaker Joe Straus, Chairman Joe Pickett of the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee and Chairman John Whitmire of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“I respect the legislature’s authority to decide this public policy issue, and that neither all legislators nor the Texans they represent will agree,” Cigarroa wrote in his letter to Perry. “However, during my tenure as Chancellor, parents, students, faculty, staff, administrators, and institutional law enforcement officers have all expressed concern that the presence of concealed handguns on our campuses will make the campus environment less safe.”

Cigarroa expressed similar concerns in a letter to the governor in 2011, when the issue was last before legislators.

Senate honors wrongfully convicted Texan

The Texas Senate honored wrongfully convicted Texan Michael Morton Wednesday.

Senate Resolution 477 recognizes Morton’s “courage and grace” during the more than two decades he was inprisoned for the death of his wife, Christine. DNA evidence recently exonerated Morton.

Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), who chairs the board for the Innocence Project, led the chamber during the recognition.

“Mr. President, members, today I have the honor of introducing an incredible man with a story of courage and perseverance most of us cannot even comprehend,” Ellis said.

He echoed the sentiments of the Dallas Morning News, which selected Morton as one of its 2012 Texans of the Year.

“Members, Mr. Morton could have harbored incredible bitterness and simply tried to rebuild his own life outside of the spotlight, concentrating on himself and his future,” Ellis told senators assembled. “That would be understandable. Instead, he is using the stature he has gained as a living testimony of the flaws of our criminal justice system to enact real change and prevent other Texans from sharing his fate.”

Sen. Ellis and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) recently filed comprehensive discovery reform legislation which they say would create a fairer, more reliable and transparent Texas’ justice system.



Senate Finance Committee approves 2014-15 budget

The Senate Finance Committee today unanimously recommended its new budget for the next two years. The proposal includes $94.1 billion dollars in general revenue.

According to committee chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), the budget emphasizes education and mental health. In addition to funding enrollment growth, the committee also allocated an extra $1.4 billion for school districts across the state.

“The Committee felt strongly about maintaining our commitment to increasing school funding equity and a quality education,”  Williams said. “This investment of resources reaffirms that commitment to the courts.”

Sen. Williams also highlighted these portions of the budget:

  • $746 million increase for higher education, including $204 million for community college formula funding and employee benefits;
  • $120 million for TEXAS Grants on top of $559.5 million in general revenue in the base bill;
  • $6 million in general revenue and 50 full-time employees to address Veteran’s issues;
  • $100 million general revenue for primary care expansion to provide preventive health care to an additional 170,000 low-income women;
  • $18.7 million (offset by $15 million in savings) for 106 additional employees in the Office of Inspector General to reduce costs from Medicaid fraud and overpayment investigations;
  • $80.8 million added to formula funding for health-related institutions, including the health-related institution formula for graduate medical education;
  • Closing two Texas Department of Criminal Justice  facilities for savings of nearly $100 million. The savings will help fund required correctional health care ($45 million), parole supervision ($10 million), community corrections and diversion programs ($30 million), and other basic needs, such as computers, vehicles and an electronic management system to maintain the prison system, and
  • $139 million in general revenue to increase salaries  to improve correctional officer, health care provider, and officer retention.

Sen. Williams did express some concern over some items not included in the budget, including funds for water projects, state highways and small business tax relief. He said those issues would be addressed later in the legislative session. The full Senate is expected to consider SB1 next week.

Capital Tonight: Testing the limits of education reform

The path toward public education reform

A proposal to reduce the number of tests needed to graduate in Texas came up before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. It would reduce the number of tests from 15 to four or five. Some teachers fear the change could jeopardize education standards.

Beverage distributors and craft brewers reached an agreement on a proposed bill that would allow smaller breweries to sell their beer directly to customers in some cases.


Fracking in Texas

Railroad Commissioner David Porter sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the benefits of fracking to the Texas economy. A study on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas was released by the Texas Railroad Commission.


The Eagle Ford Shale Task Force Report looks at the economic benefits of fracking, the infrastructure needed and the Railroad Commission’s regulations on the industry.

For the full interview, click the video below.


Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss George P. Bush’s announcement that he’s running for land commissioner next year. They also discussed election laws and a poll recently conducted by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas


Patterson weighs in on Bush Land Commissioner candidacy

Current Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is weighing in on George P. Bush’s plans to run for his seat. In an email statement, Patterson said he and Bush spoke, before the official announcement.

He issued this statement:

“For some months now, George P. Bush has explored an interest in running for the open seat of Land Commissioner. Yesterday, he called me to let me know about his intentions to formally file for the statewide office which I currently hold. As you know, I intend to be the next Lieutenant Governor of Texas and am focusing my political interest on that race.”