Archive for May, 2013

Lawmakers reflect on Sine Die, look ahead to possible special session

It is the last official day of the regular legislative session, but most of the real work was finished, yesterday.

Lawmakers sent a finalized budget bill to the governor. A day after the Senate gave it’s seal of approval, the House signed off on SB1. It restores most of the cuts made to education last session and provides funding for new water projects.

Lawmakers also passed through significant changes to public school testing and graduation requirements. Notably, however, the budget failed to include significant funding for long-term transportation needs. Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the process was much more democratic than in years past.

“I think this session reflected the lessons of the 2012 national elections,” said Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin). “It kind of indicated that voters didn’t like the extremism that had come to characterize the Republican party.” Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) agreed that there was a much less divisive tone this time around. “Definitely different from last session in the sense that we were able to accomplish a lot of things that allowed us to move the state forward,” he said.

Even as lawmakers reflect on the session, they are not packing their bags to leave Austin, just yet. The halls of the Capitol are filled with talk that a special session is looming. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said he’d like to see lawmakers tackle some conservative legislation that didn’t pass in the regular session. That includes stricter abortion laws and relaxed statewide gun laws.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, meanwhile, wants to see lawmakers return to take up redistricting. He wants lawmakers to adopt the interim maps that were used in the last election. Redistricting committee chairman Drew Darby says he remains confident it will pass without much opposition. “If the call is limited to adopting the current court ordered maps, then everyone here in the House and the Senate were elected on these maps,” he said. “And so it’s going to be difficult for somebody to say they’re not happy with their district.”

It is ultimately up to Governor Rick Perry to call a special session. He also gets to determine what legislation he’ll put on the table.

Capital Tonight: Countdown to Sine Die

With just two days left in the regular session, lawmakers are on track to finalize a budget bill and pass a compromise on education reform.

Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace and Karina Kling show us where things stand heading into Sine Die.

Looking Ahead

Political experts Ted Delisi, Harvey Kronberg and Scott Braddock weigh in on the finer points of the budget deal, along with the possibility of a special session. Click the image below to see more.

Texas Senate passes two year budget, House delays

With just hours to go before the end of the regular 83rd Texas Legislative Session, the Texas Senate has passed the 2014-2015 budget bill. Meanwhile, their colleagues in the House delayed their vote on the same measure until Sunday.

The Senate approved spending nearly 95 billion dollars in general revenue. That’s an 8 percent increase in the two-year budget, but less than the rate of population growth plus inflation.

Several other budget related bills must clear both chambers before the complicated budget package can be done.

The Texas House adjourned early Saturday. That leaves them with a slew of bills they must get done Sunday, including the budget bill, education measures and House Bill 1025, dealing with Rainy Day Fund money.

Many of those measures were still being hammered out in conference committees.

Saturday was also a chance for Governor Perry to show his power.

The Governor vetoed several bills lawmakers passed, including what’s become known as the ‘dark money’ disclosure bill. It would have required some politically active nonprofits to reveal who their contributors are.

In a statement, Perry said “Freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of our most important rights enshrined in the Constitution.” He goes on to say, “My fear is that SB 346 would have a chilling effect on both of those rights in our democratic political process.”

Perry’s veto likely kills the measure for this session.


Capital Tonight: Special session all but guaranteed

Extended Session

With only three days left in the regular session, a key part of the overall budget deal has been rejected by the House, at least in its current form. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is signalling that a special session is more than just a possibility.

Click the image below to hear the latest from the Capitol, with insight from Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News, Brandi Grissom from the Texas Tribune, Ryan Poppe of Texas Public Radio and the Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg.

Education Update

Amid all the budget back-and-forth, questions remain over two House and Senate education bills that have yet to make it to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte is on the committee tasked with working out the differences. She joined us to talk about what the final product could look like.

Rainy Day Relief

Recovery efforts are still underway for the parts of Bastrop County hit by wildfires.

Our John Salazar spoke to elected officials to find out how much money they’re setting aside from the Rainy Day Fund, and the specific relief it will bring.

UPDATED: House and Senate conferees appointed to work out HB 1025

Updated to include Senate appointments

A key component to a final budget deal is now headed to conference committee. House lawmakers who will serve on that committee include:

  • Rep. Jim Pitts – (R) House Appropriations Committee Chair
  • Rep. John Otto – (R) Dayton
  • Rep. Drew Darby – (R) San Angelo
  • Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher – (D) San Antonio
  • Rep. Rene Olivera – (D) Brownsville
This evening, the Senate announced its conferees:
  • Sen. Tommy Williams – (R) Senate Finance Committee Chair
  • Sen. Robert Duncan – (R) Lubbock
  • Sen. Jane Nelson – (R) Flowermound
  • Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa – (D) McAllen
  • Sen. John Whitmire – (D) Houston

Special session appears imminent

The 83rd Texas Legislature appears headed for an immediate special session. The Dallas’ Morning News‘ Wayne Slater says he has two “very well placed” sources who say Gov. Rick Perry will call lawmakers back Tuesday to tackle redistricting.

Last summer, a district court deemed that the maps drawn last legislative session were intentionally discriminatory. That left Texas to base its elections on the interim maps drawn up by a three-judge panel in San Antonio. It is rumored that Attorney General Greg Abbot is leading the calls for a special session. He wants lawmakers to formally adopt those interim maps.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants lawmakers to take up other conservative issues that failed to pass during the regular session. Those include the campus carry bill, stricter abortion regulations and school choice.  Dewhurst told the Houston Chronicle, “I talked to the governor .. about the need for a special session on a number of these issues.” There is no word yet if Gov. Perry plans to tack those items onto a redistricting special session.


Capital Tonight: Long-term transportation funding stalls

Dead Stop

Both the House and the Senate approved important pieces of the budget pie yesterday, including money for education and water needs. But long-term transportation funding still hangs in the balance, even though it, too, was included in the list of top lawmakers’ priorities at the beginning of session.

We spoke to Reps. Drew Darby and Joe Pickett about where things stand today.

Budget Blowup

The goodwill that fueled yesterday’s budget breakthrough may already be coming to an end. Rep. Sylvester Turner now says the Senate didn’t hold up its end of a deal to provide $200 million more in education funding, because the money is tied to electricity bill rebates from a fund meant for low-income Texans.

We spoke to Rep. Turner and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams about the disputed deal.

Capital Commentators

Plus, Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Ted Delisi discussed all the day’s political news. Click the logo below to watch the full episode.

Budget deal in jeopardy?

Despite what most considered a major budget breakthrough last night, Rep. Sylvester Turner says he’s not happy with an amendment placed on the Senate version of HB 1025.

The bill is one of the cornerstones of the larger budget deal. It approves dipping $2 billion into the Rainy Day Fund for water projects and sets aside $200 million for education. That $200 million, however, is tied to another House bill calling for tax relief in the form of electricity bill rebates to low income families.

Turner said the House never agreed to that provision and is encouraging House members to vote against the bill if the provision is not stripped in conference committee. In a statement, Rep. Turner said:

The only reason the $200 million was not placed in the main appropriations bill was because Senator Williams unilaterally chose to place it in HB 1025.  Now we know why.  This is neither transparent nor consistent with the purpose for which this fund was created. On behalf of the people of my district, I will not vote for HB 1025 as long as we are asked to trade dollars intended  for poor Texans for tax breaks. I encourage other members of the House to do the same.

In response to Rep. Turner’s statement, a spokesperson said Sen. Williams’ only comment was “Is that right?” Sen. Williams will be a guest on Capital Tonight this evening. Hopefully we will get more clarity on what exactly that statement means when we talk to him, later today.



Capital Tonight: Budget pieces lock into place

After days of mistrust between the House and Senate, two key parts of a complex budget compromise came together as planned.

The Senate did its duty first, by moving forward on a measure to put $2 billion toward the state’s water needs and increase funding for education. With that in place, House Democrats agreed to support a separate resolution that would create a state water fund.

In Wednesday’s episode, Karina Kling explains how it’s all coming together, and we speak to Rep. John Otto, one of the main budget negotiators.

Inside Out

We also spoke with Rep. Aaron Peña and former Sen. Hector Uribe about spats between the House and Senate in the past.

Gun Bills Disarmed

Despite some signs this might be the year lawmakers approved campus carry legislation, that bill is among those unlikely to survive.

Capital Tonight’s LeAnn Wallace spoke with the author of the bill about where things stand this late in the session

Capital Tonight: House delays key piece of budget puzzle

Deadlock over budget negotiations at the Texas Capitol continues.

It all hinges on a measure known as Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would allow voters to decide whether to create a statewide water fund. House lawmakers were set to take up the vote Tuesday evening, but instead voted to push it back one more day.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we look at where the bigger budget picture stands with help from our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi. Plus, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples gives his take on whether water needs are being addressed.

Click the image below to watch the full episode.