Archive for May, 2013

Bill barring Medicaid expansion passes House

A bill to change the way Medicaid services are administered passed out of the Texas House, and with it a major roadblock to Medicaid expansion.

The bill itself directs state officials to come up with managed care plans for people with mental and physical disabilities. It also sets up a coordinating panel to help with the transition. But an amendment by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach would block the expansion of any services under the Affordable Care Act. That means that Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t simply direct the Health and Human Services commissioner to work out an acceptable plan with federal officials. Instead, he would have to get approval from the legislature.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation released a statement applauding the amendment. In it, the group’s executive director said:

“The House passage of SB 7 with the successful inclusion of Amendment 26 — the Leach Amendment to prohibit state participation in the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion — is a heartening sign that Texans are determined to resist Washington, D.C.’s ambitions for ever-greater control over our lives and economy. We urge the Senate to affirm the Leach Amendment, and send a unified message that Texas rejects the false promise of Medicaid run on D.C.’s terms.” – Arlene Wohlgemuth

The full bill is now headed back to the Senate, where significant changes made by the House need to be approved before it’s sent to the governor’s desk.

 

Redistricting hearing set for next week

Redistricting will be back in the courtroom next week. As reported on TexasRedistricting.org, the U.S. Federal Court in San Antonio posted an order that attorneys would meet in court on May 29 at 9 a.m.

The purpose of the hearing is to decide how to proceed with Texas’ redistricting maps, pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The justices will decide if states with a history of discrimination should still have changes to voting rules approved by the federal government.

In the meantime, the court said next week’s hearing is “necessary to address the status of these proceedings and the manner in which this Court may move forward in preparation for the 2014 elections.”

A district court deemed Texas’ legislative maps discriminatory in a ruling last summer. That left Texas to base its elections on the interim maps drawn up by a three-judge panel in San Antonio. Meanwhile, it is rumored that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott supports calling lawmakers back for a special session to tackle redistricting. He wants lawmakers to formally adopt those interim maps.

 

Controversial online curriculum system dies amid criticism

Hundreds of Texas school districts will stop offering lesson plans created by CSCOPE. In a press conference this morning, Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) announced that the board would inform participating clients that all lesson plans will be taken offline on August 31.

CSCOPE was created as an online tool to help teachers meet state education requirements. It is used by more than 800 school districts.

CSCOPE came under fire earlier this year amid complaints from conservative and Tea Party groups who claimed students were being subjected to “anti-American” teachings. They attacked the tool claiming it promoted pro-Islamic lessons. Some examples included plans that taught children that the Boston Tea Party was carried out by terrorists and a sixth grade assignment to design their own communist flags. In addition, parents complained that they were unable to monitor what their children were learning in school because they did not have access to the online lesson plans.

Sen. Patrick has been leading the fight against the program. In an interview with Capital Tonight in February, Patrick criticized CSCOPE for using tax payer money to set up a shell corporation. “They set up this private corporation, I believe to shield information for whatever reason. But it doesn’t make any difference what the reasons are. Parents have a right  to see what’s in the curriculum,” Patrick said.

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Capital Tonight: Breaking down the budget deal

After a week of tense negotiations, the state’s top budget writers have approved a final deal.

The bill restores nearly $4 billion to education funding that was cut last session and sets aside $400 million for transportation. Budget committee co-chair Tommy Williams said he believes the bill is one both parties can agree on.

“It’s a tricky process to score where you are when you’re putting this together, because it’s a moving target,” Williams said. “And I don’t think there’s anybody, Republicans or Democrats, who don’t want to fund public education. We all want to fund it at the highest level with we can, that’s consistent with the other poles in the budget.”

In Friday’s episode, we break down the bill’s details with the Quorum Report‘s Scott Braddock and Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune.

Repairing Roads

The oil and gas boom in parts of South and West Texas has added to the state’s coffers, but it’s also led to serious damage on the roads to and from those areas.

One lawmaker wants to make sure that’s not overlooked before the session ends. We spoke to Sen. Carlos Uresti about his plan to make sure county roads get needed repairs.

IRS Under Fire

Just days after the acting director of the IRS was forced to hand in his resignation, he faced tough questioning before the House and Means Committee Friday.

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

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst applauds budget deal

“The budget for the State of Texas demonstrates our commitment to funding our priorities while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility. I applaud the hard work of Sen. Tommy Williams, Rep. Jim Pitts, and all of our conferees for delivering a budget that cuts taxes for Texans, holds spending down, and adequately funds public education. This budget builds upon the strong foundation that has allowed the private sector to grow and create jobs in Texas and should be the model to turn our country around.” -Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

Craft brewers say ‘cheers’ to House vote

Small beer brewers are raising a glass to a package of bills approved today in the Texas House. Lawmakers tentatively gave the go-ahead to five separate pieces of legislation aimed at helping the craft beer industry expand. The vote elicited cheers from supporters in the chamber today.

Among the changes, the law:

  • Allows breweries to sell pints to tour groups
  • Loosens restrictions to let breweries sell their beer directly to retail stores
  • Micro-brewers can now produce more barrels of beer annually
  • Overhauls the industry’s pricing structure

The legislation had been opposed by state distributors, who had a powerful lobbying force in the Legislature. As a compromise, brewers will have to pay a licencing fee if they sell directly to consumers. Brewpubs are also limited to selling 1,000 barrels annually.

The Senate passed the bills in March. The Texas House still has to approve the bills on third reading before they head to Gov. Perry’s desk.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Lawmakers announce budget breakthrough

Lawmakers are one step closer to approving a state budget plan. Leaders struck a deal this afternoon that would restore $3.93 billion to public education funding. At the start of the session, Democrats had been pushing to restore the $5.4 billion that was cut last legislative session. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Yvonne Davis said Friday party members are satisfied with what they were able to achieve.

The compromise also clears the way to dip $2 billion into the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure projects. A separate constitutional amendment to establish a water fund still needs to be approved by the House. The deal is similar to one Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced late Thursday night.

Today marked a breakthrough after a week of tense negotiations over the two-year spending plan. The full House and Senate still need to vote on the plan, and Gov. Rick Perry has to sign off on it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Capital Tonight: Democrats defend stance as budget talks stall

The battle over a final budget plan continued Thursday night. Roads and education funding were major sticking points. Representative Sylvester Turner joined us to talk about where Democrats stand in the latest round of negotiations. Click the image below to hear the full interview, plus updates on the Michael Morton act and political analysis from our Capital Commentators.

House gives tentative approval to charter school bill

After a debate that focused mainly on minor changes, the House approved a measure to expand the number of charter school licences in Texas and change the way those schools are regulated.

House lawmakers voted 105-34 to approve Senate Bill 2. It would raise the current cap on charter schools from 215 to 275 over time and give the Texas Education Agency more power to close down poorly performing charters. The Senate bill passed last month would have raised the cap to 305 by 2019.

The main point of contention Thursday was an amendment discouraging nepotism, or the hiring of family members regardless of merit. It passed 135-7, but would only apply to charters formed after the law is enacted. Supporters of the amendment say many smaller charters were formed by families and shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few corrupt actors. Another amendment would have delayed the increase by one year while quality control measures for existing charter schools were implemented. That measure, by Rep. Sylvester Turner, failed by a vote of 52-86.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who chairs the House Education Committee, allowed all 20 proposed amendments to be either voted on or withdrawn voluntarily.

The House is expected to give final approval to the bill tomorrow.

TPPF urges budget conferees to ‘practice spending restraint’

The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation put out a press release this afternoon regarding the state budget process. The TPPF recognizes that budget conferees have “reached a critical point in the budget process” and is calling for spending restraint, especially in the area of education.

Talmadge Heflin, the director of the TPPF’s Center for Fiscal Policy, disputes the idea that $3.5 billion for education this session isn’t enough to meet the state’s needs, and worries putting more money in this area would hurt the possibility of tax relief legislation. The entire press release is below.

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