Archive for July, 2013

Perry sets special election date for Strama’s seat

Austin voters will decide who will fill Rep. Mark Strama’s soon-to-be open House seat when they head to the polls on November 5.

Strama announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection. Speculation that he would run for Austin mayor died last month when he announced that he would head up Google Fiber’s new operation in Austin.

Strama has represented the Austin area in the Texas House for the last eight years.

According to Gov. Perry, candidates who want to fill his seat will have to file with the Secretary of State by September 4. The winner will serve out the rest of Strama’s term, which runs out in 2015.

Cornyn taps Tea Party organizer as new campaign manager

Sen. John Cornyn is turning to a Tea Party veteran to run his 2014 reelection campaign. Cornyn announced Thursday he hired Brendan Steinhauser to be his new campaign manager.

Steinhauser is a campaign strategist and grassroots organizer. Prior to this new gig, Steinhauser worked as the director of communications for the Right on Crime initiative for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. He has been credited with helping get conservatives elected to Congress in the 2010 and 2012 elections and organized several events for Sen. Ted Cruz during the last election.

In a statement regarding his decision, Sen. Cornyn said:

“The midterm elections in 2014 will be vital to the future of our country and our state, especially given the interest that liberal Democrats have shown in trying to turn Texas blue. I look forward to working with my team to ensure that Texas remains red. Brendan has been working hard for conservative policies and candidates in more than 40 states, and I am excited that he is joining our team in Texas.”

Senate committee approves abortion bill

A Senate committee on Thursday approved stricter abortion restrictions, setting up a full Senate vote on Friday.

The legislation would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortions to be performed in surgical centers and require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Currently, only five of the state’s 42 existing abortion clinics meet those standards.

The bill already passed in the House and expected to easily pass in the Senate. The bill died during the first special session, after Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for more than 10 hours and outbursts in the gallery pushed the vote past the midnight deadline.

Democrats have conceded this time around, they have run out of ways to block the bill. They are turning their focus now to the upcoming legal battle.

Senate approves non-abortion measures

The Texas Senate took a pair of quick votes Thursday morning and approved transportation and criminal justice measures. Both are part of Gov. Rick Perry’s call during the 83rd Texas Legislature’s second special session, in addition to the highly-emotional issue of abortion regulation.

The transportation measure approved by the full Senate involves a proposed constitutional amendment that would pump $900 million annually into road building from oil and gas taxes. If approved by members of the House, the measure would go to voters in November because it involves tapping into the state’s savings account, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund.

Many lawmakers point out that this is only a partial fix, since Texas transportation leaders say the state needs about $4 billion more for roads per year just to meet current traffic needs. Meantime, the House is working on a different transportation measure, so it’s uncertain if the Senate’s version will get that chamber’s approval.

The Senate Thursday also approved a bill that updates Texas law following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning sentences of life in prison for 17-year-old capital murder defendants.

Abbott announces record-breaking fundraising figures

Whatever his future political plans, Attorney General Greg Abbott has more than enough money in his war chest to launch a formidable campaign.

Finance Director Sarah Whitley announced Tuesday he’s raised nearly $5 million in just the last two weeks. As of the January filing period, Abbott has about $18 million in the bank. These latest totals would bring that to nearly $23 million. 

Most expect that Abbott will run for governor. Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement earlier this week seemed to solidify those plans. Abbott has not made any official announcement, but he is set to embark on a five-city meet and greet campaign this weekend. It is possible he could make his plans known then.


Hilderbran officially leaving House, departure fuels Comptroller speculation

Longtime State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran announced on the House floor today that he would not seek reelection. In an emotional speech, Hilderbran reflected on his nearly 25 years in the House. Hilderbran served under four governors and four speakers of the House that spanned 13 regular sessions and 20 special sessions. Most recently, he served as the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

“I can’t say it enough, that I love the Texas House of Representatives. I love Texas. And I know we all serve here because we love Texas,” Hilderbran said. “It’s been such an honor to serve in this hallowed chamber. It’s been such a rewarding experience because there was always a new problem to solve a new solution to propose and a new piece of legislation to work on.”

Hilderbran’s departure was not altogether unexpected. He has said he is considering a run for State Comptroller, He has not made any official announcement, but he told House members he hopes to return to work with them, in a ‘different capacity.’


Perry praises abortion bill’s passage

Gov. Rick Perry issued this statement today following the House approval of HB-2.

“The tremendous outpouring of support for this legislation has demonstrated how Texas stands for life, and I commend everyone who wore blue, turned out and spoke up in support of life in our state. Now is not the time to waver, however, as the Senate continues its important work in support of women’s health and protecting the lives of our most vulnerable Texans.”

House passes abortion bill on final reading

The Texas House this morning formally approved a bill calling for some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country. House Bill 2 bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires abortions to be performed in surgical centers and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The bills’ supporters say the new regulations are in the interest of women’s health and will make the procedure safer. Opponents have argued that the upgrades required will force all but five abortion clinics in the state to shut their doors, forcing women to resort to unsafe measures.

Tuesday’s vote came after nearly 10 hours of emotional debate Monday. The bill now heads to the Senate, which could vote as early as Friday. It was on the Senate floor that the bill died during the first special session when Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for more than 10 hours in an effort to kill the measure. The bill is expected to pass this time around.

Perry appeals West FEMA aid denial

Gov. Rick Perry today appealed the federal government’s decision to deny FEMA aid to the town of West. In June, FEMA said it reviewed the state’s appeal to help West, but decided the impact from the explosion was “not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.” In his letter to President Obama, Perry asks that the government reconsider that decision.

Fourteen people were killed and hundreds of homes and buildings were destroyed when the West Fertilizer Plant exploded in April. The blast leveled a school and a nursing home and left dozens of people homeless. The state estimates the damage at more than $35 million.

“The scope of damage caused by April’s explosion has devastated this small community, and further inaction by the Obama Administration to deny additional federal aid is simply unacceptable,” Gov. Perry said. “On behalf of the people of West and McLennan County, I am appealing the president’s decision in order to get this community assistance they qualify for, deserve and need to get back on their feet and on the road to recovery.”

You can read Perry’s full letter, below.

County commissioners cast symbolic vote to restore PIU funding

Members of the Travis County Commissioners Court voted in favor today of a House resolution to restore funding to the state’s Public Integrity Unit. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that portion of the state budget after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down. Perry took aim at Lehmberg’s personal integrity after she was arrested and served time for drunk driving in April. The veto cost the unit $7.5 million dollars over the next two years and could leave 31 employees without a job.

Today’s vote was mostly symbolic and carries little weight with the Legislature. The House resolution, filed by Rep. Sylvester Turner, stands little to no chance of passing. It died in committee last special session and has failed to come up in the current special session.

The Public Integrity Unit is currently handling more than 400 cases concerning everything from tax fraud to public corruption. Commissioners are trying to find a way to maintain the unit’s funding when the money runs out in September. Some members say they would prefer if the lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto. “They funded it for over thirty years,” said Deece Eckstein, who handles intergovernmental relations for Travis County. “There was no controversy about the bill at all as it passed this year. It was Governor Perry’s veto that triggered this crisis.”

Much of the debate surrounding the unit’s funding comes down to political motivations. Democrats have maintained that Republicans have repeatedly tried to weaken the Public Integrity Unit because it is investigating several cases involving Gov. Perry and his allies. Should Lehmberg step down or be forced to resign, Perry would appoint her replacement.

Critics have criticized Perry’s veto, saying the governor is using his power to shut down investigations into his office