Archive for February, 2015
Feb 24th - 12:44 pm
The Texas Senate has released what it’s calling some of the most substantial tax relief in state history. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick joined Senate leaders to announce Senate bills 1, 7 and 8 Tuesday, which would cut $4.6 billion in property and businesses taxes for the 2016-2017 budget cycle.
Senate Bill 1 would cut school property taxes by $2.5 billion, or $200 per average homeowner, by changing the mandatory homestead exemption. That rate has been a flat $15,000 for more than 15 years, but would now change to 25 percent of the statewide median home value. This bill would require voter approval because it would amend the state constitution.
The other two pieces of legislation would affect business taxes. Senate Bill 7 would permanently cut the business franchise tax by 15 percent. Senate Bill 8 would raise the franchise tax revenue threshold from $1 million to $4 million. Officials say that would exempt about 60,000 businesses from paying the franchise tax altogether.
This plan comes on the heels of Governor Abbott’s State of the State address earlier this month, when he said he would reject any budget without significant tax cuts. Senate leaders say their bill has bipartisan support. Meanwhile, House leaders say their chamber’s tax cut proposal would also top the $4 billion mark.
Feb 20th - 12:04 pm
Governor Greg Abbott has paved the way for the Legislature to start considering certain legislation. He officially issued proclamations for his five emergency items he announced in his State of the State address earlier this week, allowing lawmakers to take up the bills within the first 60 days of the session. The five items, which Governor Abbott called his top priorities for the session, include early education, higher education, border security, transportation and ethics reform.
In his address earlier this week, Abbott called for more than $4 billion per year to build Texas roads without raising taxes, tolls or debt. He says he wants to offer incentives to adopt high-quality pre-K programs, expand community colleges and raise the profile of the state’s research universities. And Governor Abbott says he wants to double state spending on border security.
With the legislature now able to consider bills relating to these topics, it will be up the the state’s two chambers to craft bills accomplishing those goals while heeding the governor’s call to start reducing the state’s debt.
To view the proclamation on early education, click here.
To view the proclamation on higher education, click here.
To view the proclamation on border security, click here.
To view the proclamation on transportation, click here.
To view the proclamation on ethics, click here.
Feb 16th - 3:15 pm
UT System Chancellor William McRaven has announced a new committee to reform the controversial admissions process at the state’s flagship public university. The six-member panel will review the recommendations in last week’s Kroll report into admissions at UT-Austin as well as recommendations from the UT System Board of Regents released last year.
The panel includes some high-powered names from the Texas higher education system, including former UT Austin presidents Larry Faulkner, Peter Flawn and William Cunningham, as well as former UT System chancellors Mark Yudof and Dan Burck and former UT System Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes. McRaven says the goal for the committee is to advise the Board of Regents on best practices in university admissions that also provide transparency and oversight.
It comes after last week’s report which said UT Austin President Bill Powers did exert influence on a small number of applicants, including some with ties to donors and legislators. The report found Powers did not break any rules, but did suggest setting in place regulations to clarify vagueness in how much weight to put on a reference from the university president. Powers has stood behind his actions, saying universities across the country take actions like this to maintain relationships with people who benefit the school’s long-term interests. Chancellor McRaven says he wants to see this new report compared with internal investigations to find the best route forward for university admissions.
“My goal is to ensure full and open transparency to the public with respect to how admissions decisions are made at UT Austin. I realize that admissions practices are complicated and nuanced processes, but we must clearly define a policy that determines the degree of appropriate discretion at the institution level, while ensuring a fair and transparent process for applicants.”
UT System Chancellor William McRaven
McRaven says the committee is expected to release its recommendations on how to strengthen UT’s admission process within the next 60 days.
Feb 12th - 2:23 pm
A new independent report says University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers used his authority to get students admitted into the state’s flagship school despite objections of the admissions office, and misled lawyers looking into his conduct.
The investigation ordered by former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa found Powers stepped in to have “must-have” applicants accepted, including some who had the recommendation of powerful people in the state. The report also found he and his chief of staff, Nancy Brazzil, failed to tell the whole truth when questioned about it by the system’s attorneys.
The review found no evidence any applicant was admitted as a “result of a quid pro quo or other inappropriate promise or exchange”, and did say the number of less-qualified applicants was relatively small. In all, the investigation found 73 applicants who were admitted with a combined SAT score of less than 1100 and a high school GPA of less than 2.9. But the report did find “a few cases each year of ‘truly unqualified kids,'” and added political connections may have influenced admission decisions in a small number of cases.
The report gives some weight to accusations made by UT System Regent Wallace Hall, who caused conflict with other regents over his investigation into whether lawmakers had too much influence over the admissions process. Lawmakers threatened to impeach Hall and ultimately censured him over what many called a “witch hunt” aimed at Powers. The censure is a mainly symbolic gesture.
A previous internal report found the acceptance rate among students who had a recommendation from a “friend of the university” or other “person of influence” was nearly double the rate of the average applicant. But this in-depth report says no rules were broken by Powers. It says there are many other influences that got less-qualified students admitted, and pointed out many of these processes have been in place since long before Powers became president. It said UT’s “holistic admission process is inherently subjective,” and added that if there is a desire to change the president’s authority in the admissions process, then a new rule or law would need to be enacted.
Kroll found no existing law or statute, Regents Rule or UT-System Policy concerning how much weight to give “external” recommendations (letters, phone calls, inquiries) in the admissions process. For many years, the practice of the Board of Regents, the Chancellor, and UT-System has been to forward letters and inquiries about applicants to the UT-Austin President’s Office. This practice implicitly suggests that the President of UT-Austin oversees the Admissions Office and is the final arbiter in the admissions process. If the President of UT-Austin, as a matter of law or policy, is to play a different role in admissions determinations, it would seem incumbent upon the legislature or the Board of Regents to enact a law or rule that so states. No such rule or law presently exists.
UT-Austin President Bill Powers released the following statement:
I believe UT Austin’s admissions practices are motivated by fairness, the long-term interests of the University, and serving the public good. In response to the report, I would like to make six points:
1. As Kroll reported, over a five-year period, my office intervened on behalf of “a relatively small” number of students. In particular, the report cited 73 applicants who normally would not have been admitted, or fewer than one in 1,000 admitted students.
2. In every case, I acted in what I believed was the best interest of the University.
3. Our admissions practices are fully consistent with all established laws, rules, and policies.
4. I inherited this process, which was well known by regents, former chancellors, the Board of Regents Office, and UT System officials, many of whom, as the report notes, asked me to intervene on their behalf. This process, both prior to and during my presidency, was in the best long-term interest of the University.
5. As the Kroll report points out, no spots at the University were saved and no one was displaced by this practice. The students in question were simply added to the incoming class.
6. It is my observation that some similar process exists at virtually every selective university in America, and it does so because it serves the best interests of the institutions.
I am proud of our staff for the full cooperation it gave to the inquiry, as cited in the report by the firm Kroll & Associates: “The commitment, dedication, and good faith of all officials and personnel with whom we interacted were readily apparent.” The Kroll report contains many recommendations worth considering.
I thank Chancellor McRaven for his thoughtful leadership.
Feb 10th - 1:59 pm
A day after public hearings were set for two bills governing the carrying of firearms, we now know the next step for a third controversial gun bill. The so-called “constitutional carry” bill, which would allow for the open carry of handguns without an additional permit as long as the gun owner is legally allowed to own the gun, was referred to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Tuesday.
The bill will see some opposition right away from Representative Poncho Nevarez (D – Texas House District 74), who is the co-vice chairman of that committee. Rep. Nevarez has been an outspoken critic of the constitutional carry bill after he received threats from gun rights advocates during a confrontation in his office that was video recorded. The incident made national headlines last month. Rep. Nevarez has since been assigned a security detail and House lawmakers passed new rules offering funding for any House office wanting to install panic buttons.
It’s all part of a larger debate on how to legalize the open carry of handguns, which has been banned in Texas for more than 125 years. Another bill, the so-called “open carry bill,” would allow gun owners to publicly carry handguns if they get a license and pass a background check. That will go to a public hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday along with the “campus carry” bill, which would allow concealed handgun license owners to bring firearms onto public university campuses. That plan has been criticized by UT Chancellor William McRaven, who has raised questions about whether it would make campuses less safe.
Feb 9th - 2:40 pm
The Texas Senate is wasting no time pushing ahead with two controversial bills governing the carrying of firearms in public. The Senate Affairs Committee has scheduled public hearings for open carry and campus carry, setting up the next step in the legislative battle that has dominated the early headlines of the 84th Legislature.
Senate Bill 11 would allowed concealed handgun license holders to carry their guns on college campuses. Senate Bill 346 would remove the state’s 125-year-old ban on the open carry of handguns, but would require those gun owners to pass a background check and receive a license to do so.
Gun rights advocates criticized Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick last month for not following through on campaign promises when he said open carry bills weren’t a top priority and didn’t have the votes to pass. He then walked back on those comments and fast-tracked these two bills. Governor Greg Abbott disagreed with Patrick last week, saying he did believe the support was there for open carry. Then, UT Chancellor William McRaven voiced his opposition to campus carry, saying it would make college campuses more dangerous.
Many gun rights supporters are pushing for a different bill, constitutional carry, that wouldn’t require a license or background check to be eligible to openly carry handguns in public. But their efforts were hurt last week due to perceived threats from a member of Open Carry Tarrant County, who likened opposing constitutional carry to treason, which is punishable by death. Earlier this session, the Legislature installed panic buttons in lawmakers’ offices due to confrontations with gun rights advocates. So far, no action has been taken on constitutional carry.
Right now, it is legal to openly carry rifles, shotguns and other long arms without a license. But gun owners have to pass a background check and pay to get a concealed carry license hold a handgun in public.
Feb 5th - 1:02 pm
Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar have announced another new effort to reform the state’s financial incentive policy. They announced a new proposal Thursday to restructure the oversight of the state’s four major events trust funds. They want the Legislature to approve moving control of the funds from the comptroller’s office to the governor’s office, which also oversees other economic incentive funds like the Texas Enterprise Fund.
It’s another move by Governor Abbott to reign in the state’s incentive programs, which have been plagued by controversy recently over accusations of lack of oversight. Last month, the governor proposed shutting down another controversial program, the Emerging Technology Fund. The former comptroller, Susan Combs, was criticized for using the major events fund on projects that were already likely to come to Texas. Questions have also been raised as to whether investors of the Formula One racing track in Austin ever submitted a formal application for funding they received to help pay for construction.
Governor Abbott released this statement:
“As part of our broader efforts to maximize efficiency and accountability in state government, Comptroller Hegar and I have identified weaknesses in Texas’ economic development programs and provided a roadmap for reform that will optimize our state’s economic development strategy. The transfer of these programs to the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Division will leverage our existing economic resources and promote Texas as a world-class commercial destination nationally and globally.”
Feb 4th - 4:19 pm
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has named his leadership for the new legislative session. He announced the House Committees and Committee Chairs Wednesday.
In all, there are 27 Republicans and 12 Democrats leading the 39 committees, with thirteen minorities and nine women in chair positions. Republican John Otto, who has served in the house since 2005, will lead the House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for outlining the chamber’s budget.
Straus also launched a new committee, Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, and two new select committees: The House Select Committee on Emerging Issues in Texas Law Enforcement and The House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility.
This means both chambers have established leadership. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced the committees for the State Senate a few weeks ago. Below is the list of committee chairs and vice-chairs. For the full list, click here.
Agriculture & Livestock:
CHAIR: King, Tracy (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Anderson, Charles “Doc” (R)
CHAIR: Otto, John (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Turner, Sylvester (D)
Business & Industry
CHAIR: Oliveira, René (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Simmons, Ron (R)
CHAIR: Hunter, Todd (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Lucio III, Eddie (D)
CHAIR: Murphy, Jim (R)
VICE-CHAIR: White, James (R)
CHAIR: Coleman, Garnet (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Farias, Joe (D)
CHAIR: Herrero, Abel
VICE-CHAIR: Moody, Joseph
Culture, Recreation & Tourism
CHAIR: Guillen, Ryan (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Dukes, Dawnna (D)
Defense & Veterans’ Affairs
CHAIR: King, Susan (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Frank, James (R)
Economic & Small Business Development
CHAIR: Button, Angie Chen (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Johnson, Eric (D)
CHAIR: Laubenberg, Jodie (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Goldman, Craig (R)
CHAIR: Darby, Drew (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Paddie, Chris (R)
CHAIR: Morrison, Geanie (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Rodriguez, Eddie (D)
General Investigating & Ethics
CHAIR: Kuempel, John
VICE-CHAIR: Collier, Nicole
Government Transparency & Operation
CHAIR: Elkins, Gary (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Walle, Armando (D)
CHAIR: Zerwas, John (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Howard, Donna (D)
Homeland Security & Public Safety
CHAIR: Phillips, Larry
VICE-CHAIR: Nevárez, Poncho
CHAIR: Geren, Charlie (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Márquez, Marisa (D)
CHAIR: Raymond, Richard Peña (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Rose, Toni (D)
CHAIR: Frullo, John (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Muñoz, Jr., Sergio (D)
International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs
CHAIR: Anchia, Rafael (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Lozano, J. M. (R)
Investments & Financial Services
CHAIR: Parker, Tan (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Longoria, Oscar (D)
Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
CHAIR: Smithee, John (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Farrar, Jessica (D)
Juvenile Justice & Family Issues
CHAIR: Dutton, Jr., Harold (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Riddle, Debbie (R)
Land & Resource Management
CHAIR: Deshotel, Joe (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Thompson, Ed (R)
Licensing & Administrative Procedures
CHAIR: Smith, Wayne (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Gutierrez, Roland (D)
Local & Consent Calendars
CHAIR: Thompson, Senfronia (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Clardy, Travis (R)
CHAIR: Keffer, Jim (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Ashby, Trent (R)
CHAIR: Flynn, Dan (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Alonzo, Roberto (D)
CHAIR: Aycock, Jimmie Don (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Allen, Alma (D)
CHAIR: Crownover, Myra (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Naishtat, Elliott (D)
CHAIR: Lozano, J. M. (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Davis, Yvonne (D)
Rules & Resolutions
CHAIR: McClendon, Ruth Jones (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Kacal, Kyle (R)
Special Purpose Districts
CHAIR: Miller, Doug (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Alvarado, Carol (D)
CHAIR: Cook, Byron ((R)
VICE-CHAIR: Giddings, Helen (D)
CHAIR: Pickett, Joe (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Martinez, Armando (D)
CHAIR: Alvarado, Carol (D)
VICE-CHAIR: Hunter, Todd (R)
Ways & Means
CHAIR: Bonnen, Dennis (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Davis, Yvonne (D)
House Select Committee on Emerging Issues in Texas Law Enforcement
CHAIR: Fletcher, Allen (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Dukes, Dawnna
House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility
CHAIR: King, Phil (R)
VICE-CHAIR: Workman, Paul
Feb 3rd - 12:40 pm
State Representative Molly White (R – Texas House District 55) responded Tuesday to mounting criticism to her comments and actions on Texas Muslim Day last week. In a written statement on her website, White did not back down from her actions, saying her statement about a “serious problem facing Texas” has been been wrongly construed by “political correctness” into something bigoted and anti-American.
The freshman state representative made headlines last week when she posted this on her Facebook page about the planned Texas Muslim Day rally at the State Capitol:
Today is Texas Muslim Capital Day in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.
Rep. Molly White (R – Texas House District 55)
That post drew more than 11,000 comments and was featured on national media outlets like CNN. White says she didn’t expect her post to get that kind of attention, but insisted she was doing her job by informing the public about threats to First Amendment freedoms. White says the Council of American-Islamic Relations, which sponsored the rally, believes Muslim law is above the law of the United States. That argument has been disputed by leaders with CAIR. In an interview with The Texas Tribune Monday, Mustafa Carroll said “following the law of the land is part of Sharia law.”
Representative White says her post was directed at CAIR, not all Muslims, and adds the group is designated a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates. While this is true, the group is not considered a terrorist group by the American government.
Finally, Rep. White says she stands for the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Representative White says Muslims have sided with suppression of free speech, citing a recent poll in the UK where 78 percent of British Muslims believe publishers of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be prosecuted.
Lastly, every one of my constituents, regardless of their faith, is always welcome in my office. When hearing other’s views, I also share where I stand on issues as it is only fair for all those involved in a conversation to know what each other believes on a topic. As it relates to upholding the 1st Amendment, terrorism and CAIR’s position on the rule of law, I will continue to stand for the protection and freedom of Texans, and as a result, all Americans.
Rep. Molly White (R – Texas House District 55)